When I was a kid, my family always had dogs. The most remarkable dog was a poodle/wire hair terrier mix whom I named Taffy. She came home to us very young, something had happened, I forget what, that caused her to need a home before she was properly weaned from her mother. She was the runt of the litter. My dad preferred to choose a pup from a litter and he always says that the runt makes the best pet because they need a little extra love and are more loyal and gentle.
I was seven when Taffy came home. She could fit in the palm of my father's hand. She slept near the furnace in a box in our basement and I would hear her crying through the vents at night and I would creep downstairs to find my father feeding her a bowl of milk and some softened cereal. My father, he was and is a giant. He has great, swinging arms, a thick body, and he is gruff. He is an unbelievable mixture of gruffness and tenderness, the two attributes can't seem to coexist in one person the way they do with him. Yet it is true. Dogs were the true bonding place between my dad and me. We felt the same exact way about something. My dad didn't love unconditionally, but we were both loved unconditionally by our dogs, we were co-conspirators in finding the meaning of love and life.
Taffy lived 16 years. She was deaf by the time she was 16 and my brother's friend inadvertantly ran over her with his truck as he backed out of our driveway. My god, he felt terrible. My father decided to put Taffy down himself. She was 16, surely suffering, he didn't want that for her. I wasn't there, I was at work that evening. They didn't call me to tell me, they thought I would be too upset to drive home.
My dad got his gun and stood over his now scrawny broken deaf dog. She was completely aware of him, looking at him with soulful eyes, I'm sure, forgiving eyes. He couldn't do it. He asked our neighbors to come please shoot his dog. They stood around her and they tried, but no man there could shoot her. She had been their loyal neighbor dog, coming to their back porches to lay on cool concrete and have a snack and a pat.
My dad took her to the vet, decided that she could have surgery and she would make it.
I arrived home to find my mom (the non-dog-lover) a complete mess. She held my shoulders as she told me what happened. I cried, long and hard. I was shocked to hear myself, at the age of 23, call out, 'I want my Daddy.' He came home after I had calmed down and said that the doctor was going to observe her, run tests, and maybe do surgery. How was it that I knew that she would not make it, but my father still held out an obscure hope that she somehow could? We each retreated to our bedrooms, resignation in my heart, and hope in his.
The next morning before work, my dad told me to go the vet and talk to the doctor, let her have the surgery if it could be done, don't tell mom about what it would cost.
I drove to the country vet by myself. I talked to the vet. He said he would do the surgery if I gave him the go ahead. He said she still might never walk again. I thought of my dad, his hope, but I said 'no, put her down.' And I said good-bye to her and they gave her to me and I laid her in my car, drove the dusty country roads home, and buried her in the yard, in the hole that my father had already dug for her.
He had hope, yet he was pragmatic. He didn't want me to dig the hole by myself.
That dog, she was with me through the meat of my childhood. She accompanies the memories of entirely everything that happened to me. She was the conduit of love between my father and me, the manifestation of unconditional love between a father and daughter. Even now, I will cry over losing her, especially that it hurt my dad so. To love is to lose, it is so sadly and unavoidably true. Yet, that love, oh, I could never hold back.