lament for a dog

I feel your breathing and I run my fingers through your fur. I’m glad you’re deaf so you can’t hear my sobbing as I think about what my life will be like without you. You’ve been my best friend.

I remember when I’d be working at my desk late at night, and you’d come put your head on my knee and just look up until I put my hand on your head. I couldn’t type or work like that, but it was okay because that’s what friends do.

I remember when you were scared of something at night and I slept on the couch to pet you and calm you. Sure, I was frustrated and annoyed, but I did it anyway because that’s what friends do.

I remember how scared I was that you would get hurt or hit on the road. Every time we pulled up to the house I would pray a silent prayer that you were all right. Now I find myself praying that you will just breathe your last right now next to me so that I don’t have to make the decision to let you go.

You were the chubbiest, cutest puppy in the litter; that’s why I chose you. You were the best in obedience school; even the trainer said so. You have one ear that stands up and one that flops, and it has always made your head look lopsided.

I remember when you punctured your leg on an old fence. You couldn’t walk for a day or so, and I remember sitting with you on my bed and tears running down my face just because I suddenly realized how much you meant to me and how much it hurt to see you in pain and think that one day I’d have to say goodbye. I don’t want this to be that day.

You’d always stare me right in the eyes until I pulled out a camera, and you’d look away. But I did get this picture of you that won a national contest. The theme was faithfulness.

I don’t want to get up and go to work right now because when I get home we’ll be eight hours closer to you being gone. I know your legs barely work anymore and your joints are in pain and you can’t hear at all, but I don’t want you to be gone. I’m just selfish, but isn’t that friendship? Wanting to be with someone because they make you happy and because you love them so much?

Why are dog years faster than human years?

Why are you old and I’m still young?

What will I do in this years’ family picture if I don’t have you to wrap my arm around?

I know, I know that I will probably be doing fine in a week or a month or so. But fourteen years is so long and dogs aren’t called man’s best friend for nothing.

There have been so many nights that I’ve laid beside you on the floor and whisphered in your ear, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll love you forever,” because we have that little kid’s book upstairs about the boy who said that to his dog every night. The boy’s dog dies of old age in the book. I don’t think that’s a good kid’s book. All I know is that I’ve lived fourteen years knowing that someday that would be my story too. But I don’t want it.

Just go, die, please, let yourself drift off, but not at my hand. Oh please, I don’t want to.

Black and white are my favorite colors.

I remember how silly you were jumping at the back door. Your ears would fly straight up, and you’d keep jumping over and over so you could see in the window to see what we were doing inside. You were such a goof.

I remember how I’d be sitting on the couch or at my desk and you’d be laying there on the floor, perfectly still. I’d look at you, you’d look at me, just staring. If I made one more movement, even just a raising of my eyebrows, your tail would start wagging against the floor because you knew the puppy eyes had worked their magic. Though really, it was the tail that worked on me. You had no control over it, and I would simply have to get up and pet you because you were too cute. In the early mornings, you’d wait patiently at the end of the hallway for dad to wake up. When you heard him moving or sniffing or clearing his throat, your tail would give away your excitement, and it would beat faster and faster as he came down the hall until he rubbed you on the head.

You were such a good girl. There was the time we had friends over in the summer for burgers and swimming. Someone left their burger sitting on the pool deck completely unattended. When someone looked over, they saw you sitting on the deck, staring at the plate, but not devouring it. You definitely were rewarded with a piece of it.

But then there was also the time you ate half of my huge chocolate cake from graduation.

The family who saved you and your litter from the pound called you “Thunder” because of the little streak down your face, but you were actually terrified of thunder. I guess the name “Boo” turned out to be perfect. Thunder made you scared of everything else, from gunshots to lawn mowers to the vacuum cleaner to the hum of the refrigerator to the buzz of my electric toothbrush. I’d laugh at you and pet you and tell you don’t worry, we're gonna be okay.

We're gonna be okay. That’s what I’ve been telling myself for days now, it’s just running through my head, “We’re gonna be okay, we’re gonna be okay.” But I don’t know who the we is in my mind because after tomorrow morning it’s just going to be me. I just heard Destiny pour food in your bowl and it’s your last dinner and I can’t stop it. And I’m hiding in a room now away from you because I love you so much that I can’t even see you without losing it, but I’ve lost it now anyway so I wish you were sitting here next to me.

I bought you a steak for tomorrow morning. You’re going to love it. I want tomorrow to be the best morning of your life. And I don’t know what theology is right about dogs in heaven, but I don’t care anymore because I have to believe you’re going to an amazing place and have the best time and wait for me. Maybe we can both be part of the resurrection on the New Earth, okay?

You’d go out with the sheep; I mean, you’re a Border Collie, a sheepdog, right? But somehow they’d get you in a corner and start to bully you, so we had to watch out for that. Silly. But there was the time the neighbors’ chickens got in our yard and you herded them out like a professional sheepdog.

How in the world am I ever going to get married or have kids or anything like that if I love a dog so much that I can’t hold myself together? I keep trying to somehow tell myself, “It’s just a dog,” but that’s so pointless. Just a dog? That’s like saying “It’s just a loyal, faithful friend who happens to not be human.” There is little difference at that point.

You didn’t really know a whole lot of actual commands. Sit and stay were definitely your best, heel was a joke, and lie down was about 50/50, depending on your mood. But you could shake hands every single time. I usually shook just because it was cute, but then if I had to scold or punish you for something, I’d feel bad afterward, and we’d shake to make up for it. You didn’t really shake with other people much when they tried, and I guess that made me kind of happy.

I can still hear the sound of you climbing up the stairs, trying to be kind of quiet, even though you haven’t climbed the stairs in months, maybe years now.

I remember when I was home, maybe between TeenPact classes or something, and mom said nonchalantly that they were going to switch the feeding responsibility to Destiny since I wasn’t at home most the time anymore. That’s fine and makes sense of course. But suddenly I was in tears, and even now it’s hard to know what I hated so much about it. Maybe it was just change and growing up, but nothing else hit me like that. It’s you, the thought of not having you as mine like I used to.

I’m sitting on the floor in the guest room next to the big queen bed, the one that used to be up in my room when it was just me in that room. We shared the bed, but somehow you always took your half diagonally through the middle. But when I was trying to sleep at night, I didn’t have much patience and I’d usually just shove you to your side. And if you got annoying and stuck your face in mine with your stinky breath, I’d push you off the bed and tell you to cut it out. Your breath smells so bad and I wish I could smell it every day for the rest of my life.

You are such a subtle but fundamental part of my history. The photo albums are full of you. The home videos feature you over and over because each time I had the camera, I’d find you and say hi because I knew that one day you’d be gone and I’d want those clips. I was right.

People always talk about how dogs are such good friends because they love you no matter what, and it’s true. You’re the friend I never had to impress, never would disappoint. If I failed my driver’s test or won a debate tournament, it didn’t matter. If I was elated beyond comprehension or grieved past words, I could still sit with you on the floor and you’d curl up as close as possible. If I stretched out my legs in a straddle, you’d come right in the middle.

In those preteen years when I’d do gymnastics for hours in the yard, you were the main obstacle, always getting in my way and licking my face when I did a handstand.

Remember when you had that weird thing with the bikers that rode past our house? You’d see one coming from down the road and bolt off around the house. Your goal was to get all the way around the house and to the front again in time to bark at the bikers. Some of them even knew what you were up to. One day when it was hot and you didn’t want to run, you just laid there in the yard and watched them pass, and I heard them say, “Come on, doggy! Go around the house!”

I want to keep some piece of you. I guess it’s your dog tag, or the pictures, or the dozens of drawings I’ve drawn of you since I was seven. I have a little picture of you, the one from the contest, and I’ve taken it with me everywhere. I set it on the nightstand in hotels during my internship, I set it on my desk in China, I put it on my shelf at college. But of course none of those things are at all what I really want.

You had the squeaky skunk toy – I think we still have it somewhere – it’s the only toy that survived your knack of destroying stuffed toys and strewing the cotton all over the house. We used to throw it up and down the hallway and you’d chase after it. One of us would get on all fours in the middle of the doorway and you’d leap over us to get the toy. Sometimes you’d start this crazy race around that house for no apparent reason at all. We’d just get out of your path and watch you bolt up and down the stairs until you tired yourself out.

I remember one night we all got home from somewhere and couldn't find you anywhere. I got so scared that you were lost, that you were hit, that coyotes might get you. I was shining a light in the woods and saw it reflect off your eyes, and that's how we found you stuck behind the back fence. I was so happy. But even that happiness was tainted with the knowledge that someday I wouldn't find you when I wanted to. 

I remember every time I skyped home from China, I’d be so nervous that something might have happened to you that I’d wait until someone would ask, “Hey, do you want to say hi to Boo?” and I’d breathe a sigh of relief and say hi and laugh as you clearly had no idea why someone was sticking a computer in your face once a week. But then at college this year I started to hope that someone would say, “I’m so sorry, but Boo passed away last night,” because I didn’t want it to come to this. I’ve begged God to let you just slip away, and I’ve struggled to say, “Not my will but Yours be done.” But I’ve said it, and I’ll get through this. I just wish I could get through it with you.

We have the same birthday, remember? December 6. We began together and I hate, hate, hate that we have to end separately. I hate it. I hate it so much.

Sometime soon, maybe next year, maybe next month, I’ll be able to talk about you in the past tense, say “the dog I used to have.” I’ll have a Boo-shaped hole in my heart, and I imagine that over the years the hole will get smaller. But what I want you to know now and will always want you to know is just thank you. I love you. You’ve been everything a dog is supposed to be and more.

People have often asked me the ice-breaker question, “If you were in a burning house and you could only take one thing with you, what would it be?” I’ve always said you. Last night at work someone asked me that question, and realizing that you wouldn’t be here, I gave a different answer. I returned the question, and he said he’d take his dog. And I told him everything. He said he’s so sorry, and I think he gets it because he loves his dog too. Is this how every dog owner feels?

It used to be that no matter where I was in the house, if I put down my hand, it would be filled with your head in less than a minute. I don’t want to think about tomorrow when my hand will stay empty. But I am thinking about it and I can’t get my mind off of it.

I’m with you now. Laying here on the floor again. Looking into your eyes. You don’t really know what I’m feeling. You’re a dog. You have no idea how much you mean to me. I’ll never know what’s going on in your mind either. How crazy is it that we’re best friends who have never actually exchanged thoughts. Presence is our only form of communication and that’s why it’s so hard to lose.

I'm in the office now, it's almost midnight, I'm finishing writing all of this. And you wobbled and stumbled up to the end of the hall, to the doorway, and dropped yourself down right where I can see you. For the last time. Oh God. 

People say that when you lose someone, you wish you’d taken advantage of every moment with them. But I think I always had that perspective. I always knew there would be a day when I wouldn’t have you anymore. I have no regrets; I’ve loved you since the minute I first held you, and I’ll love you forever. This horrible pain of losing you is because of that love.

I’ll love you forever, my Boo.


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss, Shelby. :-( Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts. Grace and peace to you.


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