Big Frank was not the perfect dog. Unlike most Labs, he couldn’t be trusted around small children, he would always find an unattended bag of garbage, and he was a total bully at dog parks.
A true alpha, Frank guarded the community water bowl in our kitchen, and demanded total control over whatever chew toys, tennis balls or bones were made available to our three dogs. He was large and always in charge of our pack.
Despite his personality flaws, Frank was a gentle, handsome and affectionate animal who has been a great companion and friend to me over the past 14 years. During that period of my life – which included some significant disruption and personal turmoil – Frank was always there for me, with his big smile, happy otter tail and horrible breath – to help put my problems into perspective.
But Frank was much more than a family member and therapy dog, because he represented a very personal human connection. Frank’s father was a beautiful, perfect Black Lab named Covey, raised by my son-in-law, Blake. Frank’s mother was a skinny, nervous Yellow Lab owned by my friend Gery, who died of cancer a few years ago, and whose passing continues to affect me deeply. So for me, Frank has represented a physical connection to my friend Gery, and Frank’s passing has forced me, once again, to acknowledge that Gery is really gone.
Putting Frank down was very tough. Much tougher than I expected. People who have put down animals that they love understand how heartbreaking that decision can be. With Frank, the quality of his life had greatly deteriorated, and we reached a difficult tipping point…where allowing Frank to live any longer was more for our own benefit than it was for his. We wanted Frank to leave this world with some dignity; even if that meant crying every time I looked at his face after we made his very last appointment with the vet. So we let Frank go, and mourn our loss.
I’m not sure why people love dogs so much. In many respects, they are a pain in the ass. As dog owners, we spend our days feeding them, letting them in and out of the house, grooming them, taking them for walks, picking up their poop and hairballs, and paying for vet bills.
But we love dogs despite the time and resources they demand. We love their innocence. Their lack of guile. Their eagerness to please. Their pure devotion. We respect their ability to fart, stick their nose in our crotch, and lick another dog’s butt without any hesitation or shame. We love dogs because they connect us loosely to the world of wild animals. Because they can jump three feet in the air, catch a frisbee in their mouth and bring it back to us. Because they don’t ask us for help with math homework. Dogs are children that never grow up. We love them because they need us. They give our lives purpose.
The sad irony in our love affair with dogs is that one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind also serves as one of the cruelest reminders that life is very short. Short for dogs, and for us as well. When they pass, we cry for them…and for ourselves.
There will always be a place in my heart for you, Big Frank. You were a great dog.