For the love of a good dog

I’ve always liked the saying that goes: “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

It’s a lofty thought, isn’t it? For no matter how ordinary our day may have been, and regardless of how we treated others or let our laziness leave things undone, our dog greets us at the front door as if we just put in the best and most righteously productive day of our lives.

You get the “Thanks For Curing Cancer Today” greeting. To Buddy or Rex or Boomer, you are the hero of the world.

My dog Ruby couldn’t get enough of me. She traveled with me around rural Nevada. We especially liked to stay at the Hotel Nevada in Ely, where management let dogs and newspapermen alike belly up at the casino bar. (“What’ll it be, Miss Ruby? The usual … water for you and a beer for your human?”)

The last time I saw Ruby was the morning we packed for an extended road trip this summer to Minnesota, Maine and unknown parts down the Eastern seaboard.

She wasn’t going on this particular trip. But she didn’t know that. She only knew what it meant when the clothes lay on the bed and the laptop went into the carry case. She jumped in and out of the suitcase that morning, shouting in full-body dog-sign language “Wheee! We’re going somewhere! We’re going somewhere!”

When I closed the door from the house to the garage, she stood in the hallway, head cocked to the side as if to say: “Hey, haven’t you forgotten something?”

Two days later as we cruised down Interstate 80 between Ogallala and Lincoln, Neb., the cellphone rang. Ruby had bolted out the door (as she often did, I am sad to say) and was hit by a car — the life instantly knocked out of her.

Now let me point out that I’m no rookie to grief. As an Episcopal priest, I’ve presided over a number of funerals. Both my parents have passed. I’ve gutted through a miscarriage, the death of several friends and a few dogs, too.

But this news stunned me. The suddenness and sheer intensity of it caught me off guard. We pulled off the interstate and cried. We couldn’t go one mile farther. Continuing on for an open-ended road trip was simply not an option. So, we turned back. Made it to the Las Vegas side of Denver that night and home the next day.

I’m telling you all this, in part, because it’s been a bit over a month since Ruby died, and I remain surprised by the impact it has had on me.

I know I’m not the only one to experience a hole in the heart the size of a pet. Many have experienced this. Author Jeffrey Masson has written extensively on the topic.

In his book, “Dogs Never Lie About Love,” he points out that Sigmund Freud noted the emotional faithfulness of dogs.

“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies,” Freud said. “Quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object reasons.”

But for me, Masson hits the nail on the head more squarely when he explains it this way:

“Dogs are without the ambivalence with which humans seem cursed. We love, we hate often the same person, on the same day, maybe even at the same time. This is unthinkable in dogs, whether because, as some people believe, they lack the complexity or, as I believe, they are less confused about what they feel. It is as if once a dog loves you, he loves you always, no matter what you do, no matter what happens, no matter how much time goes by.”

A dog’s love is unconditional and transcendent of time. I like that, but am I sucker for thinking she’ll be waiting for me in that big casino bar in the sky?

I hope not, because Ruby was a good dog. And I miss her.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.

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