After decades living with dogs, I am still routinely amazed at how much I love them. And I often think about why. I mean, they don’t speak. They don’t do the dishes. I pick up their poop and feed them every day. So what exactly is this incredible emotional bond that I feel with them? How is it even possible?
Last Thursday I drove to Tampa to see my daughter in college. I was going to fly and rent a car, but she asked that I bring Strider, our ten-year-old Australian Shepherd, down to visit her. She was eight when we got Strider as a puppy, so he’s been a big part of her life. My wife found a nice hotel that allows dogs so the decision was simple, and Thursday morning we hit the road for the 500 mile trip.
Upon arrival I checked in, and then before doing anything else, took Strider out for a little run in a field behind the hotel so he could stretch his legs. I threw the tennis ball as far as I could, he’d happily retrieve it, and race back to me with a smile. We did this for maybe ten minutes.
After the run, I took him up to the room (it was his first ride in an elevator, which he never got used to the whole trip), gave him some water, then went back down for the luggage. When I returned to the room a couple of minutes later, Strider was standing in the center with terror in his eyes. He tried taking a couple of steps toward me, and nearly stumbled. I dropped the bags and ran over to him. The whites of his eyes were bloody. He was panting and drooling. The pink of his tongue and gums was gone.
My heart raced. How ironic that I would drive a ten-year-old dog ten hours so that my daughter could see him, only to have him die upon arrival. And why?
I looked around the room. Maybe he ate something poisonous on the floor. I grabbed his full water bowl and stuck it under his nose. No interest. He just kept staring at me and panting. My hands were shaking. I thought to call my wife in NC to find an emergency vet since I was busy consoling our dog. Then I remembered that the day before, while packing my vitamins and toiletries for the trip, I decided to bring Benadryl. We have always kept Benadryl in the house in the event one of the dogs or kids was stung by a bee or something. When I saw it on the shelf the day before, I kinda shrugged to myself and thought, “…fine. In case he gets stung by a jellyfish.”
I rifled through a suitcase, found the medicine, then jammed the little pink pill as far down his throat as I could. I called my wife. She didn’t pick up. My voicemail was essentially, “Strider is dying. Call me.”
She called a few minutes later, and I’m not going to lie, when I told her what happened, I felt like I was going to burst into tears. Here I was on the floor with my dog who I was throwing a tennis ball with ten minutes before—and he was in some kind of shock and about to die.
Five minutes after giving him Benadryl, his panting slowed. Then the terror in his eyes abated. Another couple of minutes and the whites of his eyes returned, along with the pink in his mouth. Then he took water. And food. And just like that, he was back. Seemingly oblivious to what had just happened.
I never found out what caused this emergency, but assumed he was either stung by a flying insect, or got into a mess of ants while we were outside. Either way, the Benadryl worked. Thank God for small miracles—deciding to take it on this trip. I mean, the water was too cold to get into, and we didn’t even have plans to go to the beach. But hey, jellyfish sting.
About an hour after Strider almost died, we arrived on the campus where we walked up the bleachers at the soccer stadium, and caught the last 20 minutes of my daughter’s practice. She, of course, had no idea what we’d just gone through.
It turned out to be a great trip. I got to see my kid and watch some championship soccer. And the three of us got to hang out, run at the park, and eat pizza.
On Monday we dropped the girl off at her dorm, and headed home. During the drive, Strider moved from the back of the car where he could stretch out, to the passenger seat next to me where he had to curl up. He didn’t look very comfortable, so I gave him my pillow.
I gave my dog my pillow.
After working on Gone Dogs since 2015, and after losing two dogs before Strider, I’ve learned a lot about the remarkable bond people share with dogs. I’ve read hundreds of stories about this bond, and met people from all over the world who love their dogs the same way I love mine. People who, like me, wouldn’t think twice about giving your dog your pillow. And perhaps the one thing I’ve learned more than any other about this bond is that it’s not only based on love, but on trust. Trust between dog and human that we will always be there for each other. Good days. Not-so-good days. Always. Forever. Even after death.
Thanks to the lifespan of dogs, every person who loves one will have to say goodbye at some point. Thankfully, we avoided that on our trip to Tampa. But it’s still something we all know is coming. And yet, most people I know who love dogs can’t live without them. Because of that bond. That love. That trust that even though people may come and go in life, your dog is there for you until his last breath.
Somewhere in Georgia I looked over at Strider sleeping on my pillow and thought about him being ten. And how he has no idea what’s coming. Fast. He just knows that right now he’s with me, and that’s all that matters. That, and chasing tennis balls.
And in this random moment on I-95, the obliviousness of my sleeping dog made love him even more.