As a girl, before India, my father was the minister of a church in Concord, New Hampshire. During that time we had a Labrador Retriever named Teddy. We called him ‘Ted Puss’ because he was a dribble-puss. In the family’s attempt to train him not to beg while we ate, he was required to sit outside the dining room. So he sat in the doorway watching us, and drooled. My parents laughingly referred to him as a ‘Thurber dog’ and though I didn’t know exactly what this meant, I knew it was a compliment.
Teddy was simply doggy: he would woof at the cupboard where the dog biscuits lived, and wag his tail so that everything coffee table height flew, and he was very much in the center of our family.
Every evening Mom and Dad rallied the four of us children to the living room for what we called family worship. We sat on the floor, supposedly for a short bible story and prayer, and attempted to be reverent. This was too much for Teddy. We were at his level, doing nothing. Slithering in like a little black seal (Teddy was the runt of the litter so he was a small lab), he wriggled his way around the circle licking everyone’s face with wild enthusiasm, and when he had each of us at his mercy he’d climb into one lap after another. Great hilarity all round and breathless laughter: this was family worship.
When I turned seven, we found out that we would be moving to India for a long time. Mom and Dad found a close friend to take care of Teddy, but none of us could bare to think of leaving him. A few months before we left Mom began packing our trunks as they were going to be shipped by sea. She had lain her clothes out on the bed and then left the room. When she came back the clothes were gone and of course she thought that in the chaos of planning she was losing her mind. Teddy had taken them out into the back yard and was fastidiously burying them. He thought that if he did this we would not go. When they were discovered and the trunks were sent, Teddy quietly died.
This was my first experience with a soul knowing that dogs are devoted to us and to our journeys, and selflessly position themselves to serve and love in the best way that they can. Teddy’s life on earth was over when we were no longer going to be ‘his’, but the joyful footprints that he left on those innocent years of my birth family live forever.
Three of my friends have had to say their final goodbyes to their furry beloveds in the last two weeks. So many beings leaving the planet; do they know something that we don’t? My Obie lies here watching me lazily out of the corner of his eye. He understands every word that I say, and every feeling that I have. Oberon, are you Julius reincarnated? You might be, but it doesn’t matter.
Ahh. Julius. Julius was born on the bed of my daughter, Melanie, on the Ides of March when she was 12. It was exactly what Melanie had wanted, but when it actually happened, the overwhelming facts around birthing being a messy business and thirteen golden retriever puppies dropping all over her room in little sacs, were just too much. This was how Julius entered the world, and in spite of the frantic chaos he was a solid, mellow boy from day one.
When he was 3 months old he had an accident which, combined with Hurricane Hugo, ultimately resulted in a hip replacement. Through all of this Julius became accustomed to ‘staying put’ and being with humans. In those years I was a professional massage therapist, and baby Julius would sleep under the massage table while I worked on clients, absorbing all of the floaty energy. We moved to New York City when he was three and as my career morphed into counseling, Julius morphed as well and now met clients at the door and led them into the living room by the wrist, then lay down and zoned in and out while they shared. He was my partner, through and through. I was single and as my daughters grew and flitted to and from the nest, Julius was constant. When Julius was thirteen, his hip began to cause him excruciating pain and our fourth floor walk up was too much for him. My destiny was calling me to head west so I loaded him into a rented car and we headed for Boulder, Colorado. Julius had one year being ‘Ferdinand'; he would sit in mountain meadows and sniff the flowers and the wind. After slipping away in my arms one night, I sprinkled him in this meadow thus allowing my future husband to enter my life. Julius knew that a new chapter lay just around the bend for me and that he needed to go to make room for it. He was my companion through the entire single mother years of my life. What would we do without these creatures from whom we learn love and loyalty and forgiveness beyond the imagination of human capability?
One year later, I googled ‘goldenretrievers.com’ in the state of Colorado and found that a litter had been born in the mountains nearby. I wasn’t ready for a new dog, but was drawn. The roads twisted and turned and I finally drove through the gates of what looked like a rustic wonderland. Three golden retrievers, a wolf and a woman greeted me. I was ushered into a barn peppered with puppy litters, tussling balls of golden retriever fuzz, each meticulously cared for and some too young to go home.
I turned to ask the woman a question and was met by the gaze of a single blond three-month-old with a curly chest and soft eyes sitting straight up, all alone and looking directly at me. “Who Are You?” I asked to him. And the woman answered, “This is Baby Grunt. His father won best of show at the Westminster and we were keeping him and his brother for three months to see which one to show ourselves. This morning we decided on his brother as goldens must be the color of a copper penny and he’s too light.” I was spellbound, starstruck, in love with royalty, but his soul is what shone through. I felt that I knew him. I drove home.
The next morning I drove back with my husband. For the first two days that the puppy was with us I kept slipping and calling him ‘Julius’, and he spontaneously responded each time. We named him Oberon, which he adapted to quickly but as a baby, his response was to his former life name (just as it’s said we humans forget our former life once we get going in the present one). Obie is purely Obie now and he’s been with us for seven years. My relationship with him is totally different than mine with Julius, largely because it is Obie who rounds the coupledom of my husband and me into a true family unit. We three are a family, hence our relationships overlap. My husband is the alpha of the tribe (there was no alpha when I was single), and Obie and I are litter mates.
Obie is well trained and quite perfectly obedient with my husband; Obie will sit for hours and stare at him in adoration of his leader, where he and I play and cuddle. We twinkle and wink at each other, and when I sing to him he transcends this planet. These years without a home have been strenuous for Obie, but he has rolled with every variation on a theme, from sharing the nest of three tiny doglets who did not truly want him there (at first), to having to curb his bird retrieving instincts while living with eight designer chickens, to midnight scuffles on the Venice Boardwalk, to trying to find a place to breathe in the heat of Palm Springs. For Obie? For the dog who once upon a time lived with us in a little blue cottage by the sea and ran with the wind every evening while the sun set, home is where we are. No matter what. His love and sweetness never falter. Ever.
Love and loyalty are what these beings are about, what they embody for us and where they become our mirrors and our teachers. Amen.