During the uncertainty of these times, the ongoing balancing act, Chris Dupuy reminds us that harmony can be found through our giving, loving pets.
Not your run-of-the-mill, where-did-I-leave-my-car-keys confused, either. It runs deeper.
For example, I got to the airport today and had to put on a mask. By doing so, I was keenly aware that I was alienating roughly half the country’s population and, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember which half. Is it the half that thinks I’m an idiot for getting the vaccine? Or the half that believes that those who haven’t been vaccinated must be the mutant spawn of some clandestine mating ritual between a Ku Klux Klansman and the Unabomber?
But I had to get to the other side of our great nation by nightfall, so, on went the mask and I quietly hoped my egregious offense would be forgiven in time by whoever the offended party happened to be. And forgive me for waxing nostalgic here, but oh for the days when Coke versus Pepsi was the topic that posed the greatest danger to nationwide unity.
While waiting for the plane to take off, I absently scrolled through the News app on my phone. I didn’t find much to cheer me up. The first story I saw got me thinking about how terribly I feel for the families and loved ones of those thirteen Marines lost during what certainly appears (to the uninformed, naked eye anyway) to have been a terribly executed exit from Afghanistan. In the very next article, my sympathies turned to the families of those unsuspecting Afghan civilians killed during the retaliatory airstrike levied back at the Taliban following the deaths of the thirteen Marines.
Part of what confuses me these days is how some would excoriate me for my feelings of remorse toward one of those groups of people, but not the other. Yet somehow that’s the state of the world I live in today—a world where to acknowledge feelings of sympathy toward one group of suffering humans may very well infuriate another.
Like many of us, I worry about our country. I find myself increasingly concerned that the man we’ve put in charge may be incapable of leading us out of the current malaise of finger-pointing and polarization. But simultaneously I breathe a sigh of relief that he’s the man in charge and not the last guy, the megalomaniac who spent the better part of four years emptying a virtual gasoline can on the dumpster fire of societal unrest by tweeting preposterous, incendiary comments during bathroom visits in the middle of the night.
I got to the airport today and had to put on a mask. By doing so, I was keenly aware that I was alienating roughly half the country’s population and … I couldn’t remember which half.
It makes me cringe knowing that such mixed emotions regarding the past and present leaders of the free world might be the only thing that could unite our entire populace right now. My balanced doses of disgust and disappointment directed at both parties offers literally everyone the ability to lock arms in unison, convinced that my confusion and unwillingness to direct vitriol in only one direction truly makes me everybody’s asshole.
Which is where my dog comes in.
Sophie is 17 months old and without a doubt the kindest soul on the planet. She arrived in the middle of the global pandemic and from Day 1 has proceeded to bring unadulterated joy to all who cross her path. Every morning, she wakes up absolutely thrilled that a new day has dawned. She is overjoyed by every simple pleasure she experiences, whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood where new scents and scenes are discovered on a minute-by-minute basis or playing a game of tug-o-war with her favorite piece of rope in the backyard.
And, to think, I nearly passed on the opportunity to bring Sophie into my life. Because when it comes to dogs, the old saying “it is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all” is a stone-cold fact. But it doesn’t make the “lost” part of that old saying feel any better when that saddest of days inevitably comes along.
Sophie is the third Bernese Mountain Dog of my adult life. If you know the breed, then you know Berners are beloved for their intelligence, sweet dispositions, and gentleness and sensitivity toward all other living beings.
Before Sophie brightened my world, we had Cookie. Unlike sweet Sophie, who’s a bit of a fraidy-cat, Cookie was a badass. She was leaner than the typical Berner, with a cute crossbite that we are convinced contributed to whoever made the heartless decision to dump her at the puppy mill where we were lucky enough to find her.
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Loving and kind, like all of her Bernese brethren, Cookie was oddly unfriendly toward other dogs (not to mention skunks and groundhogs, who learned that harsh reality the hard way). We blamed Cookie’s tough streak on the puppy mill we rescued her from when she was four months old, where her days were spent in a horrible existence on the north shore of Long Island. She had been stuffed into a small crate, bunking literally on top of two other puppies, spending her days hoping against hope that a loving family might stop in and grant her a stay of execution. And she repaid us for that rescue every single day of the next twelve years she spent with us after that, doling out her unconditional love to family and friends without pause.
Seana (pronounced Shay-na) was our first Berner. We called her our “baby with fur” and she was sweet like Sophie, never feeling a tinge of jealousy when the human babies came along after her. Instead, Seana embraced the role of big sister and protector, despite the frequent rough play and occasional tail pull that comes with the territory when the “terrible twos” commence.
When I think back on the history of our family’s wonderfully good fortune as it pertains to “man’s best friend” (I’m confused again … has that phrase been canceled? Surely, I’ve offended the fairer sex with such a gender-biased old chestnut. Oh shit, did I just say “fairer sex”? … good lord, I’m just digging this hole deeper and deeper … wait, can I still say “lord”?), I can’t help but notice the correlation between trying times in the world around us and the overwhelming feeling of comfort that emanates from the loving eyes of a canine companion.
Seana was our one constant during a tumultuous time of fast and furious change, as our family took shape and evolved over the decade of the ’90s. During her too few years spent as the loving, moral compass of our family, Seana accompanied us from her perch in the backseat of various minivans as we relocated to five different houses. She welcomed home both “baby sisters” after the births of our two beautiful girls, and she was there to provide her special brand of comfort and understanding following the passing of four grandparents.
Her tail never stopped wagging, even when a couple of piece-of-shit neighborhood teens decided to use her for target practice with a pellet gun during our time in home number two. Unfortunately for us, Seana was a free spirit and explorer at heart and couldn’t resist the temptation of an open gate and all the world had to offer on the other side of a busy street. Even in passing from this earth, Seana had helped us in her own way, unknowingly bracing us for the tragedy of 9/11. She lost her life to an oncoming car during that fateful, final adventure of hers, only a few months before the Twin Towers came down. I miss her and love her to this day.
The pain following Seana’s passing was so acute that I was not ready to risk putting my heart out there a second time when the Long Island puppy mill came calling four years later. Order had been restored to both the country and our family by then, though; and ultimately the desires of two daughters who had been too young to remember clearly all the love they’d received from Seana prevailed. So, before you could say “Cold Spring Harbor,” there was Cookie bounding around in the Long Island snow, enjoying the life of a cage-free world.
When I get home, tired from a tough day at work, saddened by the seemingly endless amounts of venom spreading across the nation … when I see Sophie waiting for me, I can exhale and tangibly feel the angst begin to drain from my body.
What a run Cookie had, too. Her endearing devotion never wavered during the shock waves of the financial crisis and the Great Recession, which resulted in two more family relocations. And her loyalty, kindness, and love of a good cuddle created a bond that will last into eternity for her big sisters as they grew up into their teenage years.
Demonstrating the tenacity fostered during those months trapped in the puppy mill, Cookie outlived all the expectations of the mortality tables pertaining to Berners, celebrating her twelfth birthday with us the exact same way she had the eleven that had come before—using her paws and teeth to unwrap the chew toys she never outgrew her zeal for, before dining on a paper plate covered with an ungodly combination of tuna fish, peanut butter, and hot dog treats that she knew signaled it was HER special day.
When it became apparent to us that our only choice to try and repay Cookie for a life spent bringing our family happiness was by saying our final goodbye, the pain was intense. But as the four of us knelt around Cookie for that last farewell, our family was united by a love so pure that the mere thought of it all these years later still brings tears to each of our eyes.
The depth of our love for Cookie, and Seana before her, was so profound that it puts the “real” world and all its daily trials and tribulations in proper perspective, regardless of my confusion. Much of what’s going on in the world right now is troubling, and the conflicting voices declaring events as “good” or “bad,” beliefs as “right” or “wrong,” have never been louder.
Yet when I get home, tired from a tough day at work, saddened by the seemingly endless amounts of venom spreading across the nation I call home (a country I remain proud of in much the same way we are proud of our own families, despite whatever latest example of dysfunction might have occurred at the last family gathering—c’mon, I’m not the only one, am I?), when I cross the threshold and see Sophie waiting for me, I can exhale and tangibly feel the angst begin to drain from my body.
She’s like the cleansing breath that those who meditate rely on. And when I see that tail wagging incessantly as she wiggles around, doing her little Sophie-dance at the sight of me—ME!—I’m reminded that all that was weighing me down as I approached my doorstep doesn’t have to take me down. This too shall pass.
There remains pure good in this world, and while the poison arrows will continue to fly in that big, scary world out there, it’s all really going to be okay.
Just ask Sophie.