How many of us have had what is called a “heart dog?” Tons of those reading this, I suspect. If you have finished, or are in the middle of, Bespotted, you will have discovered the inimitable Gulliver, to whom I dedicate the book as “dog of my heart,” which means the same thing.
Some of you may not have dogs, much less Dalmatians. Some of you may have cats. While I cannot attest to the existence of “heart cats,” I suspect they exist. However, if you have neither, consider either. For a dog, if you are an apartment dweller, consider one that is small. If you have a fenced yard, someone bigger might be appropriate, including a Dalmatian.
Gulliver, whom I bred and birthed and raised, was more than a child to me. Hard to believe, you non-believers in heart dogs? It’s true. As a pup, he didn’t wear diapers and always slept through the night–at least, mostly–and we delighted in his pure and constant joy in being alive. As an adolescent, he never mouthed off behind my back or worried me by coming home past curfew. As an adult and conscientious brother he took good care of little pup Breeze, while at the same time becoming my best friend and confidante. Eventually, as a senior, he surpassed all my fifty-some-odd years of experience, and became a wise and trusted advisor. He brought into my life laughter at his antics; gratitude for his fortitude and love during my divorce, my depression and the dark days from which I gradually emerged with his steadfast help as my therapy dog; and then joy at being together in his old age.
How many days, and through how many eras of a dog’s life, did he lie snugged up with me on the sofa on late afternoons while I read. How many nights did he luxuriate in cuddling under my arm and snoring away, as I watched television or took a mutual evening catnap? How many mornings did he wake me with a cold and moist nose under my cheek, insisting on his breakfast. Every single one. Over nearly thirteen short years.
His death was an incredible, traumatic blow. It came very suddenly, at a time and in a way I had never anticipated. It has been four and a half years now since I rocked him out, still in my arms as I had promised him–but when someone asked me the other day how long he had been gone, his death seemed to me much more recent than that, and I had to consult the dates on his urn to be sure. I was shocked to see how much time had passed considering the extent of the grief I still feel. It is impossible for me to even speak his name without tears.
Do you relate? Then read the following excerpt from Bespotted about my Gulliver. The emotions he rouses as my heart dog will perhaps remind you of your own.
I forced myself to try and work after his death. But grief still reigned. Being unable to work on anything new that was creative and connected to the actual process of writing scared me, reminded me of the time when Gulliver was all that stood between me and death.
I wasn’t able to go down to my office. It was too filled with the memories of him curled up in the blue armchair. If I’d had a nine-to-five job, I would have left home and gone somewhere that wasn’t filled with memories…Yet, to be without memories didn’t feel right either, and so I began to hang up photos of Gulliver, taping his many faces onto the cherry cabinets that held my cookbooks over the kitchen desk. There he was in profile. Or lying snugged up on the boat with his head on his paws in his life jacket. Looking up at me, adorned with the flower wreath he wore as a ring bearer for our wedding. Cuddling at Christmas with Brad and me, on the green sofa. At a dog show, with his brother and mother, after one of our big wins. In bed, his head on my chest, my hand draped around his sturdy neck.
Every week, I added a new photo.
He looked down over me, still keeping watch. Someday, I would take down the photos, and this period of mourning would be at an end. Someday he would live on only in my heart.
We weren’t really able to hold a service for Gully until a few months after he had passed. And then we took the sailboat he had so loved out to “Gulliver’s Beach” at Paradise Cover, both places that now seemed so right. And there that day, opposite his beach at Paradise, we dropped the hook. The hours passed as we waited for precisely the right time. At sunset, we went up onto the deck to say our true goodbye. It was a calm evening and the boat barely rocked, just the current passing, giving us a stable footing at the bow.
I had brought along a carefully selected bunch of flowers, and as the sun set, casting an orange light over the small waves, I began to drop them alongside the boat, into the water.
“This is lavender,” I told him, throwing a handful of the fragrant stems over the side. ”Lavender because you so loved to romp through the plants in my garden and come in smelling of the musky scent.
“And this is a rose, from the bush Dawn gave us right after you died.
“This is a yellow daisy because it was my Mom’s favorite flower, and I know she would have loved you as much as I do–and because I am sure she is here with us right now.
“This is alyssum, white, for the purity of your heart.
“And bleeding heart–purple for your courage, and red for your love.
“This is a pink rose from the arbor that arches over the back door to the house, your favorite way to come in to get your supper at night.”
I dropped the last bloom, and Brad and I just stood there with hands linked and tears falling, as the flowers lay on the top of the waves without sinking.
They passed the stern, carried away from us on the current until they became mere specks in the distance–floating straight the beach we had named as his.