“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”– Robert Louis Stevenson
My old dog Raffi is dying and that makes me very sad. He’s had a good long life, but for the past few years he’s been plagued by arthritis and an ever-growing number of inoperable tumors, so maybe it’s time for him to go, but, I don’t feel that way.
He still likes eating and barking and sitting in the sun; he still takes a lot of joy from living, so every day he’s still with us seems like an extra blessing.
Raffi is a chocolate Lab mutt, rescued from the pound as a puppy. His purpose in life was to be a companion to my Rottweiller Pru (another rescue) who had apparently been raised with other dogs because she didn’t like being alone. Pru took to Raffi the moment we brought him home, showing her approval by quickly bouncing him, then rolling him over and giving him a good long bath with her tongue. From then on, they were best friends.
Wherever Pru went, Raffi followed, and wherever Raffi was, there you’d find Pru. Being raised by a rambunctious Rottweiller was no easy assignment and Raffi took more than one hard hit to the head during their daily play sessions. He never seemed to mind, though, and always came back for more.
Probably because of all the mild head injuries, Raffi has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s always taken a simple pleasure in life that seems to elude more complex dogs. Raffi likes barking and eating and sitting in the sun. He’ll lie on the porch for hours watching the birds and squirrels. And, he loves hanging out with his people and sleeping soundly in the middle of whatever’s going on, on his big dog bed.
We got Raffi when our kids were still in high school and he spent afternoons during his early years sitting alertly in a big arm chair next to one of them or their friends after school, smiling and looking around animatedly, as if he was listening to the conversation or helping them play the Nintendo game. Surprisingly, years later, when one of those kids – now adults – drops by, Raffi jumps into that same arm chair, like, “Aren’t you going to sit with me?” It’s the only time he does that; I think it’s because he recognizes them, even all these years later, and remembers what good old times they had.
The thing about a dog like Raffi is being around him is so easy. He’s a giver, not a taker, and all he’s done every day of his life is show up ready to contribute. He doesn’t ask for much in return. He doesn’t want to be the alpha-dog; he’ll let the other dogs get petted and fed before him every time. He’ll even sleep on the hard floor if another dog wants his bed.
“It’s alright, I don’t mind,” Raffi would say if he could talk. “I just want everybody to get along.”
Pru was older than Raffi and she died several years ago. Unwisely, an effort to calm my grief, I went right out and got two more pound puppies – both female, both black, both mutts – nothing special about either of them except they were at the right place at the right time. And, while Raffi has never taken to them the way he did Pru, he’s done a good job of being their old uncle – letting them nip at his ears when they were little and wrestle with him now that they’re grown.
One of the dogs is a Lab-Beagle mix, all bark and no brains; the other’s a little herding dog, nervous and high-strung. And, while they jostle for position in the house, tear things up and bark at everything that goes by, Raffi just keeps on keepin’ on, calm and steady, simple and now slow, never making any waves.
Lately Raffi’s taken to fits of happiness, where all of the sudden, out of the clear blue he’ll come up and start nudging and smiling and asking for love, wagging his tail and barking a bit – like he just wants to share how happy he is to still be alive. He’s like an Alzheimer’s patient – the rare and joyful kind who likes saying, “Hi!” and waving at everybody.
I don’t know how much longer Raffi will be with us, but I’m sure going to miss him when he goes. That saying about dogs is so true in Raffi’s case – if I were only half the person he has always thought I am, I would be a better person than I am today. God speed, old friend, God speed.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.