One of the first things you learn when you become a dog-person is that normal people look at you funny when you talk about your dog too much.
This is usually because these people have normal healthy lives, with real kids, real jobs, and retirement plans.
Well, I never had any of those things. I spent adulthood working crummy jobs. I don’t have kids. And retirement is a three-syllable word used in Charles Schwab commercials during baseball games.
The highlight of my workdays was coming home to find the silhouette of a bloodhound in our front window. Her name was Ellie Mae.
In her heyday, Ellie was obsessed with a cat in our neighborhood named Dexter. Dexter was born of Satan and had eyes like the kid from the movie Poltergeist.
Dexter would torment Ellie by visiting our backyard and sitting right in Ellie’s food bowl as if to say, “Look! My butt is on your food! How do you like that?”
And thus, Ellie became transfixed with Dexter and his feline butt. Ellie would sometimes spend entire days at our window, keeping track of all the illegal activities Dexter committed in our yard. She would turn circles, whimpering.
Dexter would make eye-contact with Ellie through the glass. He would stare her down until she hurled herself against our window hard enough to shatter it.
Dexter was a professional competitor when it came to games between canines and felines.
There was the time, for instance, when I drove to the bank. Ellie came with me. She waited in my truck with the engine running. I ran inside. I was writing a deposit slip when the teller pointed out the window and shrieked.
“Your truck!” she hollered.
My vehicle was rolling into a flower bed.
I sprinted through the parking lot and when I reached the truck, I realized that my crazed bloodhound had knocked the gearshift out of park. She was having a real fit.
That’s when I saw Dexter crouched in the backseat, hissing.
Of course, Ellie Mae was interested in more than just cats. Her other interests included: pork, remote controls, scented candles, snotty rags, eyeglasses, Masterpiece Theater, and squirrels.
She was also interested in me.
Maybe that’s why we were so close. I never had a dog who wanted to be near me that often. I couldn’t leave the house without her, or go to the bathroom for that matter. I never slept without her beside me.
When Ellie Mae started to develop white fur around her snout, I took to calling her my old lady.
My wife used to say that if God had made Ellie human instead of dog, Ellie would have tried to kill my wife and elope with me to Las Vegas.
Her words, not mine.
During Ellie’s last years, her joints started bothering her, and her hip went bad. It was difficult to watch the old girl moan when she walked up stairs. My once athletic dog was now sleeping all day, and she didn’t have the energy to go to fishing with me anymore.
Ellie lived for thirteen years, but I can’t help feeling that my dog’s short life was only half lived. I wish I could have given her more belly rubs. I wish she could have eaten more table scraps.
And at least once, I wish she could have known the pleasure of catching a squirrel.
When a doctor injected colored solution into her veins, Ellie closed her eyes forever, and she took a piece of me with her.
In some ways I grieved for Ellie harder than I grieved my own father. Probably because it’s safer to grieve a dog than a human sometimes.
When you grieve for a human, there can be landmines beneath the surface of your memories, waiting to explode. Step on one, and you bring back all sorts of painful stuff.
But when you mourn for a dog, there are no landmines. There are only memories of a loyal animal who would have walked in front of traffic for you.
You mourn in unusual ways. You find yourself sitting in your truck alone, staring out a windshield. Your truck engine is off. You’re parked in your driveway. You just got home from the bank and you’re thinking of her.
Your upholstery bears her remnants. Hair. Dirt. Nose marks on the windows. There is a tiny cedar box of her ashes on your dashboard.
You place your hand on that box sometimes and say, “We sure had fun, didn’t we old girl?”
And you see something on your truck hood. It’s Dexter. He’s sleeping. That poor cat misses her as much as you do.
Some people might look at you funny when you talk about your dog too much.
And just keep on talking.