Saturday, September 28, 2013
- A Dog's Life
I know something about loss. My youngest brother died a week before his 21st birthday, and the effect of that sort of thing stays with you. It was some time ago now, and we all move on. But 'issues' get no bigger for mortal men, than dealing with the loss that comes with death.
Back in the agrarian days of western civilization, we all had a closer association with death. Farm animals are raised and slaughtered then as now. But we were unarguably closer to it then. And people being what they are, I'm sure the 15th century had favorite lambs or pigs or whatever that had acquired names from the household children, who were subsequently heartbroken to learn that 'missy' was now residing in the winter stew pot. But we all learn to cope. We literally have no choice.
As a bird hunter I'm particularly taken with dogs. They are superlative teammates. They are loyal and enthusiastic. They are man's first and best ally in the fight for survival. None of that is diminished by the comfortable and 'civilized' nature of my 'modern' hunting. Yes, the birds are farm raised and released, and "the wilds" are a set of fields kept as a 'preserve' in a gun friendly state. But the dogs don't know any of that. To them, we are stalking across the wild plains in search of what may be our last good meal for weeks. They only know one way to hunt (or to do anything else), and that's 'with everything they have'.
My own dog isn't well suited to hunting, but she's a spectacularly good companion all the same. Most dogs don't really have to earn their keep the way they did before. If they are affectionate and good company, that's more than enough for the 21st century. And in the suburbs, friends are harder to come by than food. So our dogs now meet that very modern need.
I hope what I say now doesn't sound too cynical. But when my wife was talking me into getting our current dog, one of the things I was thinking about was what my daughter would learn from a dog in her life. Yes she would be a good companion, but given her breed's life expectancy, she would also probably be teaching my daughter how to cope with loss in a way that is unlikely to be overwhelming. It's the way it's always been for children, and my experience with my brother's death taught me how important it was to have some painful but manageable experience to help build the coping mechanisms.
I'd like to offer my condolences and sympathy to the Goldberg family, who yesterday lost Cosmo their dog of many years. It's a very difficult thing, but it's survivable. And though it's hard, there is much wisdom that comes with such an experience, especially for children involved. Not only do you get to keep the joyful memories of the dog in your life, you are also made stronger by their loss. And I always imagined that's how the dogs would want it. They'd hope for you out there in the fields and the bogs, with your nose up in the wind, giving life 110%, just like they would if they were there.
And hopefully that offers some small comfort.