Today I awakened with a heavy heart, remembering that 18 years ago, we lost one of our first dogs to violence. His name was Rover, and he was a spirited, strong, and loving two year old Labrador.We adopted him with his almost identical littermate, Astro. Once, I switched their collars - Rover always wore red and Astro always wore blue. My husband didn't notice right away and was flummoxed when neither dog responded to his name! One surefire way to tell them apart was to close your eyes and stroke their ears. Rover's ears were the silkiest soft ears that I've ever touched.We met these dogs, who lived in a very humane research lab, when they were puppies. Soon, we were sneaking them out of the lab for adventures and even sneaking them home to spend the night with us - without asking our landlords. One Saturday morning, we woke up to find the landlords doing yardwork outside our door. It appeared that they planned to work all day, and we had two 70 lb illicit Labs in the house who needed potty breaks. My husband pulled out two HUGE duffel bags. First, he used treats to get Astro into one, and he confidently walked to the car with the bag. Rover was next. Neither of them wriggled or made a peep. We drove away giggling wildly and let the dogs out for hugs and pats. What an escapade!
That night, we asked the landlords if we could have the dogs at our house, and they happily gave us permission. I don't know why we didn't just ask to start with!
Soon thereafter, the non-invasive experiments on the dog duo ended, and we adopted them. They launched us into our love affair with dogs.
Back then, we lived in New England, and we had adventures with the dogs in the woods and the White Mountains almost every weekend. Rover loved swimming in cold lakes.Here, the two dogs had just swum, undoubtedly with Astro barking in frustration because Rover was a speedier runner and swimmer. Rover is lying down.
Today, K and I mountain biked as usual. I kept K close by, like I always do, but with even more fervor. We found a silent and beautiful spot in the pine forest where a grove of tiny gems bloomed. We sat together, and I remembered Rover. His brother Astro lived to be almost 16 years old. I'm still sad that Rover and the rest of us lost so many years together. I'm also sad that the violence and death of that day 18 years ago changed me forever.About a year ago, I wrote a "This I Believe" in the style of the NPR essays. Mine focused on Rover and his legacy.
This I Believe
I believe in seizing the moment to do things that I love. I’ve developed this belief through both bad and good experiences. The most life-changing experience happened in my early 20s. My husband and I had the good fortune of having a pair of Labrador littermates unexpectedly land in our life. Prior to their unexpected arrival, we would not have chosen to make a commitment to two young dogs because we wanted to keep our freedom. However, it was one of the best things that ever happened to us. We learned daily about the exuberance of young dogs and the loyal love that they naturally give their humans. We learned how they joyfully embrace each day and find happiness in the smallest things like carrying a stick while sprinting around in circles.
One Saturday morning about a year after we adopted our Labs, we overslept, and our pups awoke us by marching around the bedroom carrying our hiking shoes to subtly tell us what they wanted to do that day. On the way to the trailhead for our hike, my husband and I talked about how old we would be when our dogs became elderly. We happily counted the many years and fun experiences that we thought that we would share with them.
Our youthful naiveté was shattered during that hike when a crazy drunk man murdered one of our dogs and then threatened me with his gun. Although I’ve endured many losses since that time, that particular event profoundly changed my view of life. First, I learned that I have more courage than I ever dreamed – when my dog lay dying and the crazy man waved his gun at me and told me to leave my dog’s side, I refused to abandon my dog to die alone. I still draw strength from knowing that I have that kind of courage. Then, over the months and years following that event, I struggled with my loss of trust in humankind. Sadly, I never totally regained that trust.
Finally, after years of grieving and learning about the fragility of my own health, I distilled the lesson that I should seize each day as if it were my last with my human and canine family. Life is fleeting, precious, and unpredictable. Indeed, exuberantly seizing every day is exactly what my dogs naturally do - and in that aspect of life, they are my best teachers.