Puppy Love

We, as humans, probably don’t deserve this type of love. The type of unflinching pure love like they talk about in fairy tales, where someone is willing to go to the literal ends of the earth to prove themselves. Humans, as a species, aren’t especially great. We’re filled with faults, but the love never ebbs. It remains as strong as ever, never wavering, never questioning – always completely pure.

It was almost 13 years ago when I first picked him from the breeder – my first dog since moving out from under my parents’ roof. He was nicknamed “black male Y”, half his snout had the traditional white markings of the breed, the other half was black. The runt of the litter and unwanted by everyone else, I knew he was the one when I saw the picture of him fresh out of the bath. We named him Milo, ironically after the cat in Milo and Otis, and our journey began.

A year later, a sister was brought into the fold. A plump little ball of cuteness, we named her Penny, a nod to the copper brindling visible in just the right light. In contrast to Milo, she had perfect markings, a full white snout with a cute white collar that helped people recognize them. She happily let Milo think he was the boss, but we all knew the truth.

Our time together started in central Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis called Edwardsville. They romped and stomped around the large backyard of the house we lived in, once cornering a skunk against the fence, another time gulping down a screaming locust. Occasionally they would figure out how to escape, only to hang out on the front porch watching the world go by. Friends would come by to play with them, surprised at Milo’s strength and endlessly amused by Penny’s silliness – Penny often peeing herself in excitement when meeting new people, Milo sometimes peeing ON people in the excitement.

They helped me as I went through a tough breakup and the loss of a close friend at almost the same time. Their own goofy brand of oblivious consolation helping to put a smile on my face when all I wanted to do was cry. Whenever times felt tough, they reminded me that as bad as things could be, they would always be there. Snorting, licking, farting, looking at me as if to say “just throw the ball, you’ll feel better.” They kept me sane when I needed them most.

We changed locations a few times before finding a new home in San Diego, CA. They seamlessly adapted from the large expanses of yard available in the Midwest to the confines of apartment living in San Diego. What I saw as a small apartment, they saw as new territory to investigate and new obstacles to avoid while wrestling, their only living quarter prerequisite seemingly being a place to lay down and curl up on and next to me.

We took trips to the dog park, where Milo tormented other dogs with his surprising athleticism, while Penny gleefully chased after him, never having fully grasped the “fetch” part of fetch. They trotted along, sniffing and peeing, as I took them to the main streets, where ample pet-friendly patios meant lunch with the pups was a regular occurrence. They both seemed to enjoy the constantly lovely weather, although I did wonder if Milo missed romping in the snow.

When I met my wife, Tam, they opened up their world to her almost instantly. Their irresistible charm, playfulness, and unbridled love converted her from dog skeptic to dog lover. They went from being “my” dogs to fully being “our” dogs. We became a big happy family, half dog, half human.

And from day one, their love for me was without question, as was my love for them. They became a part of me, my life. Synonymous with who I was. Joel, and his dogs, Milo and Penny.

But buried deep in the back of my mind was the realization that it would end. It seems cruel that dogs only live 10-15 years, a fraction of the time humans spend on this planet. Enough time to form unbreakable bonds, but never enough time. As I watched them age, their faces gray, their energy levels lessen–only slightly, mind you–I knew our time together was drawing to a close.

Penny left us in 2016. Heart failure took her from us too soon, and too suddenly. It took me weeks to get accustomed to not seeing her greet us at the door, longer to stop saying “dogs”. I still think about her from time to time, and I still miss her.

Now, I am saying goodbye to Milo. He was sick, and it was time for us to put his body at ease. It seems cosmically fitting that it would be a year later for Milo’s time to end, but it still feels too soon. Part of me wanted to resist the inevitable, but I know the choice I’ve made is the correct choice.

Dogs are one of the world’s great wonders. They storm into our lives, drooling faces and wagging tails, knowing only love and happiness. They steal our hearts, plaster smiles across our faces, making us spend endless amounts of money on their food, silly clothes, lavish beds and jewelry, and to keep them with us. Then they leave, quietly, calmly, while we cry until we can’t summon tears any longer.

But I’d do it all over again, even knowing exactly how it’ll end.

I’ll miss them, Milo and Penny, but they’ll never be forgotten. Not by me, and not by those lucky enough to have met them…

I’ll see you both at the Rainbow Bridge.

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