There is a lot to do, but I am unable to do any of it. Today, my dear friend, Allie, died. She was not young. She couldn’t move as she once had, couldn’t race the car up the driveway like a blur of shadow or jump onto Daddy’s lap without an assist. When the puppy pulled her tail, she could only turn and bark.
When did that happen? How did it happen?
Last night, I looked at her and thought, She won’t be with us long. What made me think that? This morning when I let her out, she stayed on the porch and looked out over the pasture in a serious, sad way and, though I needed to get ready for work, I watched her through the window and wondered what was going through her mind.
What made us do that? Did she know somehow? Did I?
The dog has been humankind’s companion for thousands of years. We have evolved together. We claim to have “evolved” them, changing their shape and color, but I do not doubt they have affected us in powerful, profound ways that we cannot begin to name. If so, I think we have been the beneficiaries. Perhaps we are kinder, more faithful, more capable of love as a species because of them. Would we have killed each other long ago, but for the tiny tinkering with our psyches their presence in our lives has wrought? All those years ago, around the fire–dog with human–watching the night dark for us, hunting with us, laying heads on our knees, anxious eyes melting our anxieties?
It is said that language divides our species. That we have it and animals do not. Language is, at its base, the use of symbols. Yet once, when I was watching TV, Allie went to the kitchen and started knocking her dog dish about. That in itself is the use of symbol to communicate, but when I poured dog food in her bowl, she merely sat in front of it, not touching it, and stared at me. When I looked up from my seat on the couch, and she saw she had caught my eye, she looked down at her bowl, back up at me and then, over her shoulder. She repeated this sequence exactly until I (dumb human that I am) finally understood. There was leftover food on the warmer behind her, and she was trying to tell me that she would like some, thank you. She could have just jumped up and put her nose on the warmer tray, but that was not allowed, so she “told” me as clearly and politely as she could.
What are we missing in the silence of non-words that is not silence at all? When will we learn to see what we can’t hear?
They come into our lives, and then they leave us heartbroken…but better.
Two days after we lost Allie, a formerly homeless man named Glenn burst into my office. “Teresa, I need your help!” he said in his thick Cajan accent. Glenn has been volunteering with our organization since Hurricane Katrina. He rides a bike around downtown and often stops by to chat or just say hello. Sometimes he comes with problems, like when he needs help with paperwork, or setting up an email account, or when his long-time love died.
So I wasn’t too surprised that he had come to me with a problem. He shrugged out of his backpack as he talked without pause, placing it on the chair opposite my desk. “I found it in the road, and I didn’t want it to get run over. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew you would know.” He pulled down the sides of the backpack, revealing a solid black, fluffy puppy.
Stunned, I could only stare at it. I was not taking a puppy to the pound, but I couldn’t keep it. I didn’t want another dog. I wasn’t ready. My husband was not ready. We’d lost our dear Allie, and the hole was so deep and dark, we couldn’t go there. Not now. We needed time.
“Did you know we just lost a dog?” I asked Glenn–the only thing I could think to say.
“No, I didn’t.” He looked startled, but I couldn’t grasp that this was a coincidence. The whole scenario kept bouncing around in my head without giving me a clue what to do.
“It was running around in the street near where I live. I called it out of the street and then it started following me. You know I can’t keep a dog in my apartment.”
I was only partly hearing him. I was still stunned. I looked at that little puppy, solid black, like Allie, and I didn’t want anything to do with it. Glenn lifted it up and I saw it was a “him.” I didn’t want a puppy, I wanted Allie back, and I knew my husband would feel the same way, but it was as if some force bigger than I had put this puppy there for us now. Glenn put the dog down, and the little fur ball ran into the break room to charm everyone. I went after him and by the time I got back in my office, Glenn had disappeared.
I do not know if this was a casual coincidence, a gift from the Universe, or from Glenn, whose heart is bigger than he is. Perhaps he did know about our loss and brought that puppy because he wanted to give me a gift to heal the pain he knew I was feeling. He may have found the dog somewhere or he may have given up his own dog, I will never know. But if so, it was a gesture of love I will never forget.
The puppy, “Glenny,” is part of our family, and such a sweetheart! He is not Allie, nor could he take her place in our hearts and memories, but he is a little bit of joy and life, and I think Allie would approve. She always loved her puppies, even when they were kittens, even when she was too old to do much but lick them and bark to symbolize play she couldn’t quite manage.
We can do no less.
T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain (Birmingham, Alabama), director of City Action Partnership, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction.