I miss my dog. My husband and I took him to the vetâ€™s and put him down last night. They put us in a softly lit room with two leather chairs and a black and white fleece blanket on the floor. There was a jar of liver treats on the table so I helped myself to a handful, which I fed to Duke. That was his name, Duke.
Just writing down his name brings tears to my eyes and a tightness to my throat.
If you had asked me six months ago if I would be so overcome with emotion at the demise of my dog, I would quickly have dismissed the idea. He was just a dog. But he was so much more than that.
I remember picking him out from the litter of ten puppies when he was just three weeks old.
The breeder single-handedly picked the puppies up by their backs, flipped them over to determine if they were male or female and then handed them to us to choose one.
I remember Duke nuzzling his black nose into my husbandâ€™s arms, a warm ball of fur, so calm. He was the one. He smelled like the fresh wood shavings used as a bed in his kennel. A mix of standard poodle and golden retriever, his breed would come to be known as the â€œgolden doodle.â€
With black marker in hand, the breeder â€œbrandedâ€ our puppy with the letter â€˜Gâ€™ on his pink belly. We would return in five weeks to take him home.
I didnâ€™t grow up with dogs or any pets for that matter. My father had a thing about dogs that dated back to his childhood in Soviet-ruled Hungary. Dogs were used to intimidate, or guard. Not for companionship or play. But Duke would make a convert out of my dad.
Several years ago we lived with my parents while our house was being renovated.Â When my father came home from work each day Duke was the first one to greet him at the door and my father would make him sit and then he would ask for a kiss, which Duke would obligingly give him with a big wet lick on his cheek.
That was the story for all of usâ€”a friendly greeting at the door after a challenging day and all your troubles would vanish in a moment.
But it wasnâ€™t all wags, licks and fetching.
There was the time Duke injured his Achilles tendon in a futile effort to catch a squirrel, which ended up costing us a pretty penny and a lot of consternation.
Or the time he devoured eight raw lamb chops right off the kitchen counter and we feared he would develop bloat.
Or the time he ran away and hid in the ravine after being scared off by a hot air balloon in the shape of a giant peanut.
I called Duke my perpetual two year-old. Just like a toddler, he demanded our attention; feeding, watering, walking, stooping and scooping, endless throwing of Frisbee or ball. And in return he gave us unconditional loyalty and love.
Early humans must have instinctively known about the fringe benefits of keeping a dog as a pet. In addition to their pack mentality, ability to catch small prey, and fend off intruders, dogs provide a companionship unmatched by any other animal.
Like a true domesticated canine, Duke knew his place in our pack, protecting and playing with us and our children in equal measure.
To non-dog people, the notion of a dog being a member of a family may seem ludicrous, even saccharine. Years ago even I may have been that person.
But I admit Duke had a profound effect on me and my family that I could not have predicted when we first brought him home eight and a half years ago.
Just like humans, dogs grow old or develop illnesses. In Dukeâ€™s case he got cancer. We could have exercised lifesaving measures, like chemotherapy, that just a few decades ago were only intended for humans. Instead we chose palliative care and spoiled him with table food, like my boeuf bourguignon and chicken pot pie.
On his last day I fed Duke three hot dogs. It was a sunny Spring afternoon. The kids were home from school and we were sitting in the backyard. Duke still insisted on fetching the ball even though he couldnâ€™t see it only able to find it by smell and hobbled around the grass on three of four legs.
We decided to tell the kids it was time to say good-bye to Duke. Our three-year-old was more interested in digging in the sand, but our six-year-old had plenty of questions and plenty to say.
After much discussion he wrapped up the conversation with the matter-of-fact pronouncement that all life must come to an end.
Only a day after his death and friends are asking if we will get another dog. Itâ€™s too premature to say, but I feel with some certainty we will get another dog. Iâ€™m just not sure Iâ€™m ready to journey through the peaks and valleys of dog ownership again just yet.
In the meantime our son has planned a memorial service for Duke. We are burying his collar and tags under the dogwood tree in our backyard (how Ã propos) and singing a prayer.
That backyard feels a whole lot emptier without Duke in it, but it is full of great memories that we will carry with us.