Our Best Role Model: Close to Home
This last Saturday was a calm, clear, and cloudless spring day. This last Saturday, I buried one of my oldest and best friends.
He was a loveable little yellow-white, floppy-eared mutt born of a purebred cocker spaniel mother and a rascally beagle. He had stuck with me for fifteen years—all the way from kindergarten to the end of my sophomore year of college. His heritage gave him a predisposition to be very fond of chasing rabbits and barking at pretty much anything that came onto my family’s property without one of us around. I have trouble thinking of anyone who’s ever been more of a loyal, loving friend than Toto.
Early last Friday morning, I got a phone call telling me that our dog’s condition had worsened. He’d been getting old, slowing down and losing weight for a long time, so I knew that he probably didn’t have long. Over the previous week, he had gotten very lethargic, stopped eating as much, and seemed to be in pain. After class, I hopped on the freeway, sped towards Lowell, and met my mom at the vet clinic. What I saw broke my heart a bit—he wasn’t really walking and hid his face as if he were ashamed of being so weak, but he would sometimes turn towards me to make sure he was still getting petted, trying to wag his tail.
It turned out that he was in kidney failure. He ended up staying there that night, but the next day it was clear that he wasn’t going to get better. So my family said goodbye to Toto, and my mom and I stayed their while he was put down. It was over in less than a minute—he seemed sleepy and just lied down, finally at peace and in no pain.
After we drove home, I carried his body up to his tree, where we dug a hole for him. I buried him there, and I honestly feel as if I buried a part of my childhood with him.
I still remember getting him when I was a little five-year-old out of the back of a pickup truck at a McDonald’s. I remember how he used to pull my brothers and me around a church parking lot on a little red wagon. We’d try to guide him with a bone on a string tied to a stick—it didn’t always work, as a few skinned knees would attest. I remember looking for him when he was lost.
I remember sitting with him when I was sickened by people in junior high. I remember the way he would try to drag me down the street sometimes, how he would so often try to jump out of the tub we used for his baths outside. I remember staying with him for hours outside when he was very sick, almost dying from an infection and massive muscle spasms, just trying to comfort him.
There is more I could write about him, but I think that most of us know the kinds of thing I’d say. But I’ll say one last thing about him: he was a good boy and a solid, loyal companion for fifteen years, and that’s all a guy can ask of a dog. When I needed a friend, he was there and reminded me of the good in this world. And really, I think people should take a lesson from the dog, the creature that went from being a competitor to being a protector, coworker, and friend.
A dog doesn’t care about who you are, he just cares about if you’re a good person. They don’t care about fancy toys, clothes, homes, or anything—a ball or a stick will do nicely. And I don’t mean to go all “Marley and Me” on you, but I have to quote it.
“Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
Be like the dog—live simply, love generously, care deeply. Run to greet your loved ones and never say no to the opportunity of an adventure or a long walk. Enjoy the fresh air, lie on your back in the grass on a warm day. When you’re happy, show it, and never pretend to be something you’re not. Be tireless and don’t stop until you’ve dug up what you’re looking for. When someone is having a bad day, be silent and just sit close by—it’ll be one of the best things they could need. Be loyal. Enjoy every moment of every day.
Take a lesson from man’s best friend, because in reality, he’s also man’s best role model.
Chris Sonntag is a biochemistry major, and a Traveler columnist.
His column appears every other Tuesday.