Reviews | Why I will never live without a dog again

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Everyone needs to take a summer break from the relentless negativity of the news, which unfortunately mirrors the relentless negativity of reality. So let me introduce you to Jack.

Jack is a puppy I picked up last week, eight months after the death of my beloved Havanese, Latte. As soon as I brought Jack home – a puff of black and white powder, curled up in the grass, all plush and playful fury – it reminded me of the dilemma and question that greets dog owners: why take us new dogs in our lives, knowing that we will be decimated by their death?

I cried a lot for my Latte, who was the dog equivalent of Saint Francis of Assisi – a furry little mammal (Latte, not Francis) who radiated universal benevolence. She was a comforting and healing presence during the worst of my battles with depression and cancer. In a very real sense, Latte was a better person than me—a daily practitioner of the more difficult parts of the Sermon on the Mount. She was gentle, merciful (except to those godless squirrels), peaceful, and pure in heart. When he left, I was the one who cried.

I can still feel the pain at night. Not long ago my wife told me that I cried in my sleep. I don’t usually remember my dreams. But in this case, I remember dreaming of the last time I saw Latte, after she was taken from my arms to be euthanized at the veterinary hospital. She lifted her head and looked at me with her big sad eyes. And then one of the most unwavering, sumptuous, and simple sources of affection in my life disappeared. (Even now, I can barely write the words.) She rightly died of an enlarged heart.

The 18th century evangelist John Wesley delivered a sermon, “The General Deliverance”, on the survival of animals in the afterlife – a very English line of theological argument. (Many Britons regard the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show as a glimpse of paradise.) The Creator, Wesley said, “saw, with unspeakable delight, the order, the beauty, the harmony of all creatures.” Wesley believed that during the renewal of the world at the end of time (a basic Christian doctrine), “all gross creation will then, without doubt, be restored, not only to the vigor, strength, and speed that she had at her inception, but to a far greater degree of each than they ever appreciated.

For most of my life I lived in dogless ignorance and would have laughed at such feelings. (It’s so typical of Homo sapiens to regard the sky as its own exclusive club.) I now hope that such intense interspecies friendships don’t end in permanent separations. Everything that is really good in life must leave an eternal imprint. Or paw print. When I’m not crying in my sleep, I now feel such gratitude for an animal willing to comfort another animal during some of the most trying days of its life. All without the expectation of a reward – except for the occasional dried pig’s ear.

In human relationships, the transforming presence of love is worth the fatality of grief. Can dogs really love? Science might deny that the species possesses such complex emotions. But I know that dogs can act lovingly and bring the consolations of love. That’s all we really know about what hairless monkeys can handle in the love department, too.

So I, who once saw dogs as dirty and dangerous, am resolved to never live without one again. This led to my lovely wife’s gift from Jack, the Havanese fuzz ball. After my dull brushes with mortality, I needed a new life in my life. And Jack is the bouncy embodiment of innocent joy. Waking up the day he arrived was like Christmas when I was 9.

On a brief acquaintance, Jack is the best dog in the universe. On his first night with us, he slept in the crate in our room for eight hours. There were a few bleats of nostalgic protest, but they were quickly assuaged by my voice, by the fact that he knew I was near. Why would a puppy who has just been snatched from his home, his litter and his parents immediately trust us? This is one thing that makes the abuse of these animals so monstrous. It is not just an expression of the human capacity for unhealthy cruelty; it is the violation of a confidence so generously given.

There is an obstacle to training Havanese dogs. When trying to instill discipline, they employ a thermonuclear kindness that melts away any intentions of firmness. But what other item can you bring home that makes you smile every time you see it? Jack is a living antidepressant, yelping and peeing randomly. It improves the mental health of all who encounter it.

Why do we welcome new dogs? Because their joie de vivre renews ours.

About Chuck Keeton

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