“The heart of a dog is a bottomless thing.” – Tilda Swinton
Abby died right before I got married. She was my dog, and a lifeline that got me through the hardest times I’d ever experienced. Just a few weeks out from the biggest event of my life, her health began to rapidly deteriorate. Within days, she died in my arms.
She deserves a post of her own, but her’s is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that Abby was there when important people in my life, those who were supposed to love and protect me, harmed and abandoned me instead. When no one else would choose me, Abby did. It wasn’t a true substitute for what I needed, but it saved me nonetheless.
When she died, I vowed not to instantly replace her. How on earth could I replace her? The context and history of my time with her was unrepeatable. My vow lasted about a week, before Emily and I decided to get a new dog to start our life together. The space Abby left behind, at that point in my life and in the midst of so much change, was simply too large.
We looked into breeds, decided on a Maltese, found a breeder, and picked out Chloe. She’s still with us so far. She is a ninja past her prime, an eater of shit, a cuddle-slut and an all-around lovable asshole. Chloe was too young to leave her mother when we picked her out, so we’d visit her in the mean time to bond and whatnot.
Just after our wedding, but before leaving for the honeymoon, we visited Chloe for the last time before she was ready to come home. The visits were a little chaotic, because the space housed a multitude of dogs. The woman who bred Malteses would get puppies from other breeders to sell, so her place was a wonderland of adorable canines.
As I wandered amongst the pups, I noticed a soft coat wheaten, already tall for her age, terrorizing a small bundle of jet black fur. This tiny little thing, who looked as much like a mythical woodland creature as a dog, was not at all interested in the larger puppy’s desire to play. She was terrified, trying to find somewhere safe to hide.
Feeling sorry for this vulnerable little mogwai, I picked her up and got her out of what she imagined was harm’s way. She immediately snuggled into the crook of my neck. In that moment, a few weeks after losing a dog who had so clearly chosen me, here was a dog who immediately made her affection clear. I knew right away we were leaving there with a dog we hadn’t planned on. I’d saved her from a scary moment, and this was the first step in which she would save me in return.
Her name was Donkey. We didn’t even give her the name. It was already her nickname at the breeder, thanks to a three-year-old boy who would visit the puppies with his mother.
On one visit, the mother pointed at our future dog and asked, “What do you think of this puppy?” To which he proclaimed, “That’s not a puppy, that’s a Donkey!”
It became her name for the rest of her life, and it so clearly fit her. From the fact that she sort of looked like an actual Donkey, to the way her temperament often mimicked Eeyore, she was named well. Anyone who knew her well would agree. On the other hand, when new people would vocalize their dislike or confusion about the name, it took significant restraint to keep myself from saying, “Hey, guess what, you don’t get a fucking vote.”
She also loved pillows, like she thought she was a human. Sometimes, that resulted in her sleeping in the weirdest positions imaginable.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that Donkey was the perfect dog for me. She was as good a friend as anyone could ask for. She was loyal and tender, nurturing and playful, timid and sweet. She was also the best cuddler I have ever met, human, dog, or otherwise.
In my struggle with mental illness, small things can tip the balance between getting through the day and a catastrophic crash and burn. Donkey so often tipped that balance in my favor. She was a totem of wellness. I was able to show her affection and receive her affection in return in entirely uncomplicated and straightforward ways. That often loosened the perpetual knot in my chest just a bit. She made the darkness a little easier to bear.
Like many dogs, she was always there. Her affection never waned, her desire to be near us was constant. Yet, as a lover of many dogs over the years, I can honestly say there was something different about Donkey. I’ve never known a dog like her, and I can’t imagine I ever will again.
I know every dog owner would say this about their dog, but Donkey was genuinely special.
People who didn’t like dogs somehow liked Donkey anyway. People normally indifferent to dogs were fascinated by her and called her their favorite of all the dogs they knew. Our friend Brian — who lived with us for years in Seattle — says she is the first dog he ever loved.
Even at our vet, Donkey was an A-list celebrity. From the doctors to the techs, everyone at our vet is great. They are attentive and thoughtful, and take great care of Chloe, but Donkey elicited a special kind of devotion. When we got to the vet with Donkey it was like Norm walked into Cheers. Waiting in the exam room for the vet, techs would come in to visit just because they heard Donkey was around.
The day we had to put her down, when Donkey was taken upstairs to get her IV catheter put in, the techs made a message on her gauze to say goodbye.
Donkey was loved by so many, even though her attitude toward strangers, and even acquaintances, was reserved at best. Gaining Donkey’s affection was a mark of true approval, but ever afterward she would love you effusively. The few people she came to view as part of her pack received a genuine gift, because it was a position that was never earned lightly.
As a pet owner, you always know this day will come, when the story ends for good. Fuck, as a lover of anyone or anything you know this day will come. Still, there’s that small part of us that doesn’t believe it. It’s hard to imagine life without a person or animal that makes up such a big part of our world. Although we knew this day was coming, even knew it was coming relatively soon, I still find it impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that I’ll never see her again.
She was the best. She was the heart of our family, and the hole she leaves behind is larger even than I imagined. We miss you, Donkey. Love you, forever.