A Girl and Her Dog

Princess, me and my brother (who recovered nicely from his first impression of her)

I have had the Marley and Me movie for awhile now, sitting in my DVD collection, collecting dust. I kept telling myself to watch it, but I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready. I had already read the book, (like everyone else on the planet) so I knew about the heart-wrenchingly sad ending. I could barely get through the book without weeping, so a movie would surely push me over the edge. And crying is something that once I start, there’s no stopping the floodgates. I honestly didn’t think Kleenex made a big enough box.

I knew deep down that the real reason was I never truly had a chance to grieve for my own dog.  My dad brought her home from the pound when I was seven and she was “my dog” from the start. Princess was young and energetic, with soft brown fur and gentle eyes. One of her ears stood straight up at attention, the other flopped down to the side. She was a mutt, a mix of Collie and, my brothers and I liked to think, wolf.

At our first meeting, my younger brother was petrified of her and ran into his room to push his dresser up against the door. I was in love. She was my best friend from the start. I recently found the very first picture of Princess in an old photo album. There I was, standing in our kitchen in my pink pajamas and Dorothy Hamill haircut, wrapping my arms around her and grinning like crazy. I was beyond thrilled that my dad had brought her home to us, rescuing her from the cold and lonely streets.

I spent every waking moment giving her hugs and kisses. She slept with me at night in my white canopy bed, peacefully curled up on my legs. I would drift off to sleep feeling her warm, soft heaviness at my feet. She was my constant companion, my security blanket, my guardian angel.

When I was feeling blue, I’d take her for a walk. Sometimes her sheer enthusiasm for walks would be enough to snap me out of my funk. We’d go to the nearby playground at dusk. I’d unhitch her leash and off she’d run, dog tags jingling in the shadows. We’d sit together in the field and look at the stars. Those moments were some of the most content and magical of my life, Princess  by my side, doing nothing but simply enjoying the peacefulness together. She understood me like no one else. With her, there was nothing but acceptance and love.

As sweet as she was, Princess was also tough. In her early years, she had managed to break every single cable leash that clerk at L.L. Bean’s swore were unbreakable. She’d be out in the driveway, sitting in her doghouse. My brothers and I would jump on our bikes and zoom off, only to turn to see her galloping after us with a grin on her face and a broken leash dragging down the road behind her.

When I finally went off to college, my parents told me she would sit by the door where my bags were, her head down, waiting for me to come back home on the weekends. It broke my heart to leave her even for a week.

By the spring of 1991, she had become old and frail. She had arthritis in her legs and soon she didn’t have the strength to stand up. I rubbed her hot swollen legs for hours trying to comfort her. Maybe if I did that enough, she’d be okay. My dad told me with tears in his eyes that it was time we called the vet. I had never seen my father cry until that day.

After she was gone, the house was heavy and silent, almost suffocating. Later that summer, my dad told me about a dream he had. He was in a huge gorgeous green field and Princess was there, bounding over to greet him. He said it was the most vivid dream and seemed real. Not too many months later he would die as well. The grief for my dad was all-consuming and looking back, I don’t believe I ever had the chance to grieve for my sweet girl, Princess.

Now, almost twenty years later, it was time.

As I slid the movie into the DVD player I thought, “Can I handle remembering her again?” I felt a sudden chill.  “And, if I do remember her, will I then have to finally let her go?”

I sat curled up on my couch alone and watched Marley and Me. At the end it happened. The tears came. My body went limp as I sobbed. I could feel the pain of loss bubbling up and releasing in waves almost too big for my soul to handle. I heard Owen Wilson utter the final lines of the movie:

“A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. 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?”

Princess did just that.  And finally, I can say that no, I don’t ever have to let her go.

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26 thoughts on “A Girl and Her Dog

  1. Oh I so understand your pain. I recently wrote about a dog we lost too. I made the mistake of renting Marley and Me on Mother’s day the year after we lost our puppy (even after reading the book and sobbing like a baby through it). What was I thinking?! It was a great movie. Funny too. But when the sad parts came, they hit very hard for all four of us. For some of us, dogs truly are special parts of the family.

    1. I am sorry to hear you lost a beloved dog too. I know, what was I thinking to go ahead and watch that movie? At least I was prepared. I made sure to be alone with a big box of tissues so I could let it all out.

  2. I just ran across this post, having read your Freshly Pressed entry. (Congrats on that, by the way! I cut my hair a year ago and find it can be very sexy with the right outfit. 😉 )

    Last March I lost the first pet that truly felt like he was my own — Samson, our dear Brittany. Three months later, I talked my husband into adopting two dogs of the same breed. Insane. Then I started a blog and am still trying to figure out all that Samson meant to me. These dogs aren’t Samson, but they are lovely. Samson was… formative, somehow.

    Just a few days ago, we talked about scattering his ashes in his favorite park. I plainly announced to my husband that I’m not ready yet. I like him on the shelf. So all this is to say, I’m with you. Let’s not let go!

    1. I am so sorry for your loss of Samson. (trying hard to type this without tearing up again) Clearly, both our dogs were so special to us. I consider my dog more special than even some people I’ve known in my life. They are truly a blessing to have in your life. Never let go.

  3. Ugh. My memory goes back to our Lassie-look-alike that we named Bengi. (I know…still confuses me;). He was technically my older brother’s dog but I have the picture of him laying on my bed surrounded by every single stuffed animal I owned. I think my stuffed animals played a very close second for me to the unconditional love our live pets give.

    Then came my dog in my teens. Her name was Victory Lynn, called her Tory. She knew all my secrets. I too had to leave her for college. I lost my dad and my Tory in opposite order from your own story. Tory did her best to comfort my tears after daddy’s death. 20 years later Marley and Me brought it all back. Looks like I’m gonna have to do my post now…thanks for sharing this. I found you on FP today and will be back.

    1. Oh, how I remember my stuffed animals! They played a huge role in my childhood and I used to line them up in a big circle around my dog too. Love those memories of feeling safe and secure…
      I love your line “she knew all my secrets”. That says it all for me. I am so sorry you know the pain of losing both your dog and your dad at a young age. As intense as it was, I really do believe those experiences helped shape the person I am today and truly, all for the better. I was incredibly lucky to have had both in my life even if only for a short time.

  4. Oh man… Losing dogs is never easy.

    They so easily and completely integrate themselves into your family life as soon as they come to your home… I grew up in a rural area, on a hobby farm, mum had horses and we had a huge yard.
    We’ve loved and lost a few dogs through my childhood, each one leaving huge gaps that just can;t be filled.

    (This is where it gets sad, get your tissues)
    The dog we had from the time I was 12 was Jake. He was a rotti/shepherd cross and the best dog. My brother taught him to close the door, and when Dad got up at 4am to get ready for work, he’d let Jake out, and leave the door resting against the jamb. Jake would nose the door open, turn around, close the door and then wait on the mat to “wipe his feet”. The colder it was outside, the harder the door got slammed shut 🙂

    his heart was failing, and we had to put him down. It was 5 days before I graduated. It still hurts to think of him.

    Ten days later, on July 5th, my Dad’s friend gave him Grizzly for Dad’s birthday. Grizzly is a big ol’fat head of a rotti and Jake’s nephew. Dad’s friend has a brother of Jake’s and bred him.

    Grizz doesn’t come close to being as awesome as Jake, but then, no puppy ever will. I do love the Grizz-buddy (As Dad calls him), but… it’s not the same.

    I am sorry for your losses. I wish you luck on your greiving process. It’s a hard and lonely journey, but remember the love you shared and try to share it again.

    1. I love that story about Jake and the door. So sorry for your loss and thanks for sharing that memory.
      Just like you, I know deep in my heart no dog will ever be able to come close to “replacing” my Princess. Maybe this is why I’ve never had a dog since. I always tell my husband I’d love to have a dog again. I’m just not ready yet. I know I will be someday.

  5. Dang it all, you made me tear up! It feels like they are going to live forever, and it is so hard to imagine them gone. The thought alone of not having my pups is enough to bring tears to my eyes (just ask my husband 🙂 )

    I am also so sorry about the loss of your Dad. There’s another person I cannot imagine ever being gone, either.

    Thank you for sharing that.

  6. I just read this post, and thought it was absolutely fantastic. We have our 9-month old puppy Tillman and he is definitely my sons dog. It’s so great to watch them together. And I often remember my pets when I was younger. They all have such a special place in our hearts.
    Well done.

  7. Made me weepy. You did such a good job of describing your relationship with Princess. I can picture her after you left for college because our Abby was so sad after all three kids moved out the same summer (what’s with that?). After Abby died, the house was so empty, I stayed at work until I knew my husband would be home so I didn’t have to walk in the front door think about Abby not being there to greet me. Sigh. You’re a terrific writer.

    1. That is the only way I can describe the house after she left: empty. She was one of a kind, a true angel on earth. It’s hard for me to even read about her, the waterworks start right up again.

  8. Your post really touched me.it sounds like Princess was a magnificent dog who filled your childhood with love and fun. I’m happy to read that she led a happy and long life, don’t you think that it goes some way towards giving comfort knowing that she was loved and that she was such a happy dog 🙂 I lost my own dog after ten years of constant companionship very recently and the air in my house still feels too heavy to bear. I still have problems being alone in the house and at night I still hear a sound and imagine it’s her paws padding around. But i tell myself that her years were good ones at least. Sometimes I consider getting another dog but it feels like I would be betraying Shanna. Maybe it’s still early days. This is my tribute to her, it makes me happy to tell people how lucky i was to have a wonderful dog like her. http://ramonadepares.com/2011/08/29/goodbye-shanna/

  9. I am so sorry you know that suffocating pain of losing a cherished dog. Right after she died, I also thought I heard her paws padding around. Sometimes I’d be asleep and I swear I would feel her heavy body at the foot of my bed, resting on my legs like she used to, just for a moment. I look forward to reading your tribute to your dog, thanks for the link.

  10. Caerlynn Nash says:

    I think it’s great that you can use your writing to deal with your grief, even if it’s long after the fact. Sharing always lets you know that you’re not alone.
    I try to enjoy every moment with my dog, but sometimes I dread the day when he leaves my world.
    Incredibly well written piece. Thanks for sharing, and re-sharing today.

  11. I can really relate to this. When our last dog died, it was the night I had to finish the tale of Edgar Sawtelle. Such an emotional ending about a boy and his dog. I was hosting book club the next day so I had to read it. Bad timing!
    Great post! I still haven’t seen that movie either BTW!

      1. I went completely manic! Three people accidentally came early when I still had “crack” hair. I just went into hyper mode. It was a Christmas party as well…Great timing it was not!

  12. Little in life is as beautiful as the dog and human relationship. I sobbed through Marley and Me, and actually don’t recommend it for dog lovers. Thanks for sharing this touching story!

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