The last thing a good dog does is break your heart.

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And that’s exactly what he did. After 14 years together, he died in my arms on a Saturday afternoon in March. Then I had to hand him over to someone else to take care of his final arrangements. That had almost been the hardest part – putting the furry little body that I knew so well into someone else’s car. For 14 years taking care of him had been my responsibility, and I’d been completely devoted to the task.

I can still see the tips of his ears peeking out from the blanket that we’d carefully swaddled his lifeless body in. Wisps of the silly hair on the crown of his head stirred in the breeze and I couldn’t back away. The vet finally touched my arm and reassured me that she’d take good care of him; I don’t think she understood that was my job and her words were twisting the knife in my heart. Still, I finally reached into the car to touch those sweet ears one last time and then I backed away.

Life changes when you don’t have a dog, especially when you work from home. You have less reason to go outside and fewer interactions with the rest of the world. It also offers a more profound understanding of the richness your dog brought to your life, and more painful reminders of how much emptier it is without them. You try to kid yourself into thinking you’re lucky you don’t have to go outside during horrible weather, like that historic April blizzard. But, in reality, you always loved your dog’s obsession with walking no matter the weather and how he seemed built for Minnesota winters just like you. In his younger years, he kept me company when I shoveled, bounding through snow drifts with a joyful grin on his face. Like just about everything these days, that freak April snowstorm would’ve been more fun with him in it.

In the end, there’s nothing you can do when your beloved dog breaks your heart. Unfortunately, that’s the promise you make the day you bring them home with you. Life is too short, and there’s never enough time with the ones you love. All we can do is open ourselves up fully to the power of their love and the things they can teach us despite the pain their goodbye will one day bring.

I miss my old dog terribly. I’ve always know there would be others and that they’d come into my life quickly. In fact, a new youngster is already napping across the room as I write this and, as I tell everyone, he’s been really good medicine. I know the many pups that I’ll share my life with will bring different types of love and joy, and I know that my tears for my lost dog will eventually grow fewer and farther between. But I also know that no other dog will be like my little old man. We grew up together and he was the first true love of my life. And I know that I’ll always miss him.

“The last thing a good dog does is break your heart,” a friend told me after he died. Truer words have never been spoken.

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Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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