Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion Opinion L.A.

Daum: The gift of a great dog

We got another dog right away. That wasn't the plan. But back in March, less than two weeks after Rex died and when I still had faint bruises from digging my fingers into my forehead amid uncontrollable sobs, I signed us up to "foster" a Saint Bernard mix that had been rescued from a crack den.

It was a classic rebound move, but the unbearable silence of the dogless house was too much to take. You don't realize how much a dog's presence defines the contours of your home until, in its absence, the walls seem to relocate themselves. You don't realize how many of your unconscious gestures — a glance into a certain backyard corner, a moment of extra care on the stair landing — are calibrated to your dog's internal GPS.

PHOTOS: Upload photos of your pets

And then one day there is no dog in the yard or on the stair landing. The night is no longer punctuated by the clicking of his nails on the floor, the body jerks and muted little barks of his dream life. And because this is intolerable, you get another dog.

There are an estimated 164 million pet dogs and cats in the United States. That means many hundreds of thousands of them die every year, leaving their owners (or human companions, if you prefer) awash in grief. Just about every major city in America offers pet bereavement groups, and if you just type something like "losing dog worse than losing dad" into a search engine, you'll see how the pain of losing a pet can sometimes exceed that of losing a friend or family member. Experts say it's nothing to be ashamed of because animals provide constant companionship and unconditional love in a way that no person ever could or should.

With that in mind, I've tried to tell myself that getting another dog so soon after Rex's death isn't the same as splitting up with someone, then hitting an IKEA kitchen sale with the next warm body you meet. It's more like seeking oxygen because suddenly your air supply has been taken away.

I'd tell you about the new dog, but so far there's not a whole lot to say. She was 83 pounds when we got her and she's 93 pounds now, but she lives in a shadow so long she might as well be a tiny a flower we picked and brought inside in an attempt to brighten up the room. That shadow is cast by 13 years with Rex, who was my baby, my companion, my muse, my partner.

Don't think for a second I don't know how sad that sounds. There's a particular kind of single woman whose relationship with her dog has a level of intensity and affection that may be both the cause and the result of her singleness. For a long time I was that woman.

Rex lived with me in 12 different houses and apartments in two different states. He usually slept outside or on the cool tile floor, but in the winter he shared my bed, colonizing not just the foot of it but sometimes the space next to me, where he'd lay his head on the pillow. In my life so far, I have never felt more in tune with another living thing. If Rex could have talked, we'd have finished each other's sentences.

Then I met my husband, and he loved Rex too. And though I stopped being that particular kind of single woman, we became a particular kind of couple: the kind for whom their dog is their child, the kind that talks about their dog in such a way that people who have actual children make fun of them in the car on the way home. But we didn't care. Rex was our Zen master, our couple's-therapy dog. Even when we weren't sure how we felt about each other, there was never any doubt that we were going to love him down to the nub.

They say if you're lucky you'll get one really great dog in your life. Other dogs may do their jobs in their own unique and perfectly wonderful ways, but there will always be that dog that no dog will replace, the dog that will make you cry even when it's been gone for more years than it could ever have lived. I have now had that dog. That is at once the most beautiful and most awful thought in the world.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • How to help abandoned pets

    How to help abandoned pets

    You can adopt an abandoned pet or write a check to a shelter, but smaller gestures help too.

  • My aging brain makes me feel stupid

    My aging brain makes me feel stupid

    Meet my brain. It is the size of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's fist, the consistency of flan, weighs as much as a two-slice toaster and looks like ground round with a high fat content. If you saw it at the butcher's, you'd ask for something a little less beige.

  • New study says Hepatitis drugs could cost state taxpayers billions

    New study says Hepatitis drugs could cost state taxpayers billions

    Jaws dropped earlier this year when Gov. Jerry Brown told the Legislature that he wanted to set aside $300 million for two years' worth of specialty drugs for Medi-Cal users, state prisoners and others covered by state health programs. Even with a general fund of more than $110 billion, $300 million...

  • Once again, a U.S. Embassy in Havana

    Once again, a U.S. Embassy in Havana

    Later this month, the United States and Cuba will reopen embassies in each other's capitals for the first time since severing relations in 1961. This has been expected since President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December that they intended to restore diplomatic ties. As Obama...

  • In today's world, fear corporations or fear nations?

    In today's world, fear corporations or fear nations?

    I do not often side with Republicans against Democrats. Nor has President Obama been known for his working relationship with congressional Republicans. Yet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which died in the House three weeks ago, only to be resurrected by the Senate last Wednesday — I find myself...

  • How to handle Puerto Rico's debt crisis

    How to handle Puerto Rico's debt crisis

    This has not been the best week for risky government securities. First, the Greek government failed to make a $1.7-billion payment that was due Tuesday. Then the Puerto Rican government revealed that its debt had become unsustainable, although it managed to forestall a default by making more than...

  • Why another look at affirmative action?

    Why another look at affirmative action?

    Since 2003, when the Supreme Court last ruled that state universities may take race into account in their admissions policies without violating the Constitution, opponents of affirmative action have worked tirelessly to have the court revisit the issue. They were jubilant this week when the justices...

  • Crowdfunding Greece: What's your level of giving?

    Crowdfunding Greece: What's your level of giving?

    Hey there, world citizens! As you may have heard, Greece is in a bad way — tossed between Scylla and Charybdis, as the Greeks would say. But then, the Greeks had a word for everything.

Comments
Loading