Job Hazard #1: Falling in Love.
I’ve been walking dogs for almost three years now, and I’ve had around twenty-five regular clients; dogs that I see every day. If you have any sort of human feeling at all, you can’t help but develop a relationship with someone you see five days a week, especially someone who is just as thrilled to see you Monday as he was Friday. How often does that happen in an office? Even the really difficult (i.e. utterly untrained) ones *coughbeaglescough* have grown on me, and I find these days that I have a genuine fondness for every single dog I walk.
And that can make saying goodbye a hard thing, indeed.
Since starting this adventure, I have had many partings with my dog pals. I’ve asked to have dogs removed from my roster due to behavior (dog’s or owners’) or driving distance. It’s part of the job, and a necessary adjustment. Some simply stop needing walks. and some have moved away. I’ve scratched their ears one more time, bought them one last chew toy, and said my goodbyes. There’s always a new pup who needs me, and I move on to a new day and a new leash. Some, I get to see again periodically, like Shorty* and Doodle, who both grew out of a puppyish need for daily walks but still need occasional supplemental or vacation care. Doodle is a particular favorite of mine, and I’m always so happy to see him again.
But in the last four months, I’ve experienced the loss of a pup through death for the first time. First was Petal, a beautiful four year-old greyhound who died quite suddenly one evening. Her loss was shocking for her owner, and I tried to offer support and a comfort where I could. It was a difficult experience and a sad time.
I lost another pup yesterday, and I’m having a bit more trouble with this one. Luke has been ill for a time, and I’ve watched him grow thinner and weaker. His owners had one test after another run until a diagnosis was reached just two weeks ago. I think we all knew it would not be long before he would leave.
Friday he had a bit more pep than he had in some time, and we managed a short walk down the block. Still, I felt something in the air; something was shifting in him. For the last couple of weeks, he had spent most of his time on his bed, but that day he remained standing after our walk, keeping close to my hip while I got him a treat, wrote my daily note and put away his leash and coat. I kept telling him he could lie down and rest, but he stuck stubbornly at my side. When I headed for the door, he followed me to it, something he had not done in weeks.
“You wanna go back out, buddy?” I offered him the open door and picked up his leash, but he simply looked at me with a level gaze I instantly recognized. It was a look I’d seen in Kokoro’s eyes. And I knew he was saying goodbye. I don’t fancy myself some sort of dog whispering pet psychic, but in that moment Luke communicated something to me as clearly as if he said it in words: This is goodbye. I’ll be okay now. Thanks a lot for everything, pal.
And that was the last time I saw him.
I will miss you a whole bunch, Lukey.
*some dog names changed