MIAMI - I'd like to say a few things about our dog, Zoe. We had to put her down on Monday, and she is much on my mind. More so than the problems with the financial markets or Congress' appalling performance on deficit reduction or the GOP presidential race or redistricting or rolling back travel rules to Cuba. Important issues, to be sure, and all on my got-to-write-about list, but they'll be around for a while longer. Zoe will not. And my world is the lesser for it.
We got Zoe when she was 8 weeks old -- she separated herself from four other Cocker spaniel puppies and climbed up on my wife's lap. We like to say that she chose us. She rode home draped around my wife's neck, delivering many licks and kisses along the way. That never stopped. Zoe was with us for more than 15 years, some three to four years longer than most dogs of her breed. So she grew to be an old lady, but beautiful, elegant and loving right up to the end. We vowed that she would never suffer and we feared she was when her breathing became labored, the result of an enlarged heart, our vet said, putting pressure on her lungs which were filling with fluid. She breathed her last breath in our arms on Monday morning.
Isn't it amazing how our pets insinuate themselves into our lives, fulfilling needs they recognize even when we do not? And their needs -- at least those of dogs -- are minimal: Food, water, shelter, a place to pee and poop and an occasional bath and nail clip. But most of all, they want our love. Demand it. My parents once had a Golden Retriever, Deacon (so called because my father, an Episcopal priest, was a vicar), who would gently take your hand in his mouth when he wanted to be petted. Which was all the time.
When Zoe was in need to attention, she would walk up, stare at you unblinkingly and make groaning noises until you reached down to pet her. As much as she liked it, I liked it more. Stroking a dog you love is one of the great therapeutic pleasures known to man.
A shrink is good, but Zoe was better for me. Always there, never complaining -- although her yelps to go outside seemed to come right when they were kicking the field goal or solving the murder. An obedience school drop-out, she walked me as much as I walked her. And as my friend Dave Barry likes to say, why do dogs circle endlessly and sniff in the same general area before finally getting around to doing their business?
As Zoe got older she needed to do her business more frequently, and I'm sure some neighbors thought I was too indulgent. I was, but the fact is those walks often did me as much good as they did her. And until a year or so ago, Zoe always made me grin the way she bounced down our street like some kind of doggy jock. In her old age, she became deaf and lost some vision in one eye. Unlike us humans, she never complained about it.
Nor did she ever complain when I woke her from a sound sleep. Or came home late. Or was late feeding her. Dogs are utterly forgiving. The only bumper sticker I ever considered putting on my car was one that said, "I Hope to Be the Person My Dog Thinks I Am." Amen to that.
I've had several dogs in my lifetime and each has been special in his or her own way. The one photo from my childhood that holds special meaning for me is a snapshot taken when I was about three standing shoulder to shoulder with an arm draped around Buck, an oversized Golden Retriever. Lord help the stranger who tried to come near me when Buck and I were together. Buck was the first and Zoe will be the last dog to hold a special place in my heart. There's a hole there right now.
Do dogs have souls? It would take a gaggle of theologians to answer that question, but I'm positive they do. Behind Zoe's deep brown eyes there was a spirit, an intelligence and, yes, a soul. I am so grateful to have been touched by it.
To paraphrase e.e. cummings:
if there are any heavens my Zoe will (all by herself) haveone.