I am not good at delivering bad news. So the other morning when I showed up looking rather serious in the boys’ bedroom and said ‘I have sad news’, merely confirmed my lack of skill in the area.
One of my best friend’s dog died. Oh, you’ll say, that. Yes, that, but he was not ‘just a dog’ and I will tell you why. You see, having been through my fair share of losses of people I loved dearly since the age of six I know death well enough to know it reeks of helplessness. I accept it but I will never just shrug and say ‘Life is like that’ because I cannot say that with a straight face or I’d be lying.
This dog named Ringo was the reason I met my friend you see. A couple of days after we moved to Kamloops almost four years ago we were at the river where the sand is fine and sparkly, and the river laps ever so gently over your feet if you approach the water line. It’s the dog beach, my favourite in town (as long as you avoid the mid-summer madness.) Dogs have it good and I don’t mind because they can appreciate water and beaches.
That day we were four strangers on a pretty sandy beach trying to make sense of our new surroundings. A golden retriever was running in and out of the water, happy as happy can be. I don’t know if dogs ever laugh, but he was doing it right then and there.
I watched him, his joyful puppy face and his big golden frame dripping with water. He made me smile. The next thing I know I was talking to his owner. She and Ringo were to become our first friends here. A few days later when her and I met for a walk by the river, he spotted me coming from afar and ran to greet me. He jumped and gave me a kiss on the side of my mouth. Boundaries you say? Well, I took it as a compliment.
‘He’s not usually doing that…’ my bemused friend explained. We nicknamed him Lips and our friendship grew richer since because he was in it.
There is no obituary I can throw here without sounding melodramatic. That’s not what I want either. The morning I told the boys that Ringo died unexpectedly I choked though and my voice was teary. Because he was such an important part of our life here you see.
We’d take him for walks, or he would come to our place for the day. We would have him in the car on the way to some hills for a hike, lodged in between the boys and he would always put his big furry head on my armrest. I’d pet him in between the eyes and he would close them gently.
He always made sure the boys were close by when we hiked and if they got too far he ran to check on them. I hugged him often, checked him for cacti and ticks when needed and felt his soft fur with my feet when my friend and I sat for tea on the sofa and he lay on the floor under the coffee table, not bearing to be out of the conversation. We joked that he should have his own cup of tea too.
We once went to a lake and kayaked and he swam alongside the kayak, amazing me with his strength and determination to keep up with us. We kayaked up a stream to where the woods were mysterious and a bit frightening and I felt safe because Ringo was with us. His tracks and ours were left scattered on a sunny beach that already had imprints of bear paws.
He was gentle and even gentler if you asked him to, and he knew how to lay his head on my knee when a tough day would find me in my friend’s kitchen sipping tea and unraveling life’s complicated threads. He knew. That’s why he was not just ‘a dog’.
The boys’ eyes welled up when I told them the news, and mine teared up often during the day and then again the next day and the next. For the little boy, Ringo’s death was the first he experienced up close. Though Ringo was big, little boy always asked to hold the leash during walks because he knew he could trust him to listen. He did listen. And for all the times he didn’t, we loved him just the same.
Just like my dog many years ago, Ringo goes with bits of life I shared during evening walks on back alleys. One particularly bright evening this winter we left tracks on the new thin layer of snow and I was grateful for so much as I looked behind us and saw them.
Grateful for the gift of companionship my friend was sharing with me by sharing Ringo, and grateful that I could have my boys taste the heart-melting feeling of having a friend who makes you feel so utterly loved without needing any words to do so.
Two weeks ago we took him to the river. He tried to coax us to throw sticks in the water but we couldn’t. He had a dinner invite that evening which clearly stated ‘dry dog’ so I could not let him follow his impulses that one time. But we sat and watched ducks and geese waddling on the river shores and I laid my head on his in consolation. He accepted it and gently nuzzled me. I loved that. I will miss that.
So you see, his presence was more than just a dog’s presence would be. He was our friend in a way that will stay memorable and sweet. We will miss him and will always say his name with an extra happy note attached to it because he made it so. And I will always be grateful that I learned of that extra dimension of closeness that my friend gifted me by sharing Ringo.