We buried our 15 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Nick, yesterday. He was my wedding present 15 years ago and so he spent every day of his life with my wife and I. The words fifteen years old and Rhodesian are not supposed to go together. Dogs that big don't live that long, but Nick did. He survived melanoma, a 6 pound tumor, epilsepsy, you name it. My wife said it was because we used to run him every morning on the beach or at Fort Funston in San Francisco. The vets were always amazed at how strong his heart was, even to the very end. But I know it wasn't the running.
It was love.
My wife loved that dog more than any person could love an animal, and he in turn loved her. He simply wouldn't go. He would not leave her behind. We had to make the decision for him, yesterday, when he could no longer get up, would no longer eat, blind and had another tumor growing in the bridge of his nose. His heart, however, continued to beat like a lion. Amazing.
I cried yesterday, and I cry as I write this piece. In all honesty, that dog deserved better than he got from me. I was raised in a family of 10 kids, we didn't have much room for dogs and they were treated as dogs. When he came into my home he promptly ate two electric razors, chewed holes in two of my better suits, ate two leather watch bands and, oh yes, my wedding ring attached to one of those bands. No, we never found it.
My wife, however, loved Nick as if he were a child. No person could have loved an animal more. Nick fell under a lucky star when my wife picked him out of the litter, the runt, the puppy that no one else wanted because he had an overbite and small hips and never would be a show dog. I'm betting Nick outlived every other sibling in that litter, probably by a good many years.
I in turn came to love Nick as a friend. Some say that animals are "dumb." Maybe because they cannot speak, but Nick taught me that they are often more intelligent than people. Nick loved unconditionally. He didn't judge and he always forgave. Everytime I came home he would be at the door, tail wagging, just happy to see me. And he was fiercly protective of my kids, often getting between them and any stranger who came to the door or approached on the street. In the end, when he could no longer get up, he'd still manage to raise his head and acknowledge that I was home. What more can you ask for in life?
So Nick taught me much about friendship and about love. He taught me that pets can be more than just a pet. They can be a family member, if we will allow them. He also taught me that we can never go back in life, that we can only go forward, and how important, therefore, it is to go forward with kindness and love.
I will miss him. Not exactly like I miss my Dad, but I will miss him just the same. I already do. It's hard to walk into the house now and not see him, sitting in his bed, looking up at me.
We buried him on my wife's beloved farm where he loved to run. We picked a spot under an old growth cedar he seemed particularly fond of. If he could have spoken, I think he might have chosen the spot himself.
Rest in piece Nick. It is hard saying goodbye, my friend.