Yesterday my family and I had to put our 8 month old black lab to sleep due to her health issues. Her name is Molly. Before her, we had a labrador retriever border collie mix named Sugar and a chocolate lab named Hunter. We had to give Hunter away a few years ago and Sugar ran away a few months after we moved to Illinois. These three dogs all had very different personalities and taught me something different about life.
I was 13 when we got Sugar. I remember the first time my parents brought her home and we were in the backyard. She was chasing a bumblebee and tripped over her own paws. Another time I remember sitting at the computer doing homework with Taylor Swift’s “Should’ve Said No” playing and Sugar started singing and dancing. I say singing and dancing but it was more of her just barking and jumping around. I like to believe that she really did enjoy T-Swift though. I remember the time my Dad put her in the pool, hoping she would swim. She did, but never swam again. Another time she went to lay in the bushes by the pool and we didn’t know where she went. We spent about an hour looking for her, only for her to emerge from the bushes with leaves stuck to her fur and an expression on her face that said “what are you crazy people doing shouting my name? I was trying to nap.” I remember the time she got her head stuck in the fence because she thought she was small enough to fit through. I remember the time that she killed a bunch of mice and lined them up on our porch as if to say “look at what I caught! Aren’t you proud of me?” Yeah, mom wasn’t too happy about that one. I remember when we would go out somewhere and come home to see Sugar sitting on our front porch. Turns out, she would dig under the fence when we weren’t there but instead of running away, she would sit on the porch and wait for us. I remember how she would always lay on her pillow in front of the patio door so she could see outside but also see the front door. I remember how when we would put her outside at night, she would lay in her doghouse and stare inside the house. Sometimes, if you walked past that door in the middle of the night, all you could see are two eyes following you to and from wherever you were going. I like to think that was her way of protecting us.
When I was 15, we brought Hunter home. We thought Sugar would love to have a sibling. I’m sure she would’ve loved having another dog to play with, that is, if that dog didn’t hump her the first time he saw her. Or steal her food. And blankets. And doghouse. And started fights with her. Hunter was a very goofy dog when he wasn’t being mean. If you were to pet his ears, he would lay in your lap and growl. I guess that was his way of being appreciative. I remember his first snow storm. Sugar hated getting her paws wet and we had enough trouble getting her to go outside when it was wet. Hunter on the other hand, loved the snow. He would run and put his head in the snow and throw it up in the air. We used to call him Hunter the Chocolate Snowman. Eventually, he was too much stress on Sugar so we had to give him away but I still remember his goofy, lovable self.
When we moved to Illinois almost two years ago, Sugar became more of an inside dog. She got to sleep in the garage and go for walks. She loved her walks. We didn’t have a backyard at the time, it was just a pile of mud, so her walks were the only way she really got to be outside. One day, our garage didn’t close all the way and she got out. We never found her again but I like to think that she either found her way back to Jersey or started a tribe of dogs and deer and birds and cats in the woods and leads them around the area with war paint and battle cries. Far fetched, I know, but I like to think that’s what happened instead of the alternative.
A few weeks after I turned 19, we got Molly. Our little black beauty with big paws and even bigger ears. She began to fill the gap in our hearts that Sugar and Hunter left. I remember when she first came home and we were all sitting in a circle in the kitchen, as she sniffed all of us. I remember the time she chased an empty milk jug around the kitchen. The milk jug was bigger than her and it would be a few weeks before she could carry it around. I remember how she rarely barked. She would only bark at paper towel rolls or if you told her no. I remember the time that I was playing soccer with her in the backyard, which had grass by this time, and she ran through the fence and down the street. I had to chase her down, with the help of my 15 year old brother. I remember the time she jumped in my car and sat on the passenger seat and looked at me as if to say “where are we going? I wanna explore.” I remember how she would give me hugs by sitting and then giving me her paw and putting her head on my shoulder. I felt proud because I taught her that. I remember how whenever I laid in the living room with my blue blanket, she would have to lay with me as well. She loved that blanket. I remember how she would love to sit outside and watch people and cars go by, with the wind blowing her ears. I remember how she would take the soccer ball from me and run around the yard with it. She loved being chased and showing off how fast she is. I remember how I would lay on the floor with the blanket over me and just poke my head out and say “turtle” and she would try to chew the “turtle.” It wasn’t long until her hips started bothering her. She would have trouble sitting and standing up and walking. The vet thought it was just growing pains at first but she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. I remember the last few days as we tried to delay the inevitable. We spent more time with her. We cuddled with her and played with her and hugged her and cried with her. I remember yesterday morning when I came home from work. I knew what was going to happen later that day so I wanted to enjoy those last few moments. I played soccer with her and held her chew toy for her and gave her some Goldfish, which she loves. I remember sitting in the living room and Molly coming in and sitting in front of me. I knew I looked sad and Molly looked at me and cocked her head to the side as if to say “what’s wrong.” She moved closer to me and put her paws on my shoulders. I knew what was going to happen so I put my arms around her. She dropped her paws to my waist and put her head on my shoulder. I hugged her and cried. But then I ended up laughing because her whiskers were tickling my ear and that was when I knew all would be okay.
My dogs taught me more about life than any other school lesson or parental lecture. They taught me about responsibility and how to be reliable. Forgiveness and kindness and patience and unconditional love because that is what my dogs had, unconditional love for me and my siblings and my parents and life in general. They taught me to appreciate the little moments in life, whether it was a bacon bone or a walk or a hug. They made me grateful for the fact that I can walk and run and breathe. My dogs gave me the ability to love because they showed me first hand what pure, unwavering love was like. My dogs were my best friends. They were the ones I could talk to and play with when I had no one else. They loved me simply because I was there. Isn’t that beautiful? In a world where sometimes it feels like we have to earn love, by dressing a certain way and acting a certain way and hanging out with certain people, my dogs loved me. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could love each other the way our dogs loved us? We aren’t perfect. We have flaws. We make mistakes. Sometimes we get mad and say things that we don’t mean. We cry and fight with people. We hurt people and people hurt us. Yet our dogs still love us. Maybe, just maybe, we can take a lesson from our furry best friends. Maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place and we would be better people if we love each other unconditionally. Just like our four legged besties love us.