“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” - Will Rogers
After 14 years, we've had to say goodbye to Pickles. It's been painfully difficult. She was the best dog ever. I know, everyone says that. And I'm sure it's true. It seems we all get the dog we most need. And we needed Pickles. There are so many memories and so many characteristics of her that we will never forget. She was empathic, funny, loving and compassionate. We've always known that about her. What we didn't realize is what a good teacher she was. As I've sat by her empty bowl and stared at the quiet backyard and draped my hand over the bed only to find empty space and not a wet, pink nose, I've begun to understand the lessons she's taught us. They are important lessons and we were clearly very slow students - it took us 14 years of her sweet companionship to learn these simple truths:
1) Always get up and greet someone when they walk into a room.
Pickles never let anyone enter a room without being acknowledged - even if you only left that room 47 seconds ago. Very often, in fact, she would accompany you to the other room. She was a pink-nosed shadow to most people but always to Steve. In the past few months, Pickle's back legs haven't worked as well as they used to and sometimes Steve could quickly dart into the other room and get back before she got all the way up. "I'm coming right back, Picky!" he'd call or "Don't get up! Don't get up! Oh, Picky ... Okay." and then she'd trot behind him as he loaded his bowl into the dishwasher or moved the laundry to the basement or a hundred other little house chores. That dog has clocked more miles in this house over the years than any of us.
I hate to admit this but often people enter or leave my presence with no acknowledgement at all. Not so much in my home but for sure in my day. The mailman, the guy next to me pumping gas, the homeless man on the same exact corner with the same exact sign every day. I have no qualms about scooting on by and getting on with my life. Would it be so much effort to say hello? To greet and smile? I don't have to trot behind them when they pay the bill or head off to find the gourmet cheese section but certainly I can give a little more. It costs me nothing and can mean a lot. Every living thing responds to attention. Thank you, Pickles. That's a good lesson.
2) Don't worry so much about what name people call you.
"Jenne" gets pronounced many different ways: Jean, Jenny, Jeannie, Janna, etc. I spend a great deal of time and energy correcting receptionists, hostesses, clients, pizza delivery men, credit card-returning waitresses and telemarketers. "Jen-nay" I say, "It's Jen-nay, rhymes with Hooray!" or I might make it super simple "Jen-nay, like Renee but with a J". I"ll be honest, it rarely works. 14 years ago I first held my yellow puppy when she was 3 hours old. I looked down at her sleepy face and said "Hello, Pickles." The name just fit. Since that moment, however, she's been called many variations - Pickle, Pickles, PickPick, Picky, PicklePup etc. We were as guilty as everyone else. A few years ago, Steve looked at me and said, "Wait, is her real name Pickle or Pickles?" I couldn't really say. And it's never seemed to matter. Not to her anyway. I once watched her trot happily up to a neighbor who called out "Hi, Bananas!" She knew who they were talking about. What did it matter if they used her exact name? And what does it matter to me? When I correct people who deign to mispronounce my name, they always apologize. "Oh I'm sorry!" they say. And I always say "it's okay!" But if it really is okay, why do I say anything at all? Why do I correct? I know who they mean and so do they. I'm going to let that go. Thank you, Picky.
3) Being near is enough.
I went running this last weekend. I saw lots and lots of doggers jogging next to their owners on the trail. Happily smiling doggy smiles they kept up and bounced their jingly collars. Those dogs must be such great company during a run. It's hard to be in a bad mood when you have Jingly Jingles running next to you. Pickles never ran with me. A couple weekends ago, I saw a man in a wheelchair who had a guide dog. I'm not sure exactly what that dog did. Perhaps that dog was able to reach things on high shelves that the man could not reach. Or maybe that man has an unseen condition the dog can sense and warn him to. Maybe the dog drives, I don't know. But I'm absolutely sure whatever that dog did, Pickles could NOT do it. Not because she wasn't smart, she was! But because Pickles loved EVERYONE. If I ever went out with Picky in public, I was soon forgotten because in Pickles mind there were "LOTS OF PEOPLES WHO WANT TO BE BONKED BY ME!" She could never be a guide dog. I'd be abandoned in a heartbeat. Pick was an OK guard dog. I guess. I mean she would bark and bark if anyone came to the door, but mostly because she was happy to see them. She sounded fierce but the second anyone came in, she'd flop and give up the belly or trot off to see if this new person wanted to know where we kept the mini-marshmallows. Bottom line, Pickle didn't have a lot of talents. Except one. She knew how to be near. She was really really good at being near. She would sit next to you and lean into you. Or she would lay her head in your lap - it's okay if you didn't want to pet her, she'd just leave her head there, just in case. Or, if tired, she might lay down, not so much next to you, but on you - on your feet. Are you in the bathroom? She'd come in. Are you in the kitchen? She'd lay behind you as you do the dishes. Working on the computer? Oops, she'd lay on and switch off the power strip. Sorry! Being near was very important to Pickle. She's not the only one. So often in life, not knowing what to say or do will keep us from saying or doing anything. Thank you, Sweet Dog, for showing me again that being near is enough. Near in presence, near in thoughts, near in love.
4) People first, toys second. Or third. Or not at all.
10 days ago when we had to take Pickle to the emergency vet, I knew in my heart she wouldn't be coming back home. She was 14. She'd had a great run at this life. She'd loved well and she'd been happy. We'd seen her slow down just a bit in recent months and we'd begun the discussion of "the right time." On that day, she became suddenly ill. She kept pacing from room to room looking for Nena, for me, for Steve. She was restless. Then she wasn't. I called my vet and then called the emergency vet. I told them we were coming. I could barely get the words out. I meant to say, "We're bringing our dog in. We want to see if she can be okay but if we can't fix it immediately, we are ready to make a decision." What I actually said through sobs was, "My dog ... my dog, Pickle .... it's ... she's ... I think I need to bring my dog in". They told us we could watch her or bring her in. They told us it was our choice. They said we knew her best. I laid on the rug next to her and just kept saying over and over, "Tell me what to do, Picky, please just tell me what to do." Then I looked into her eyes and knew she was telling me. Steve took her outside for a walk in the yard and then to the van. As he was lifting her in I ran back inside. I wanted to bring something, a toy, a blanket, something from home that would comfort her. Something she loved. A ball? A bone? I was frantic ... I couldn't find anything, I couldn't think of anything. I stood and spun in the living room what is it? what was her favorite thing? ... and that's when it hit me.
It was us.
We were her favorite things. We were her very favorite things. She didn't chase balls or sleep with a stuffed snake or carry a blanket around, she never possessed anything. Happily, over the years, she let any other dog take her bed, her bowl, her space. She shared. She adjusted. But she always claimed us. It's so obvious to us now in the pictures we flip through, in the short video clips she's wandering in and out of, in the giant hole she has left. She loved us the best. And she did it so well.
In the end, we were with her. We fulfilled our role as her favorite things. We laid next to her. We patted and stroked her back. We kissed that wonderful pink nose. We reminded her we loved her. We thanked her for making us better.
And then she was gone.
Pickles never did much. Not really. She never entered a dog show or saved someone from drowning or ever figured out to walk by my bike without getting bike grease all over her. Pickles would drink too much water too fast and then erp it up on the carpet. She unintentionally would "table top" people by standing directly behind them. She barked like a maniac if you left her outside longer than she wanted to be outside. She never really learned any tricks. She would put her cold wet nose on you first thing in the morning and often step on your feet with her big yellow paws. She was relentlessly diligent about telling you it was time to feed her - even if you'd just fed her. She got in the way. She belched. Loudly. And she shed - a lot. It's hard to imagine that all of those things somehow combined in a way to create the best dog in the world. But they did. And now, her absence is the most present thing in our home.
Night night, Picky. You really were the best. We'll miss you every day.