Full disclosure, I won’t get through the writing of this, or possibly the reading of it when I record it for the Signal Fire Podcast, without crying. You may hear it, in tone or in voice, you may feel it, and that’s entirely, perfectly, wonderfully ok. When the idea for this essay entered my weird and winding brain, I realized quickly that I’d have to keep it short, as if I didn't do just that, it’d be an essay that took me a week to write, and just as long for you to read. There’s too much to be said, far too much to be written, and nothing I even attempt will do it justice. This essay, my friends, is about our four-legged friends, and while I will focus my energies on dogs as dogs are what I’ve known since I was but a wee child, for you it may be cats, it may be horses, it may be alpacas or turtles, it might be bearded dragons, hamsters, ferrets, or even legless fishes that swim in little bowls or big aquariums on big walls. Whatever your persuasion, it’s about the pets that we bring into our lives, never fully understanding how much they’ll change them when we do. To the pets, my friends, raise a glass, a cup, a toast. Here goes.
I’ve had dogs longer than I haven’t, by a margin of 37 years with, to 4 years without. Even in the 4 without a dog of my/our own, I was around dogs, always. I knew, and loved, mostly golden retrievers over the course of my 41 years. It started with Miss Magoo, then to Clancy, then Gertie joined the ranks, a miniature toy-poodle and the first non-golden to join the crew, then onto Hobbes, Calvin, and now the one, the only, Gilly Goonie, who is 3/4 golden retriever, and ¼ poodle when broken down, a bit of Gertie perhaps returning. Hobbes was the very first dog that I, and I alone, owned. And in more ways than I can express, she saved my life as she changed it. To say this is not a hyperbole, it’s not a gross exaggeration for dramatic effect. She saved my life as she came at a time I was lonelier than I’d ever been, that I was dealing with illness that couldn’t be deciphered but was altogether debilitating, often isolating me at home and making it next to impossible to even take short errands. Hobbes came, and she pulled me from a darkness in a way I struggled to feel like I deserved, she came and in the thousands of walks we took together around loops and trails surrounding the house, woke me up. She set me free.
Hobbes was a dog with anxieties that were born into her before our paths even crossed. From fireworks to cardboard boxes to sudden sounds to lightning to a panoply of random things that seemed to shift, she was also fierce and protective, loyal beyond measure, and the most gently soothing soul I’d ever known. She was wise, she was patient, and she always, always knew when I was sick or needing something more. Losing her hurt worse than any loss I’d suffered in my life, and I mean that truly. It hurt worse than losing people I had lost, and this statement is true and I feel no shame in admitting it, it’s a statement that is more testament to the power of a dog’s love, than it is an admonishment against the failings of humans. Calvin came after only about a year and a half of Hobbes, and their differences were both comical and abundant. He feared nothing, and was the constant bumbling goofball to her wise and cautious matriarch. Calvin was the clown, always busy and rarely needing coddling or petting, always up for a good time and I think pushed Hobbes out of her comfort zone whilst simultaneously annoying the absolute shit out of her. When Calvin passed, the same sorrow washed over, and it struck me as bizarre and intense and beautiful that experiencing grief in no way ever prepares you for its return. We cannot immunize ourselves from sorrow of this kind, we simply cannot lidocaine our hearts against the ache, it’s impossible, and I learned it then. I remember, distinctly, when he left and began again, thinking I would not could not should not ever get another dog. I stuck by that for quite sometime, and then out of absolutely nowhere, a pandemic came, and with it, 2 years of stillness. We, like many, got another damn dog.
Gilly, you all know and probably love by now, was the logical progression of being really bored at home, really desperate for a therapy pup, and really missing being a dog owner after 35 years of it. Gilly is a combination of Calvin’s best attributes, all of Hobbes’s warmth and cuddling and caring without any of her anxieties, all the silliness of Gertie, the kindness of Clancy, the energy of Magoo. He’s brilliant, to put it succinctly, and we love him more than we ever thought we could, again.
Dogs, simply put, are the best of us. More, they are better than us, in every possible way. A reminder, I'm not speaking of cats right now, or horses, or turtles, lizards, snakes, or hamsters not because I don’t love them, too, but because I’ve never had one in my life and so I cannot speak to them. I also believe, dogs are the best and the embodiment of perfect little Buddhas on this planet, and better than all the other pets, and yeah, I’m standing by that hahaha. Dogs are loyal without those they are loyal to needing to earn it, at all. Dogs are, and I believe this, inherently gentle, and the only ‘bad dogs’ are the products of bad owners, those who train for cruelty or push the correct combination of buttons to elicit negative behavioral responses. Dogs are more than we deserve, this is a truth inarguable, they are the constant reminder of a simplicity in purpose, in joy, in the mindfulness of truly living in each moment. They are therapy and comedy and a pull towards thinking outside of ourselves. Their reliance on our care is a sneaky lesson in responsibility and selflessness, they are a pull off the couch to walk their excited legs, a breath-stealing hauling of 40lb bags of their food up 3 flights of stairs, because they need us to live, and we need them to thrive.
This Signal Fire, this Sunday Edition is nothing more than a love letter to our four-legged friends. It’s a moment out of the hustle and bustle of a life to say Thank You, to acknowledge how insanely lucky we are to live on a planet with creatures like these. These domesticated wolves, these fierce and funny souls that for some reason want nothing more than to be loved by us, to be as close as possible to a species that consistently struggles to care about anything as much as it cares about its own survival.
Dogs are the best of us, and this is my ode to Magoo, to Clancy, to Gertie, to Hobbes, to Calvin, and to Gilly, who is wrapped around my feet as I write this. Thank you, the lot of you, for the love you’ve given me. Thank you for teaching me how to be better, to be more than I was, to be just a little bit more like you. This is to you, and I’ll read this aloud to your tilting head, telling myself that maybe, just maybe, you understand.
To those that love us
above all that we deserve,
our four legged friends.