A long, good life, I should mention, in spite of nine long years of neglect and abuse. When his rescuers found him, his fur was so matted he couldn't walk. His fear of humans was so fierce, they had to sedate him. His body was so malnourished, he nearly starved to death.
You would think that a dog who has dealt with that measure of brutality would be irreversibly messed up, rightfully unwilling to trust another human being ever again. Not Duncan.
His is a story of hope. As Good as Gold [a rescue organization dedicated to golden retrievers] rescued him, rehabilitated him and found him a loving home with my in-laws. Aside from his desperate begging habit and distrust of children, his past was far removed from his present peace and happiness. Duncan turned out to be a friendly, quiet, cuddly companion that our family absolutely adored.
And then, after what seemed like 6 very short years, he became very ill and we had to put his tough old body to rest.
It happened so fast. Thursday, my husband spent the morning cuddling with him and playing tug-of-war. Friday, Duncan couldn't eat, couldn't walk, could barely lift his head to look Mom in the eye. A tumor had developed and grown to the size of a grapefruit in the 5 short months since his last visit to the vet until his body couldn't handle it anymore. The arthritis in his back and hips would have made healing from an extensive surgery impossible. We decided to let him rest in peace instead.
The brevity and finality of it, the ache of the unexpected goodbye, the shock of suddenly being alone really really sucks.
And he was a dog. He was a member of our family, a dear old friend, but he was a dog. Having never lost a pet before, only people, this has been a strange grief for me to comprehend.
It hurts. In a separate, but all too familiar kind of pain, it hurts. We miss him. The soft tendrils of his fur between our fingers; the enthusiastic dash to the door with his big droopy eyes and swishing tail there to greet us, to tell us he's happy we're here; his cool, wet nose brushing our elbows as we sat at the dinner table; the warmth of his body next to ours on the couch; even the simple sense that we have someone outside of ourselves to care for, leaves an acute sense of loss.
Yet in the wake of his death, I'm not just struck by the void of his presence, but by the palpable reminder he gave us with his life: that hope, trust and redemption are real.
Maybe innocent animals are not as emotionally, mentally and spiritually complex as us humans... But then again, humans have a spectacular capability to complicate the most simple and fundamental truths in our lives.
Now, whenever I begin to lose my faith in change, in restoration, in redemption, I'll remember the feather-soft fur beneath my fingers as a tangible truth:
Even after we've experienced the most degrading, abusive, dark moments of our lives, it is possible to uncover truth, restore trust, feel joy. It is possible to find love.
Rest well, old friend.