My brother’s family lost their pet dog yesterday. ‘G’ was a dachshund, brought home a little over twelve years ago. I have never owned a pet and probably never will; I simply do not have the emotional wherewithal for the caretaking required. I have thus never developed a particularly close relationship with domestic animals; my interactions with most pets is always a fairly tentative, bounded one. Not so with ‘G’. This was because on those occasions when I was visiting my brother and his family, I spent extended time in his company. In the course of that period, I was able to experience at least one moment that gave me some insight into the kinds of relationships pets are able to develop with the families who take care of them.
During the winter of 2006/7, while on vacation, I came down with a mysterious stomach bug–a fever, the chills, the shakes, a spectacularly upset stomach, the works. The bug advanced during an evening as a fever took hold of my body, and then it struck hard at night. On waking up in the morning, I informed everyone–my brother and his family, and my wife–I would not be joining them for the New Year’s Eve partying later that night. Then, I staggered back to bed and collapsed. I sought warmth and comfort in my blanket and my supine pose. A short while later, ‘G’ pushed open the door to my room–with his nose, I think–walked over to my bed, found himself a spot next to my feet, burrowed in, partially covering himself with my blanket, and settled down.
And there he stayed. For the entire day, well into the evening, in that darkened room. I drifted in and out of sleep, my body exhausted after the frequent interruptions–the trips to the toilet bowl–during the previous night. My head spun, my stomach churned, shivers ran up and down the length of my frame. And down by my feet, ‘G”s presence provided unexpected comfort and reassurance. His body was warm, solid, furry; I could feel him pressing against my legs through the blanket. It was a desperately needed anchoring in a bodily and mental state that felt desperately adrift.
I did not lack for human company that day. My family stopped in at intervals to bring me water and the little food I could keep down. As evening approached and as the night came on, I slowly regained some strength, enough to try to consume a bowl of watery soup. On seeing me sit up in bed, ‘G’, sensing the worst was over, roused himself, shook himself once or twice, and then left the room. He had done his bit.
From that time on, whenever I hear a pet owner speak about their pets in a language rich with intentionality and affect, I know exactly what they are talking about. I too, sensed an animal draw near and take care.
Thanks ‘G’, rest in peace; we all loved you.