Today’s post is going to be about Alex. I was going to write about the alligator, but that will wait – I’ll get to it,
but Alex takes precedence.
Yesterday, June 14, 2010, Alexander Graham Cookie Dog left us after 12 1/2 years of being our friend, jokester, protector, and sage. Noble was a word coined for him. He was witty and wise and caring. And humorous. It was he who taught US to let him outside by snatching up a shoe or stuffed animal and bringing it to the back door, big grin on his face.
He was patient, discerning what we meant when we said ‘back up’, and carefully, like a well-trained semi driver, extricating himself from close quarters whenever necessary.
He greeted visitors with enthusiasm and authority – sometimes a little more than they were prepared for.
He proved his superiority of speed by racing the cars that passed in front of our house, running parallel behind his fence, reaching the opposite end of our property ahead of the cars 90% of the time. He presented himself at the gate to greet us when he heard our cars drive up – recognizing the motors when we were still a block away.
Although he hated thunder and lightning, he never deserted our sides if we were watching a storm from the doorway. He was always, always near one of us in the house, often no more than a foot away.
At our new house, he taught himself to go down the stairs between the floors. I guess the enclosed stairwell and carpet made it easier, but he conquered the thing all on his own. And oh, he was proud! Equally proud of the last few walks he took around Blackwater. He ambled all around his usual trail, sniffing and eating grass, slurping from the bucket, sniffing the air to try and figure out which way one of the local rabbits had gone. He grinned at us as he climbed the hill and even the stairs. He had to have been in pain, but he was pleased with himself for having done it.
During the week of his final illness, he complained little, content to have us visit him and talk and rub his head, hand-feeding him ice and food. Michael, his boy, is still living away. His instructions were “Do what is best for Alex.” Only by keeping that as our guide did we have the courage to help Alex leave. He was an incredible dog.
I want to try to say something different about the value of animal companions. Not just the things that all animal people know and non-animal people don’t get. I want to help you understand what animal people mean when they say their pets love them and that pets are people too.
Can you grasp what it means to have a being care for you so much that they will not let go? Not just they won’t go into another room to get out of your way. Not just they won’t let you leave the house without plopping down mournfully in front of the door, or wiggling and jumping ecstatically beyond all reason when you return. And not only that they will lie down beside (or on top!) of you when you are sick in bed. No, I mean a being, a dog or a cat or even a parrot, so close to you that they cannot, they refuse to, let go and die.
Alex was the product of a chance encounter between two purebreds. His father was a golden retriever, his mother a white German shepherd. Both breeds known for loyalty, and also, unfortunately, hip dysplasia. The same genetic background that led to the condition that ended his life was also the same background that disposed him to love his family. And he did.
We had it on good authority that if we were not home, he didn’t care about protecting the house. He only protected it when we were in it. He would insinuate himself into the smallest of spaces to lay inches from our feet – resulting in more than a few trip-ups, after which he would gaze at us regretfully with those deep brown eyes. And when Michael left for college, while he never flagged in his love for the rest of us, he was a tad dimmer until Mike came home for break. Only Michael could tell you all the things Alex saw him through, or the confidences he held. I simply know that getting Alex for that 9-year-old son of ours was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made.
Alex loved us so much that in his pain, it was our visits more than the ice or food or care that gave him satisfaction and pleasure. He would turn his head – which was hard for him – just to see where we were. And, he wouldn’t let go. He could not bring himself to leave the family he loved. We had to make him go. It was, as Mike requested, the best thing for him.
Okay, I’ve not said anything animal lovers don’t already know. To those of you who profess not to understand why people want animals around or why we will go to the lengths we will to have them around, consider the depth of love it takes for anyone to accept any circumstance, any pain, any hardship, just to stay with the ones they love. That, my friends, is a love so pure that it is exemplified in only a few other instances in our lives.
We are privileged to have been so loved by Alexander. We are privileged to receive love from other animals we know or have known. These are remarkable creatures, protectors and purveyors of love and companionship, who only seek minimal return for what they give. If only we could tap into the vein of altruism that seems to flow so freely in them. If only all of us would seek, and find, its Source.