10 Things I learned from my dog

It’s taken me a long time to write this, because it’s been so painful. We lost our sweet Manny last September in a tragic accident and I think of him daily. I’m having trouble moving on, and probably never really will. Anyone who says “it’s just a dog” or “time heals” doesn’t get it.

My husband and I were out of town at my best friend’s wedding when I received several calls from a number I didn’t recognize and then a text message that sent me into a panic. I phoned the number back and they told me my dogs were seen on a busy road, and that one was hit and the other ran back into a neighborhood. I asked if Manny was gone and they said yes. My heart shattered into a million pieces, and my next thought was “where is my other dog?” After what felt like hours (but was minutes), I finally had confirmation Buster was safe, but my heart couldn’t be consoled.

When something as bright and loving as a pet passes away, you feel as though your sunshine has been hidden behind a huge dark cloud that may not move away. It doesn’t matter if it’s sudden or something that was impending. The loss is beyond words. A piece of your family is missing.

I’m convinced dogs (and all living things for that matter) have souls. Important, meaningful, beautiful and loving souls. I made a list of 10 things I learned from my dog, my sweet Manny, because he taught us a lot about life and how it should be lived.

10. Enjoy all the little things- get excited about walks, time in the backyard, and dinnertime.

9. Show people how much you love them by being super enthusiastic when they arrive home.

8. Make your needs known.

7. Listen to those around you, and just be present for them.

6. Love your siblings and your parents with fervor.

5. Lay in the sun and soak it up. Lay in the snow and soak that up, too. Lay in the water and feel the waves.

4. Give lots of kisses.

3. Sleep hard.

2. Cuddle harder. Take full advantage of that sweet time.

1. If something bad happens, just let it go.

I hope he is running wild and free in heaven, or wherever it is we go when our time here is over. What I wouldn’t give for another cuddle or to hear an excited bark. I would give anything to know he is OK on the otherside.

I’m not embarrassed about my grief. It’s intense, but my feelings are what they are. If you have had a furry family member, you may understand that people are often closer with their beloved animals than they are to other human beings. If you haven’t had a furry friend, you are probably rolling your eyes, but please understand. Our daily routines revolve around our pets. Our relationships with are pets are consistently joyful and full of love – unconditional love. Relationships with people are complicated and involve conflict and opinions. A relationship with a loving animal is pretty straightforward. It’s all about love.

I grew up having a cat I was very attached to. I was not a dog person and didn’t think I would ever be. Cats seemed to be the best, but I know now they are a different animal (and please note, no better or worse than a dog…maybe just less needy). Something changed and one day I found myself searching for a puppy to raise. I craved the companionship, the nurturing, and the ridiculous [good] unconditional love only a doggy can provide. That is when Buster found us. While it was incredibly challenging to raise a puppy (potty training, the loss of blankets, stuffed animals, shoes and clothes thanks to a “chewer”, strategic planning so we weren’t away for too long, etc.) it was the best best BEST decision. Buster is my biggest cheerleader, looks at me like no one else, got me involved in dog assisted therapy, and is the biggest ball of love in a 25 pound body. We decided to get him a buddy, which is when we adopted Manny. Manny was different in every way. He loved to play fetch for hours, wagged his tail so hard his entire back end shook, barked at any animal on tv, chased squirrels, was our barking guard dog (yet would warmly welcome anyone at our door), pulled the entire time on a leash, and had double jointed back legs so they stuck out behind him when he laid down, something I had actually wanted because I thought it was so funny. Buster and Manny are complete opposites, but loving half brothers who were the best of buds (99% of the time). They cuddled, kept each other company, got the food out of each other beards, and play fought (99% of the time). Together, we were a family of four then a family of six after the addition of two kids.

Before Manny passed away, the mere thought of losing either of my boys was enough to send me into a full blown cry. I think it was my mind’s way of preparing me for the hurt and emptiness. I’d had friends lose people and animals, and I could imagine the sting but didn’t know just how terrible it is. The loss of Manny has brought a lot of sadness. I miss walking in and not seeing his wagging tail and excited eyes. I miss seeing the indent in the couch he made where he used to sleep. I miss not hearing his barks at anyone and everyone who walked by. I miss not hearing his barks when an animal – any animal – was on TV. I miss not seeing his super excited grin when you said “go outside?!” I miss seeing him run back and forth in the backyard along the fence tracing squirrels up above. I miss going on walks and not tripping over his leash. I miss feeling him jump on our bed in the middle of the night, and I really really miss the jingle of his collar. I miss the howl I woke up to a few times in the middle of the night when Manny had a bad dream – it literally sounded like a woman yelling. I miss seeing him kiss his brother and lay on the floor with Buster. I miss seeing them play. When he laid on you for a cuddle session, he really plopped down and laid his body on you. He was all in all the time. Game of fetch? He was basically an olympic level competitor if there was such a sport. He wasn’t all cupcakes and rainbows – he didn’t love hugs and would nip you if you squeezed too hard. He had been known to roll in poop, my sons trains would get stuck in his tail, he ate more than his fair share of food, and he took up a significant portion of the bed…but what I wouldn’t give to have him back, flaws and all. He made our family complete, and we are struggling with the loss.

I truly believe and know grief for a pet is not inferior to other forms of grief. If you are attached to someone, something, a soul, the stronger you will grieve and that is OK. I didn’t understand grief until this. I didn’t know how deeply it hurts and now I have a better understanding and caring for anyone going through this very same thing, whether it be a person or a furry family member. And for anyone wondering if we are thinking about getting another little guy…we are. I am working on it, and I hope he comes home soon. He won’t be replacing Manny. We have been waiting for the right soul to find us, and I am convinced this dog needs us as much as we need him.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer from having the gift that was Manny – be the person your dog knows you are.

In loving memory of Manny Denard Skubik.

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