How many dogs? That’s a question folks need to ask themselves. I had a conversation the other day with a friend who just brought a second dog into his family. This was after an older dog had recently passed, bringing their family dog number back down to one. As parents, they were very careful to acknowledge and process the loss of their dear family member, their yellow lab, with their three children. They did everything right.
Part of our conversation explored the merits of possibly going to three dogs. This can be a slippery slope. We choose the number of dogs in our lives. Whether consciously or not, it’s a choice we make.
The number of dogs we live with has real-life consequences. In my mid-40’s I found myself waking up way before dawn to load the 14-hole dog trailer so I could go to work as a dog trainer and quail guide. It’s kind of a chicken and egg story: did I work as a guide and trainer because I needed 14 dogs? Or did I need 14 dogs in order to work as a guide and trainer? An argument could be made for either scenario.
I had my first dog when I was five years old. She was a small, yellow cocker spaniel named Goldie. We lived in a quonset hut that had been converted into an apartment off the beach in Honolulu. This was about 15 years after the war, and the little community of quonset huts had no doubt been housing for the Marines fighting during the Pacific Island-hopping campaign.
During the day, Goldie and I would swim at the beach. She floated like a cork. I still remember the colors of the reef below us with sunlight refracting through the water. I remember how the ocean felt with my dog splashing besides me.
Adult things interceded. We would have to go to the mainland to live. In Hawaii, there wasn’t the readily available myth of sending a dog to some farm to live, so my mother used an island variation: Goldie had swum out to sea and wasn’t coming back. This didn’t make sense to me, but my mother was true to her word, and Goldie never came back.
My second dog was an identical small, yellow cocker spaniel who actually belonged to our neighbor with whom we shared a backyard in our new duplex on the mainland. As the neighbor didn’t seem to have much interest in him, I claimed him. I called him Goldie. He didn’t live with us, like Goldie had, but in that shared backyard he was mine. There was adult stuff that happened there, as well. One morning, before school, I went into the backyard to check on Goldie and found him lying cold and still in the grass. His body was gone when I got back from school. I don’t recall my mother trying to explain this to me. There was adult stuff to focus on. I didn’t understand why this Goldie was gone either. The shadow of loss lingers long when no sunlight can reach it.
In life, how many dogs does it take to heal you? We must understand the question before we can begin to melt that loss. Before we can realize that all that adult stuff didn’t have anything to do with us.
Be careful with the young ones around you. Be honest and help them process the loss of a loved one in a healthy and open, compassionate way. It hurts to lose a beloved companion; it can feel unbearably sad. But the only way to heal from loss is to go through it, allowing you to love again. One of my favorite dog writers, Bill Tarrant, once said that God created dogs with shorter lives, because if dogs lived as long as people their loss would be unbearable.
Please visit our website for all things dog. I’m available for online consultations as well as in-person trainings. Meanwhile, wishing you many happy days at home and on the trails with your free range dogs.