My parents and I went to see My Dog Skip when I was 11. I’m sure my fellow millennials remember that movie from our childhood days.
I dragged them to see the movie because I’m an only child and I wanted a dog. Simple as that. They’d promised me that we would “maybe” get a dog once I turned ten. When I was ten years and one day old I played my ace card and reminded them of their promise. It took over a year, plus watching the movie, before they were convinced.
We brought Fagin home as a companion for me, but we all fell in love.
Every dog-owning family collectively believes that their dog is the “best dog ever.” The happiest… the kindest… the smartest… the friendliest… what have you. While we’re clearly biased, Fagin was always happy, kind, overly friendly, sharp as a tack and blindly loyal.
The 16 years of love and joy we shared with Fagin brought more memories than could fit into a blog post, but he was a member of our family from day one and acted as though he was a human. Before I could drive, he would ride in the car with my mom to pick me up from school most days, and he knew what was happening once my mom announced it was time to go to “school.” He also knew when it was time to go for a walk or to visit my aunt’s dog, whom we referred to as his “cousin.”
Once I was in college and I wasn’t living at home full-time, Fagin would knock me over in the doorway when I would come home to visit. And when I was out of commission after a fall that landed me in the hospital, he didn’t leave my side… except when my dad came home.
My dad was the one member of our little family who didn’t want a dog, but it took him all of 30 seconds to fall in love with Fagin. The ironic twist of fate? My dad fell in love the hardest of the three of us. He bonded with Fagin differently. They took long walks together, he would feed Fagin many foods that he wasn’t supposed to eat and they would even go to my dad’s office together.
I could continue to discuss memories, but I also think it’s important to note that for people who have never owned a dog, it’s difficult to explain how a furry family member enhances your life. They don’t understand that you’re dealing with a genuine presence — a real spirit — with thoughts and feelings. While you can’t communicate verbally, dogs and humans find other forms of communication that ultimately result in expressing love and loyalty.
And you reach a point where you can’t imagine life without your dog.
We lost Fagin to cancer on July 31, 2016 — and I don’t think any of us were ready for the feelings of emptiness that would come afterward. While the day was inevitable, the reality was altogether different.
With losing a beloved pet comes true grief — don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s “just a dog.” As I live at home, it had been so long since it was just the three of us in this house. And I realized I’d spent more than half my life spent with a dog.
Forgetting about my life, Fagin has touched the lives of our extended family, our neighbors, my parents’ friends and my friends. I can think of three people off the top of my head who all said that Fagin helped them get over being afraid of dogs.
It’s been a grieving process for my parents and me — one that I never would have expected.
I don’t like to be at home by myself. We won’t sit in the blue recliner chair that became “Fagin’s chair.” We keep meaning to donate the big trash bag filled with dog toys to the local animal shelter, but it continues to hang in the closet. The slew of pet sympathy cards sent by those close to us have not been put away, and sometimes I’ll read them all for the 12th time when I think no one is looking. Perhaps most heartbreaking is the blanket that Fagin would sleep on when he came to visit my dad’s office still sits under his desk in a ball.
But what I am starting to feel is thankfulness.
Thank you, Fagin, for showing our family a love we never thought possible. For believing that we are people deserving of a tail-wagging, high-pitched barking welcoming committee every time we walked in the door. For never leaving my side when I couldn’t walk. For always wanting to be part of the family hug. For loving food as much as we do. For cheering us up when all seemed lost. For helping my parents when they became empty nesters while I lived away. For never staying too angry with us for long when we left you at home for hours on end. For your bravery and strength and spirit that you showed right until the end of your life.
There will never be another one like you.
If you’re dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, seek help at www.aplb.org.