My­dog died a year ago, and I’ve learned a few things…

The Colonial - - OPINION - By Jeff Edel­stein

I still have a shirt my wife got made for me about 10 years ago. It’s green with a silk screened pic­ture of a wire fox ter­rier on it. The dog on the shirt is a rea­son­able fac­sim­ile of Sparky, our fam­ily dog who died a year ago this week.

The shirt is my Se­in­feld-ian Golden Boy. It has been through, roughly, 1,000 wash cy­cles. It’s rid­dled with holes. The col­lar is torn and frayed like it was ex­iled on Main Street.

I wear it once ev­ery few days as my top-half nightwear. The idea of throw­ing it out is as for­eign to me as life on Nep­tune. It is my best T-shirt.

And it always gets this re­ac­tion from my 3-year-old daugh­ter: “That’s Sparky,” she says, to which I re­ply my stan­dard white lie, “Yes it is. You re­mem­ber him?”

And she says she does, and I guess she does, though I’m not sure how long that will last. Af­ter all, Sparky died when she was 2, and I can count on zero fingers the num­ber of things I re­mem­ber from when I was 2.

Is it pos­si­ble the shirt will help? Maybe. Be­cause I do want her to re­mem­ber. That dog — who, while re­mark­ably lov­able, was a snarly bas­tard — loved my daugh­ter. I’d find my daugh­ter stand­ing up, lean­ing against the couch, with the dog on his hind legs, front legs on ei­ther side of her and against the couch for sup­port. My daugh­ter would have her head tilted back and she’d be gig­gling like a lu­natic while Sparky licked her neck.

Quite a sight. One I’ll cer­tainly never for­get, and I’d like to do my best to have her never for­get it ei­ther.

So yeah. It’s been a year since my dog died, and I’ve learned some things, like ... cot­ton is an amaz­ing fab­ric with the tenac­ity of Pete Rose round­ing third.

I’ve also learned …

Dogs are ca­pa­ble of love. I didn’t throw that word around loosely in the neck-lick­ing story above. The dog loved. I was always on the fence about this emo­tion in ca­nines, but I’ve since come around com­pletely. How else to ex­plain the neck lick­ing? Or his in­sis­tence to sleep by him­self down­stairs, but pad up the stairs in the morn­ing and climb into bed with us? Or play­ing with us? Or watch­ing his emo­tions ebb and flow right along with ours? So yeah. Love. Dogs are ca­pa­ble. I be­lieve it. I know this makes me sound at best, sappy, at worst, clin­i­cally in­sane, but what­ever ...

I also learned you can’t re­place a dog. You can get a new dog, but you can’t re­place. We thought we could re­place. It wasn’t a few days af­ter Sparky died that we dove right in look­ing for an­other dog. We met and played with a bunch, but none of them felt right. So we de­cided to wait. We’re still wait­ing. And you know why? Well, here’s an­other thing I learned …

Res­cue group peo­ple don’t like us. We adopted Sparky, and the only rea­son we were al­lowed to was be­cause he was slated to be put down. He would bite. He bit his pre­vi­ous own­ers. We had no vet ref­er­ences, noth­ing, but I sup­pose the res­cue group fig­ured, “Why not?” And he bit us, make no mis­take. Drew blood, too. But it passed, and he be­came a great, trust­ing dog. So we wanted to adopt again. First time we adopted, we had no kids. Last sum­mer, we had two with a third on the way. The res­cue groups wanted noth­ing to do with us. Al­most ev­ery dog we in­quired about “wouldn’t be a fit for a fam­ily with small chil­dren.” I’m 100 per­cent con­fi­dent Benji him­self would have been deemed not a good fit. My opin­ion? There isn’t a dog alive who is or is not a good fit for a fam­ily with small chil­dren. It’s kind of all up to the fam­ily. I think the res­cues need to take a step back on this one ...

I learned to de­spise the term “Rain­bow Bridge.” I know ev­ery­one meant well, but come on: The Rain­bow Bridge? That’s what we’re go­ing with to help soothe the pain of a loss of a pet? That they cross over The Rain­bow Bridge and en­ter dog­gie heaven? Blech. Now sure, I’d like to think Sparky is bit­ing his han­dlers and pee­ing on heaven’s couches, but, you know … who knows. I’ll leave it at that. One more thing, though … I learned a dog never leaves. It’s in­cred­i­ble, a year on, as I’ll still have mo­ments where I check his (now gone) wa­ter bowl, or dou­ble check the gate out­side, or half-ex­pect him to be curled up on the couch. He’s still, in a very real way, there.

I re­ally hope my daugh­ter re­mem­bers him. ThatT-shirt doesn’t have much time left.

Jeff Edel­stein can be reached at jedel­stein@tren­to­nian.com, face­book.com/jef­freyedel­stein and @ jeffedel­stein on Twit­ter.

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