I posted this on social media and Medium last week. Shaun posted about it yesterday. And it still hurts to post it here, but here goes. . .
Most people post about their dogs doing one of a few things: 1) Being sick. 2) Being stupid. 3) Persevering and/or needing love or giving love.
Love, endurance, dorkiness are traits of most dogs. It’s part of why we love them so much. They are faithful companions and almost always give us love no matter how schmucky we are.
Gabby was a love guru despite being tied to a tree and starving for most of her first year. I picked her up from a rescue that dropped off, my Southern, rural girl on the cobbled streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts (right by Harvard). She was trembling, terrified by the cars and the noise and in pain from ear infections and her horrible lack of any muscle (part of the consequences of her abuse).
Em (my daughter) and I loved her instantly.
“Oh, my poor baby,” I said and Gabby’s tail wagged.
She leaned up right next to me, something she would do for the next ten years. She leaned. She hugged, pushing her chest into mine, her head on my shoulder. She was always there through heartbreak, through the loss of my parents, through everything.
According to sources every year over 3.3 million dogs are brought into animal shelters. Gabby was one of those dogs. Only 23 percent of those dogs are rescued. Mangy, broken, terrified, unable to grow correctly because she’d been chained and starved. She barked a lot. Had issues about protecting her food. And she and Scotty (our other rescue mixed Pyr) challenged each other a bit for alpha for awhile.
It didn’t matter.
Gabby had only two modes. Love and protection.
A few years ago, when Gabby had her knee operation, a vet’s assistant called me two hours before I was supposed to come pick her up.
“Please come get your dog,” she said.
“Is she alright?”
“She won’t stop howling.”
When I got to the vet’s office three minutes later, I heard Gabby’s bellows, sad and mournful — a calling and a hope. The vet personnel looked haunted and aggrieved and as they saw me they said, “She woke up before any dog has ever. And she’s been like this. We think she is lonely for you.”
“Oh, my poor puppy,” I said.
And the moment I spoke, the howling stopped.
“Apparently, she knows you’re here,” the assistant said and then yelled over her shoulder. “Someone get Gabby!” She turned back to me, gave me all the rules of Gabby’s healing and said, “Good luck with this.”
Gabby staggered out, loopy, but she came right to me, wagged her tail and leaned in. I lifted her seventy pounds into the car, looked at her big bandage, and said, “We can be broken together, baby.”
There are a lot of sources that say that dogs decrease loneliness and anxiety by 60 percent. Gabby decreased it by 99 percent.
I was single when I first got Gabby, and her aftercare wasn’t easy, but we did it. Gabby is a Great Pyrenees and she only trusted our dogs; all others were potential threats. If someone visited who had a past history of cocaine use, she’d bark at them the entire time they were in the house. If they were male and had a certain aggressive energy, she’d bark at them the entire time they were in the house. If they wore a white baseball hat, she’d bark at them the entire time they were in the house.
If I was alone and taking a shower, she’d come upstairs with me and take watch out the bedroom window. Other than when we went to bed, it was the only time she went upstairs.
If Gabby was on walks and children stopped to see her, she would stand there as they pet her, gently wagging her tail, letting them love her. And they would. Gabby understood what love was and sadly she also understood what love wasn’t.
Gabby was pretty sure her job was to keep her family, the other dogs and cats and people safe. She never stopped loving us. She never stopped being broken. And she never stopped being lonely for me. And she allowed me to be a better person. I wanted to help other people who were feeling down, the way I sometimes felt down, but I couldn’t just post self-affirming wisdom or thoughts in my own voice because I had a wicked amount of imposter syndrome.
Plus, I knew people respond well to images on social media as opposed to words. As an author, I needed to tweet or post, but I couldn’t bring myself to post photos of my food or my own thoughts or the minutiae of the day.
So, I posted daily photos of Gabby and Sparty (my other dog) and Scotty (my other dog who died) and the cats. I would give them thoughts and words that felt like them, but also felt like me. Gabby usually got the posts about love because Gabby was love.
A lot of times I’ve wanted to stop posting those week-daily animal motivation/inspiration, but then I’d get private message from people. One mom’s son looked forward to seeing Gabby and Sparty every day and shared her photos and messages in a children’s cancer ward. A man told me that sometimes seeing my animals was one of the few things he could hold onto when he thought he couldn’t make it through another day.
Gabby was a light. And she gave people hope. She gave me hope that no matter how badly you’ve suffered, no matter how much pain you have, you can still find great joys and great love in each damn moment that you have.
Gabby loved food. She loved cuddling. She loved the cats. She loved being brushed and then shedding everywhere. She loved barking, her low, rumbling bark. She loved running around despite her broken body, hopping like a bunny, wagging her tail so hard that she broke its tip against the wall of our house. And she loved us.
A couple months ago, Gabby’s back legs stopped being strong. We took her to the vet and he said it was doggy arthritis and put her on some medicine. And two weeks ago, we went on vacation. The day before we did, Gabby romped around the house, back legs shaking a bit, cuddled with Cloud the cat and me, took a neighborhood walk, looked down the street. I posted her photo.
About nine days into our vacation, the vet called. All he did was say his name.
I said, “Oh no. This is terrible.”
“It is. It is terrible,” he said.
It turns out that Gabby had a doggy neurological disease and that she quickly took a turn for the worse while we were away. The vet said she was still smiling and lovely and not suffering, but there was no hope. We started to drive home — a trip of about twenty-six hours — and cancelled the rest of our vacation.
And Gabby died. Her body, her broken and beautiful body, gave up.
Love doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. You can be broken; you can be afraid of being lonely; but you can still love.
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