Uzi Peretz writes about how his relationship with his dog represented so much more, and how much he learned from Goliath right up until the end.
My first dog was a collie, shepherd, husky mix named Ellie. Well, technically it was my Dad’s first dog. Maybe that’s why my mom and him decided not to tell me the day he convinced her to take Ellie for one final trip to the vet. I suppose 4 years old is a bit too young to try and explain death but the thought of letting me wander around aimlessly looking for my dog wasn’t exactly the best way either.
Considering we were still in a Christian cult at the time, you’d think they would have used the opportunity to install some more of Its god/jesus/holyspirit/amen jargon into my fragile, developing ego, but no; they chose not to say anything at all. They let me call out to Ellie for what seemed like a very long time and when she never showed up, I started to cry. “Don’t cry” my Dad ordered the both of us. “She isn’t really gone, she’s in heaven” he said, only half convincingly. Mom was trying her best to hold back tears while she gently wiped tears off of my cheeks. Dad just sat there, unusually silent except for the periodic order for the both of us to stop crying. I clearly remember being so upset that I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to her or even to cry about it that I blurted out one of those “kid” promises. Something like, “one day when I have a dog I’m going to…”
Twenty years later my first wife gave me the opportunity to make good on that promise. We’d been married about 4 years and had just bought our first house when I came home to the cutest, most adorable, Rottweiler-Blue Heeler mix. I was immediately reminded of Ellie and all the mistakes my evangelical, hypocritical and possibly bipolar alcoholic father had unintentionally passed on to me. The anger, fear and regret he’d unknowingly passed onto me began to spew forth from my subconscious mind and onto my partner.
While we argued about the dog, he took the opportunity to familiarize himself with his new home by engaging in typical puppy behavior. He peed on the floor, crapped on the rug and chewed up my shoe. Looking back I realize it wasn’t just the thought of the dog that caused me to start a fight. I didn’t know it then but it is rarely, if ever, the subject of an argument that is the true cause of one. The truth is that I was afraid and extremely unhappy with myself. I was trapped in a personality I’d grow weary of. Controlling, manipulative and possessive were traits that no longer suited the person I so desperately (and unknowingly) wanted to become. I just didn’t know how to face any of it so I pretended that the true cause of my anger was this helpless puppy. This wonderful creature who I came to learn had escaped certain death at the hands of the breeder who mistakenly let two of their best purebreds get together for some afternoon delight. It really is true what they say about dogs and this one became my best friend for the next twelve years of my life.
If you didn’t know (or haven’t experienced it yet), most men go through some major life changes around the age of 28, give or take a few years. There is a lot of information surrounding this topic, not the least of which is one of my favorite songs called The Grudge. I was lucky to have such a wonderful dog through this period my life. One of the most influential moments was facing the frightening realization that no amount of money or medicine can stop the inevitable.
It’s easy to throw around an idea that dogs have unconditional love for us but I don’t think that is really the case. Dogs do not understand love the way we do, their brains are just not equipped to do so. Sure we give them human emotions like smiling, being bad and unconditional love but I think it is actually relinquishing our own unconditional love for them that makes putting them down so difficult (and expensive). They actually wanted to charge us well over $400 to “privately” cremate him and put the ashes in an urn to gather dust on a mantle. This is probably why the owner of the facility drives a brand new Mercedes. We donated the money to a rescue instead.
Goliath was by my side for one of my biggest growth periods so far. He got me through the last 4 years of an 8 year marriage and he always took my anger in stride, even when I acted out of ignorance and hit him for being a “bad” dog. He never questioned any of the ridiculous commands I used to think were so important for a dog to obey and he loved when I took him rollerblading around the block. He loved catching frisbees, playing dead and if the beers were placed just right in the cooler, he would even bring you one.
He was patient while I put off dealing with all the stuff that was piling up inside. I was so scared to begin dealing with all the religious, parental, societal, educational and political bullshit that was slowly turning me into my father but somehow he seemed to understand. He saw me through several failed attempts at polyamory, homosexuality and a period of isolation I’d rather not talk about just yet. He was with me when I ingested a large amount of psilocybin mushrooms and tried desperately to figure out my purpose on this spinning rock in the middle of infinity.
And a few years later he was there when I met my human best friend. The woman who would be the first female to show me the true meaning of unconditional love (technically my Mom counts as the first but you know what I mean). This is the woman who inspired me to write and who held my hand when, after twelve years, Goliath was no longer able to meet me at the door.
I knew what had to be done so we loaded him up in the truck and took him to the vet for the last time. I think you know an animal is special when even the Doctor is crying uncontrollably. At that point, she’d known him almost as long as I had. She was there when he was recovering from (very expensive) cruciate ligament surgery and other miscellaneous ailments that animals always seem to get at the worst possible times (financially).
As my wife and I sat on floor holding his paws I suddenly began to panic. I remembered I didn’t take him to pig out on McDonalds like I had promised several months before. I whispered I’m sorry boy, watched his eyes close and just like that, he was gone.
The Doc was really nice and said we could stay with him as long as we wanted, even past closing time. I looked at my wife and tried to speak but all I could get out through the sobs was something about how it felt weird caressing a dead animal. Goliath was gone but in the process he’d helped catapult me from boy to man.
Since that day, I’ve never once been afraid to hold back tears. I don’t care if they are tears of joy or pain or just due to some well written chick flick. Losing my first dog wasn’t easy by any means but I wouldn’t trade any of the valuable lessons he taught me for even one more rollerblade around the block.
Photo: (top) erenemre / flickr (bottom) Author