When we lose someone dear and precious, it’s like everyone else who died before loses them all over again. Safely asleep in our memory, this most recent death awakens and amplifies the loss of all those who have gone before. They uncoil, they stretch, and when they hold hands, the weight of all that pain and sorrow bends us down until we think we can’t stand, move, or breathe again.
There is a void in my heart shaped like a dog. Her name was Ally and she was a Doberman. And if you know Dobes, you know they are special, if you have ever had the privilege of being loved by a Doberman; you will know that they are extraordinary. ally was great.
He was barely two weeks old when we met. My life was in complete and utter chaos because I was leaving a place I didn’t want to leave and moving to a place I didn’t want to go to. He knew he couldn’t do it alone, he needed a dog. But not just any dog, a Doberman.
He was born from the Aeolus pedigree and his breeder, who sold him to me, said that his line had won many awards for best display, obedience and many others. They were champions and she said this was the best litter in over twenty years – she was selling the pups for $4,000 each.
Noticing my audible gulp, he said he had 2 males and 2 females that he would sell for $1000-$1500 each. He recommended that I drive to her pound so I could meet these puppies. The breeder walked me into a large garage type building and picked up 4 tiny carcasses, put them on the cement floor and left me alone with them. As I sat down on the ground, one of the pups pulled out and wobbled towards me moving his entire body. His other 3 littermates stayed in his ball and watched me warily. At that time, Ally and I began our 10-year journey that ended on the morning of March 26, 2006.
Ally wasn’t afraid. Our first “outing” was to a Petco store in Houston – she was about 4 weeks old. He saw a huge Rotweiler, the dog must have been 120 or 130 pounds, this little pup “attacked” the Rotweiler, pulling on his leash as he barked, growling with all the ferocity of the 80 pound animal he would become a year from now . The owner, as well as the other 5 or 6 customers in the store, laughed out loud. Throughout her life, that bravery would remain a dominant trait of her personality.
He was about 3 months old when we left Texas to move to the Massachusetts that he feared so much. We arrived at Logan airport at the end of November 1995; I retrieved Ally from the dog pickup location and as we sat in the airport shuttle I’m not sure who was more scared, him or me. He had found a house to rent with woods for the pup to run and grow. I could only hope that this new job and home would work out for us. But I had been in Texas for almost 20 years, and moving to Massachusetts felt like moving to another planet.
I worked long hours, too long to be fair to a fast growing, reclusive, energetic pup. But as the days turned into weeks, we settled into a routine that worked pretty well for both of us. The breeder had taught me that crates are best for growing dogs as they were pack animals, they felt safe, and household items would be protected from exploring curious puppy teeth. But during the moments when he was allowed out of the box, it was all fair game. It was harder to maintain during my morning workout and it must have been during one of those times that the cause of our first meltdown occurred.
We had been in our new home for perhaps a month or so. One morning at 2 or 3 am, Ally suddenly became terribly ill with vomiting and diarrhea. I called a vet’s 911 number and got through to a man named Dr. Rice. After explaining my situation to this man, he responded by giving me directions to the Tufts University Clinic, suggesting that the dog’s symptoms seemed necessary for emergency surgery and that his practice was closed because he was close to retire. I’ll never know why this nice man agreed to let me drive Ally to her office at 6 am on my way to work. Dr. Rice told me that he had no idea what would cause such a violent disease in such a young dog and, in his kind manner, he tried to prepare me for all eventualities. He explained to me what he would do and what his options were and that he would call me mid-morning. I was meeting with my administrative staff about our budget challenges when my secretary interrupted us with a call from Dr. Rice. Picking up the call, the listeners in my office only heard an exclamation from me: “What… pantyhose?” And my entire office dissolved in gales of laughter.
Ally had found and swallowed a pair of my pantyhose. Dr. Rice was astounded by the fact that the purgatives had resulted in the expulsion of the pantyhose without complications. He had been unable to identify anything on the X-ray and had had to rely on restoring the dog’s lost fluids and continuing to cause vomiting in the hope that something would be expelled. He said it took him and his staff a while to identify what the object was. I picked up my dog later that afternoon with gushing gratitude for this man, when I asked if he could recommend a vet to take Ally to, he smiled and replied, you already have one.
Our best moments during those first few months were spent behind the rental house exploring the woods where I could run with complete abandon during that winter and spring. Or those weekends when we took a walk through the quiet streets of the town. Many nights, we would just sit and listen to music and I would talk to him about what was on his mind.
When John met Ally and me later that year, it took them a while to get along. John was used to dogs, but dogs that were mostly outside and somewhat invisible. Ally loved to be outside if I was there, but he was never invisible. Once John and I got married, he bought a couple of books on Dobermans so he could learn about this dog who was truly the best friend he ever had. When he finished the books, he announced that now he got it… that with a Doberman you just had to realize that it was your very good luck that they chose to live with you and love you… but that it was his choice.
What does love have between us and a dog? Is it that we envy the integrity of his being or the purity and simplicity of his nature? When we spend too much of our lives battling our various selves, consumed by ambition or greed, an animal is never more or less than an animal. Where the love between people is so often conditional, the love of a dog isthat it simply is It does not matter that. I think it’s no coincidence that dog is God spelled backwards.
John and I talked for hours about Ally the night she died. John did most of the talking while I was doing most of the crying. We talked about his spirit, that heart the size of Texas filled with an indomitable spirit. John took many walks in the desert alone with Ally and said that he often thought about what might happen if they encountered a mountain lion, which is abundant in the high mountains of the desert. That night, John said that he knew exactly what would have happened. That if necessary, Ally would have placed herself between John and the lion and would fight to the death of him.
There is a rock on top of his grave that says:
“Aeolus” Ally Heart and Soul
August 7, 1995 – March 26, 2006
The gift I am sending you is called a dog, and it is, in fact, humanity’s most precious and valuable possession.”
As a very young college student, I discovered the writings of Kahil Gibran and memorized a few sentences that seemed to explain the turbulence of my life as a young adult. Now as a much older adult, they return…
“…your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the same well from which your laughter springs was often filled with your tears. And how else can it be?
The deeper pain carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… When you are sad, look again into your heart, and you will see that you are truly crying for what has been your delight. Some of you say: “Joy is greater than sadness”, and others say: “No, sadness is greater”. But I tell you that they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your table, remember that the other is asleep on your bed. Only when you are empty are you standing still and balanced…”