I’ve been through some dark times in my life. My pup has always been there to remind me what’s important.
It was just another rainy Sunday. I was hanging at a friends house in North Philadelphia. I stepped out to walk to the local corner store to get some cigarettes. It was a cold rainy day in early January. I had had a sudden feeling to lower my hood and check my surrounding. I lowered the veil from across my brow and there he was. Out there in the freezing rain was a tiny, shivering, pit bull puppy.
A group of kids were tossing him back and forth. I bought him then and there for $65. I walked out to get cigarettes and I came back with a puppy. I named him Dawkins.
Since that day, we’ve done everything together. He’s seen me at my worst and at my best. He’s traveled across the country with me. We’ve been through new roommates, 6 different apartments, torn ACLs, rehab, halfway houses, new cars and gallons of dog food.
When I brought him home my mother was hysterical. I tried to hide him in a book bag. Pup was sticking his nose out of the zipper hole and she freaked. She instantly fell in love. Dawkins makes people fall in love.
My father told me that it is a “ten-year commitment.” I knew he was nervous because at the time I could hardly take care of myself.
12 years later we sit together in my living room. He’s much older now, but his spirit continues to infect those around him. The trouble is he has cancer on his spine. It’s been a slow progression. At first, I noticed he was dragging his toes on the ground when he walked. Now I’m sad to say that his back legs are seemingly useless. My once strong and mighty companion now pulls his back legs behind him. The heart breaker is that his spirit remains strong. He always smiles, he always wags his tail. These are the moments when I wish he could talk to me, so I can understand the pain he is in. It’s the gift and the curse of being in charge of a life. I hope I’m doing the right thing.
Yet, Dawkins sits calmly on my hip. Even now in his weakest moments, I feel that he brings me more comfort than I bring him.
This is the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to make. Logically I think, he’s just a dog right? We all know that isn’t the case. He’s been the most dependable aspect of my life.
People, in their they’re beauty are fallible. Dogs aren’t. I know what I can expect. Every morning, he wakes up with me. I feed him and watch him eat his entire bowl in a matter of seconds. I take him out and together we contemplate the day at hand. I walk in the door and there he is, happy to see me as he has always been. He’s never let me down. Not once. All I have to do in return is be myself. He’s never asked anything more of me.
The fact remains, in 44 hours from now, he will breathe his final breath.
Morning comes. My eyes are swollen in a way I can’t ever recall. For Dawkins, it’s just another beautiful day. Another day to eat grass and beg for treats and eat pigs ears. Brittney and I spoil him. I fed him some morning smoothy and spoons of peanut butter. In this moment, I am thinking about our journey together. I am thinking about all the apartments that tried to kick me out because of my “aggressive breed.” I am thinking of my home in Philly, where I would put him in my Jeep and drive down Broad Street with him. I am thinking of all the times I should have given him attention but was too busy with life.
I think about when I first moved to Florida. I had to pull an all-nighter and pay someone a thousand bucks to drive him to Tampa where I picked him up. I told my friends about him so much that they threw me a fund raiser party. It was called “Operation Save Pup Dog.” We made a homemade slip and slide and everyone chipped in a few dollars. I made $700! Enough for me to pay for gas and bribe a friend to let me use her car. At the time I was broke and only 6 months sober, so I had no car and no money.
Those first few months in Florida were very difficult and knowing that I had a goal to get my pup down here is a big reason why I persevered.
I think about all the nights at the tennis courts. I was in a new place with a new chapter of my life being written. He and I would run around in the tennis courts at the complex I lived in. I would throw the tennis ball and do pushups and pull ups and he would lick toads and hallucinate. That time in my life was so important. It was a chance for me to really discover who I was and he was always by my side to remind me that I wasn’t alone.
I think about when I first met my girlfriend. Brittney and I have been through so much together and somehow we have made it through. In the beginning, I was very nervous around her, so I would always run to my dog and pet him to make it look like I wasn’t anxious. Last night as we were both trying not to cry she told me that “it was one of the things I loved most about you. Your relationship with Dawkins and how much he meant to you.” Looking back at these last 5 years, it’s clear to see that Dawkins has always been there for both of us. I know that she will miss him, almost as much as I will.
Everyone came over the night before to say their good byes. We fed him more snacks and we laughed over his goofy personality. It’s obvious to everyone that his legs aren’t working any more. Everything fades in time.
The day has finally come.
We spent the night snuggling. I think it is painful for pup to be on our bed. He always chooses his giant temperpedic dog bed (yes, he has one) although he used to sleep by my side every night. I curled up with him until he fell asleep.
I spend most of the day finding ways to make time go slower. I lay on the floor with him and try to keep my mind occupied. Brittney comes home early from work and we take him for a drive. We get him McDoanalds and take him to a park down the street. I carry him out of the car and we feed him french fries, a double cheeseburger and chicken nuggets. He sits in the sun and smiles as he always does. It makes me second guess my actions. I know it will only get worse from here.
Brittney and I shower him with love. I dry my eyes and get the courage to take one final selfie. Me, my doll and my best friend.
Bryan comes over for support. It reminds me of all the lives he has touched. I get text messages throughout the day from Colin, Danica, Butcher, Turtle and family members. It’s amazing to think of the impact this one silly dog has left on those around me.
Finally my phone rings. It’s the call I have been dreading. The vet is here.
I pick up Dawkins one last time and I carry him to the back yard. I take the moment to let him know that he saved my life. I was a no body. I couldn’t stop getting high, I would steal and I couldn’t stay away from police. He was a pitbull, smack dab in the middle of one of the worst pit fighting neighborhoods in the country. He saved my life, and I saved his. Now it’s time for this to come to an end.
Then, it was over.
His head lays on my lap. We all sit in silence for what felt like hours. Bryan reassures me that I did the right thing, and that made me feel relieved. We let him keep his dignity, because there was no stopping what he had. There was no end in sight and his suffering would only have gotten worse.
We say our final good byes, and the doctor drives off. He’s gone.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve hoped to have a better understanding of death. If anything, I’ve become more confused and afraid by the notion of our limited time here on earth. I envy those who can be at peace with their demise.
So far, I’ve come to understand that nothing ever really dies. Everything eventually turns into something else. The energy of my pups body will continue to feed to infinite cycle that one day, we will all be a part of.
Will I ever see Dawkins again? I don’t think so. I don’t think that I will ever hold him or scratch his belly or push him off the bed when he snores. But I know I will never be the same.
I don’t know who I am without my pup. He has shaped me, molded me and has helped me become a man. I sit in my living room and I keep looking up and expecting his face to peep around the corner. I suppose that will fade in time.
We are all made up of the millions of memories we’ve accumulated. All of us are all one day sent back to where we came from. That makes me feel better but it doesn’t change that I will miss him so fucking much.
We had a good ride. My biggest fear in this is that he didn’t know how much he meant to me. He meant the world to me. He was my best bud.
So how do I end this? With tears? With anger? Maybe with spite? No… more than anything I am filled with overwhelming gratitude. I am so sad that I will never see my pup again, but I am so grateful that I was able to share the time we did. I have everything. A home, a girl who adores me, friends that protect me and family that loves me.
So I will end this with a smile. With his smile. I will end with a cool Florida night after pup couldn’t get the tennis ball out from under the fence. I will end this with a big flappy tongue covered with dirt. I will end this looking back with joy.
“Until one loves an animal, part of ones soul remains unawakened.”