Spirit of the Singing Dog
A few weeks ago I had to say goodbye to my best dog friend and I've decided to write about him because while we have rituals for burying people, I need a ritual or act (this writing) to bury my dog. My last memory of him is quite like my first memory of him, a gregarious energetic dog running towards me. When I first met him, his enthusiasm won me over immediately. As he ran towards me this last time, I began to cry, because I realized that despite the pain he might feel, he wanted to give me the best greeting he could, and that would supersede his exhaustion. My mom later told me that he had barely moved that day until he saw me.
Now, I miss his greetings. He has been a regular fixture in my life and a source of joy for the past twelve years. In the end it is the little things I’ll miss, because Shane appreciated simple things.
He was enthusiasm. As a young dog he greeted everyone he met by jumping up on them and trying to lick their face.
He loved explorations. I remember watching him gallop off through the woods at the parks I would take him too, only to have him faithfully return when he heard my monkey call. When he learned how to swim at Castlewood State Park, I watched him joyfully swim in circles that became bigger and bigger as he became more confident.
He made me believe that animals understand art; when my brother began to take piano lessons, Shane began to sing along with him. His howl changed volume and pitch depending on the intensity of the song, at the crescendo he began to bark. It wasn’t a one-time trick either, he sang so much, that my mom had to put him in the basement during Billy’s music lesson. You could still hear him from the basement and Billy’s teacher would say, “I think he really liked that song.” Shane understood and appreciated the feeling of Classical Music better than anyone I knew.
He had an astute memory. Shane knew the way to the park. We had one hill that we always ran down and every time we would approach that hill, his pace got faster.
We had a bond that he could drink the milk left over in my cereal bowl. Whenever he heard the clink of my spoon against the bowl, he’d run over to wait for his part. You couldn’t even say the word “walk” or begin to tie your shoes without him assuming that an adventure was about to occur.
He was a protector. When I was younger he would greet me every morning by jumping up on my bed and sleeping on my feet for an hour. This was one of my most comforting and favorite ways to wake up. Whenever a family member returned to sleep at our house, he slept by them the first night of their visit, to welcome them.
He was eccentric. He liked funky smells and foods. He would roll in the armpits of my stinkiest t-shirts. He loved cheese and peanut butter. One time I made a fowl tasting leek dish for supper, we immediately put it in the compost. We saw him jump in the compost and eat the leeks, only to puke them up in our lawn an hour later. We often caught him sleeping on his back with all four feet in the air. Sometimes he liked to sleep in my closet.
He had his own fears, he liked to hide out in the basement shower or in a car when he was afraid of the storms. Now as my parents clean up their house, I discover spots where he ripped up the carpet, no doubt in some sort of weather anxiety.
He looked like he was part deer, part lion, part reindeer, or Clifford the big red dog. He became the youngest child in my family, Shane was so much a part, that often during our family meals he’d lay his head right on the table next to one of us. Of course he might try and sneak a piece of food of your plate as well. But really I think he just liked it when my family was together. He would eat his food when we ate. If we sat down to eat, Shane would go and knock his head on his bowl as if to say I am ready too.
When we would leave he would lay at the front door. Now he has left us like my Grandma Marek, ravished on the inside by some mysterious disease. There was no losing of mind or 1000 goodbye’s. As I walk my parents house the emptiness of his presence is felt, no clopping of dog feet, no daily mail man bark, no scratching at the back door. No more dog chairs and couches, no more hair massing on the floor.
I often thought that if Shane had been reincarnated, he would have been a Casanova in another life, that now had to pay for his infidelities by being the most loyal of animals. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, he has graduated his life as a dog with highest honors. I’d like to imagine him being born as a prince. While I do not know the nature of what happens to animal souls, I think he might have more soul than some humans I’ve met.
What I most regret is not spending more time with him this summer as I worried about travel and work. That last time he stayed with me we took him swimming, we looked at ancient cave paintings, he hung out at my studio, I laid with him in the bathroom during a storm. The last week I saw him I remember that I watched him sit and look out over the back yard for a long time. I like to imagine that he was saying goodbye to this space that he knew better than anyone in my family. I regret that in my day to day of work, live, I was distracted by unknown stresses instead of just being present with my animal friend.
Around the world, people bond and form relationships with their dogs. Perhaps there was a time when that was what we mainly had; the wilderness and those few special friendships we had forged with the animal world.
In my own lifetime, this fall, I want to embody the qualities that a dog can teach us about how to be in the world. I hope to carry on some of his positive traits.
To be a dedicated, forgiving, unyielding friend.
To be ever enthusiastic for the simple things in life; company, nature, food, and art.
Goodbye to Shane the singing dog.