My best friend has a birthday this Wednesday- June 2nd- he’ll be 12. He’s my beagle Darwin. When I was a child I was dog obsessed- my first steps were taken trying to pet a neighbor’s dog. We had a few dogs during my childhood but my mother was… How shall I politely put it? …Difficult. She had no patience for children let alone dogs. The three dogs we had (a boxer, a poodle and a dachshund) never lasted with our family more than a few months. I absolutely adored the little black and red dachshund- Schroeder. He was miserable because he wasn’t allowed to be a puppy and not surprisingly he started getting a little neurotic. The best decision was to give him to a loving family where he would be allowed to be a dog. I loved him and to this day keep that love in my heart.
But nearly 12 years ago a dog entered my life who transformed my life. When we first met Darwin he was about 3 ½ months old. He was deep red with snow white markings on his chest, his paws and a white flame on his muzzle with soulful brown eyes. He was adorable. Clearly he had a little mischief in him but we fell in love with him immediately. It was a special day— Lee and I adopted Darwin on out tenth anniversary together.
He was easy to potty train, but that beagle nose got him into more trouble than I ever could have imagined- breaking a VCR, eating a package of English muffins, tearing up a sack of flour, the list goes on. But everything he did that drove me to distraction also drew him closer to my heart. I realized something; I loved him more than I cared about the control that had defined my life for decades. He had a way of messing up that ordered household that I painstakingly kept and if you know me, I am not really into mess. Darwin taught me to relax and I realized that a lot of the things I thought were important really weren’t. Together Darwin and Lee have taught me more about unconditional love and have helped me grow as a person than any therapist ever did.
I yell at him sometimes, especially after saying “off” to him a thousand or so times when he is persistently and stealthily trying to grab a bit of food from the kitchen counter or when he runs back and forth like a maniac in the backyard if he hears the neighbors in their yard. But the thing is- he doesn’t care. He wants to snuggle with me even while I am yelling at him.
He has been at my side when I have been sick, and I mean really sick. He’s lied in bed with me for days on end when I have had bouts of pneumonia or was going through Hepatitis C treatment. It is in no small part due to his love that I have felt well enough to return to work after 10 years. He probably regrets that now since going to work mean I’m not as home as much. I know he does because he howls about it quite often.
This past year has been a year of contradictions. I have had many professional successes and returning to work has been my goal since I stopped working in 2000. But I have also been on a difficult journey with Lee since late last year as we face his prostate cancer together and I have also watched Darwin grow old.
Last year Darwin was attacked by a pit bull in the dog park which tore me apart more than I could have imagined. More recently he has blown both of his rear ACLs. His red hair has given way to white and he sleeps more and more. I know our time together is drawing to a close – ideally measured in years, but I don’t know. He has forced me to face this inevitability. I have reconciled that when his health declines, I will let him go. I won’t force things on him just to keep him physically with me. Our hearts have a rhythm and I’ll trust that rhythm- after all that’s the gift he has given me.
I knew from those first steps as a toddler to pet Tippy that I loved dogs. But never did I imagine that a dog would mesh with my soul, would be part of my spirit, and part of my essence. Darwin is that dog.
So Darwin, on your 12th birthday (61 in dog years via the newest calculations of dog/human years), I want to wish you, my best friend, a happy birthday. You are my joy and you have helped define the family that Lee and I are together with you. You are a dog filled with personality, with stubbornness, guile and mischief. You are also the love of my life, only second to Lee. Thank you for all the lessons you have taught me and continue to teach me. Happy Birthday “Boober Dog”!