At 40 and pregnant with my sixth child, I found great comfort in sitting, legs swollen, on my friend’s breezy porch. Looking out at the hillside I felt like I could stay there forever, rocking in her old, comfy rocking chair with her sweet Black Lab at my feet. He was a calm, gentle dog, seeming much older than his years. He was comforting. Buddy was my dream dog.
A year and a half later my husband and I were Christmas shopping at Walmart. The parking lot was packed, and it was pouring rain. My husband was pushing the cart quite a bit in front of me when suddenly he began to run right through traffic. I was certain I was going to witness his death.
When I was finally able to catch up I saw what he’d been running for. A white Subaru station wagon with a Free Puppies sign in the side window.
There were quite a few large black puppies lying in the back of that station wagon. I was smitten. I’m a sucker for Black Labs. My husband smiled (yes, he had rare moments of kindness that kept me hanging on) and told me to pick one. A baby boy laid off to the side, away from the others, and seemed especially docile. I grabbed for him but nearly dropped him when I tried to lift him. He was HEAVY!
The owner shared with us that he bred Black Labs and his neighbor bred Golden Retrievers. They each typically got quite a bit for their puppies, but these mixed breeds were worth nothing to them. In fact, they cost them money, and they just wanted to get rid of them.
I hugged my new little guy close to me and carried him to the van through the rain. We named him Joe. Our female Lab, waiting at home and lonely, was Brandy. So, we had Brandy and Joe, the couple from the movie Joe Dirt.
Joe grew. And grew. And grew. At four years old I took him to the vet for his rabies shot, and everyone commented on his size and his sweetness. I told them that he thought he was my 140 lb lap dog, and they all laughed. However, within minutes he proved me right and crawled onto my lap.
I love walking our long driveway early in the morning to pray. Joe walked beside me every step, stopping when I stopped and walking when I walked. I would smile and thank God out loud for my dog Joe, and Joe would smile as though he knew what I was saying. He often smiled at me, and I’m convinced he did indeed know what I was saying.
Upon arriving home after dark, I would swing my car door open and immediately his head was on my leg. I couldn’t see him in the dark, but I could always count on feeling his welcoming hug.
He was like Buddy, my friend’s dog. Joe was the dog I always dreamed of having.
This morning I awoke at 5:30. I opened the front door to put my coffee in the microwave that sits on the front porch. The smell of skunk burned my eyes. Joe was gone. Brandy was there. Alone. I asked her where Joe was, but she wouldn’t look at me.
I called his name. Nothing.
As soon as it was light I ran the length of the long driveway, alone, without my usual companion, calling his name. I stood at the edge of the highway that fronts our house, in my pajamas, looking for my dog in the twilight. Nothing.
My teenagers convinced me that he was probably out looking for a doggie girlfriend on the hill behind us, so we went ahead and got ready for church. I would occasionally poke my head out the door and give a call but, still, with no return. And, Brandy still would not look at me.
We loaded into the car and pulled out of the driveway. As we rounded the corner I could see a large, black, furry figure lying along the side of the road in a pull out. The little two sobbed as I looked for a place to turn around.
I pulled off into the pull out and, for a moment, convinced myself it wasn’t my Joe. I thought the collar was different. But, when I came around to the dog’s front, I could easily see it was my Joe. He looked like he was hit so hard that it sent him flying to the side of the road and probably killed him instantly. There was no sign of him struggling and no signs of a hit on the road.
I walked the highway with a wheelbarrow and made R walk up on the side of the hill. If a car veered too close to the edge I didn’t want R to get hit. When I could see there were no cars coming, I ran the rest of the way. We lifted Joe onto his sleeping bag and then into the wheelbarrow. I pushed my 140 lb lap dog in the wheelbarrow, tears stinging my eyes, along the busy highway, seemingly unnoticed by the vehicles that flew past me.
I dug for about an hour with Joe lying beside me, as usual, when my second son pulled in to help me with the horrible task. A dug an exceptionally deep hole so a wild animal won’t dig him up and helped me lift Joe into the hole. My son positioned him better and then covered him with the sleeping bag. The little two and I took turns putting dirt on him, and D has a dog bone she wants to put on the rocks that cover the grave.
The little ones are taking comfort in the idea that Joe went to Heaven and Papa is taking care of Joe. My friend who watches them while I work recently lost her dog also. D was especially attached to that dog, too. She speculated that Ginger and Joe are probably dancing in Heaven together.
I’m not finding comfort in any of those thoughts. For me, it’s too much. I know; it’s a dog. But, it feels like I’ve lost my dad all over again. The pain, the loss, is fresh. In the last two years I’ve lost my health, my husband, my marriage, my son to the East Coast, my dreams, some friends, my mom, my brother, my belongings, been threatened with losing my children, and now I’ve lost my faithful companion. The one who has never cared what I looked like or how I smelled but would hug me anyway. The one who was always glad to see me. The one who was here when the children were with R and the loneliness was suffocating. The only one with whom I’ve shared my private prayers. The one who never judged me and always smiled at me even if I were cross with him.
Goodbye, my Christmas puppy. My sweet Joe. I miss you already.