The Heartbeat At My Feet

Last week I got that dreaded email from a friend – the one with just his dog’s name in the subject line. I didn’t have to open it, I knew what it said. Chloe was gone.  And then I had to cry at my desk and my co-workers, who don’t need a lot of convincing think I’m crazy.

I have a dog named Lyle who is about to be 14. At least once a day I lean into his ear and whisper “Don’t die Lyle.”  So far it’s working.  But I know one day it will be my turn to send out that email with just “Lyle” in the subject line. My friends are torn between setting up a mobile unit outside my house for 24 hour surveillance and just putting me in a medically induced coma when it actually happens.

Me and Lyle

It has been just me and Lyle for a couple of years now. I wake up and he is the first thing I see (and since I live in NYC I immediately get dressed and take him for a walk before anything else). I walk in the door and he is waiting for me, always thrilled to see me. I fall asleep to the sound of his snoring.  In relationships over the years some men get it, some don’t. My longest one would every once in a while threaten – “We’re going to have to talk about that dog.” He knew better than to ever give me the “It’s me or the dog” speech because he knew he would in fact be dumped for a dog.

I know I get a lot of eye rolling and even pity because he is such a central part of my life. Many people think that I think he is my child. Believe me; I don’t think he is a child. I am quite positive he is a dog. I don’t dress him up, have him barking into the outgoing answering machine message or sit at the dinner table with me. I don’t want a kid. I have plenty of great kids in my life and I love being with them and I love when they go home.  I like dogs. And to treat them like they are human is to do them a disservice and would make you (and them) miserable. Dogs have different biological and emotional needs and they need to be treated like dogs. If your dog is bred to herd, he needs to herd; if he’s bred to hunt, he has to hunt something – not sit on a leopard print pillow eating chicken flavored cupcakes watching Animal Planet (Lyle prefers NPR anyway).

I could offer the pat explanations as to why my relationship with Lyle is so important. But to say that he is a good companion or that it he is loyal and faithful couldn’t do it justice. Something much deeper happens when you share your life with another creature when there are no words spoken. But how do you articulate the wordless comfort that only he could give when my oldest friend died and only Lyle was able to show me that there is still joy to be found in living in the moment? That a lick on the face and the feeling of the soft fur of his head can make me feel tethered to the world on days when I feel like a speck of dust in this giant city? When you live in 600 square feet with a dog it is one of the most private relationships you can have.  He is a witness to my life and I to his, and for now, we are a pack of two.

Does that make me pathetic? To some people I’m sure; but any love generated in this world is valuable even if there are not two humans involved.  Meanwhile, does anyone know if you need a permit to park a mobile unit on the street in New York?


7 responses to “The Heartbeat At My Feet

  1. Don’t forget where he came from!

  2. You have Lyle. I have 12.5 year old Danny. Other than that difference, I feel exactly the same as you do on every single aspect…except, well, the NPR thing.

    My good friends have told me they can’t imagine how I’ll manage without him. Honestly, I can’t either. A dear friend had to put her beloved dog down a few days ago. Danny got a few extra hugs from me.

    And, no, he’s not a substitute child. He’s way better than that!

    -The Spinsterlicious Life

  3. If this makes you pathetic, then sign me up for the pathetic club because I’m right there with you! I love this post and COMPLETELY empathize with each word written. As that saying goes — “dogs are not our whole life but…..” (I’m betting that you know the rest)!

  4. They make our life whole…. Thanks.

  5. I’m at the other end of this journey. Zuger is 9months old and i’m amazed at how every day the space he occupies in my head and heart increases. I love that you love Lyle! I hope you get many more days together and if not, I’m sure you will find your next dog to be wonderful in many similar and different ways… that is the beautiful, amazing journey of this life. awesome post!

  6. I understand completely. I had my dear cat Gatsby for 12 years before he died and it broke my heart. I don’t have children and I know the difference between an animal and a human but he was my closest companion for many many years and like a child I raised him, he depended on me, and he loved me unconditionally. 7 years later and I still miss him.

    People who know and care about you will understand your grief but I hope you still have many more years with your Lyle.

  7. Very true and touching. I think about this often as I live with a beloved companion that I only know is at least 12. He has stayed with me even as others chose to leave and has helped me through some of my worst moments. So, I’ve tried to give him his best moments.

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