I grew up with dogs. There has never been a day of my existence where I haven’t had a dog to go home to. When I came home from the hospital for the first time, there was a dog waiting to greet me. When I left home to go to college, there was a dog wagging her tail goodbye. Although I’ve been around dogs for over twenty years, I’ve only recently begun to understand the true significance of having a dog in your life. In June, my family and I had to make the difficult decision to say goodbye to our yellow Lab, Bella. She had battled and beat cancer in 2018 until it came back in early 2020. It eventually came to the point where her several cancerous tumors were blocking her lymphatic system, creating tremendous swelling. It was clear she was uncomfortable and in pain, but I still tried to argue with my parents that she would be okay. Bella was thirteen years old. I was there when we got her, on a rainy Tuesday afternoon when I was in kindergarten, and I was there the moment she died.
We learn from being with dogs. We learn how to love and to care and to nurture and we also learn how to make decisions in the best interest of something other than ourselves. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Bella and I definitely didn’t want to be in the room when that time came. But, I did say goodbye and I was there when she took her final breath because I know that’s what she wanted. I did those things for her. Dogs teach us how to be patient and kind and compassionate. Housebreaking a puppy is not the most pleasant experience and I can’t begin to tell you how many “accidents” I’ve cleaned up in the house or how many of my dolls were chewed up or how many times my homework was eaten. Yet through all of it, the good will always outshine the bad.
Dogs make us happy, make us laugh and give us comfort. After spending only a semester at a college out of state, I returned home. The experience wasn’t what I wanted or expected it to be and I was miserable, yet when I came home, I was so upset with myself for being unable to stick it out. My motivation was dwindling and it was hard for me to get out of bed and go to class. The mascot of the school I had attended was the bulldog and I somehow persuaded my parents to get one of our own. Lulu, without a doubt, saved me from the depressive state I was in. She is the greatest thing in my life. She cheers me up when I’m sad, she gives me kisses and hugs, she sleeps with me, she makes me laugh and most importantly, Lulu has given me a sense of purpose and fulfillment. No matter how I feel or what’s going on in my day, Lulu loves me just as much. Her love is unconditional. She doesn’t care what I look like, what size pants I wear or how much acne I have. A dog is undoubtedly a girl’s best companion.
When I had my heart broken for the first time, I cried on the shoulder of a dog. When I learned how to walk, a dog was there to support me if I fell. When I celebrated a birthday, a dog was there to help me open my presents. They’ve been there with me through everything — my mom’s cancer diagnosis, my struggles in school as well as all my accomplishments. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without that happy face and wagging tail. I don’t know what I’d do if a large ball of fur didn’t come hurtling at me whenever I walk through the door.
Dogs bring out the best in us. I think of my favorite life moments and I am reminded of my dogs. I think of my very first dog, a yellow Lab named Bailey. She was the most dependable, nurturing and gentle creature I’ve ever met. When I was really little, I used to ride on her like a horse and hold on to her collar. She’d trot around like she knew she had precious cargo on her back. She died when I was thirteen and I felt like I had lost my protector but gained a guardian angel. Dogs bring out our inner child. We get to be silly and playful, judgement-free. Dogs give us more than simple companionship, dogs give us a best friend — or a family, for that matter.
Regardless of how difficult it is to say goodbye to a loved friend, the relationship you have with a dog will continue to impact you long after they are gone. Your dog will embody the cultivation of all your memories with him or her — memories that will no doubt last a lifetime. Go and give your dog a hug and a kiss. Remember that while your dog is only a small part of your life, you are their whole life. If you don’t have a dog and want one, go to your local shelter and adopt one. And when the time does come to say goodbye, remain comforted by the fact that while your pup is no longer physically with you, their presence will never go away.