I read this story the other day and it really stuck with me. There is just something in a story about a dog – man’s best friend – that opens up a soft spot in my soul. If you haven’t read it…take a minute to read/watch the story. To summarize briefly, a fallen Navy SEAL is being eulogized while his canine companion, his friend, lies broken-hearted and faithful at his side.
This made me think about a story that I wanted to share. It has a lot to do with family. It has a lot to do with love. And it has everything to do with the miniscule moments in life when we actually get to see what somebody is truly all about.
The summer after my fourth grade year, my parents finally broke down and bought a puppy. Well, a 1-year-old rescue dog that we stumbled across at the pet store, but nonetheless it was a dream come true for a 9-year-old boy. Jesse was a mutt, a mix between a beagle and a black lab. Can’t visualize? Let me assist…Jesse, in her prime, was a jet black version of a classic beagle…not the overweight beagle you see wheezing around, rubbing its belly against the sidewalk begging for less food and more exercise, but rather the type of beagle you see in one of those old-timey English fox-hunt paintings:
Now, that’s a good looking dog…and if we can get off topic for a second…don’t we all wish we could ride around in one of those sporty red jackets and a top hat? Why did those fools ever come to America in the first place?
Back on track…unfortunately, this is not a story about Jesse’s life (amazing as it was) but instead it is a story about the day she died, and oddly enough, a story about my dad.
In the tail end (not a pun) of her life Jesse had grown a number of cysts to go along with the complications of old age. One of the cysts, about the size of a fist, ruptured on her underbelly causing immense pain when she would eat and even more so when she would lie down. We immediately took her to the emergency care pet clinic. There we were told that age and severity would not allow for surgical intervention. The vet gave us pain meds and told us that a heating pad could do the trick, but it was unlikely.
Sadly, it is true what they say…when a dog knows that it is going to die, it will try to separate from loved ones. At home that night, Jesse could not lie down from the pain, could not stand from the arthritis, and decided in her own mind that she would head outside to find her peace.
It was December 31st and as frigid as it can get in Indiana on a New Year’s Eve, but Jesse was not going to be alone on her final night. My father faithfully donned his tattered and faded Carhartts and braved the blistering cold to find his longtime friend. All of the between-the-legs, upside down belly rubs…the garbage can dodging walks around the neighborhood…the butt-in-the-air welcomes…the stolen ears of corn and missing potatoes…those were more important, those were warmer than the snow-covered backyard. That night, my dad sat down next to Jesse, as she had finally found comfort, and stayed with her until the end.
I read that story last week and couldn’t stop thinking about that night my dad went out in the freezing, December cold and comforted our dying dog. I thought about what I would do. Would I have the… “balls”…to freeze my balls off like that? I thought about what I wrote last week…about being afraid of the things that I could do wrong. Strangely, I began to feel a little solace. A little calm. There are probably a thousand other moments that could define my father. His family. His work. His dedication. But that moment, those few hours in the crisp winter evening tell me everything I need to know: If I can be half of the dad that puts on Carhartts and sits with Jesse…I’m gonna be alright!
If you have a few spare minutes in your day…take the time to read that story. It is a great piece on an American hero and the friend that will always love and remember him.