It was almost Christmas of 1993 when our son, a high-school junior, stepped through the kitchen door wearing his letter jacket which was oddly deformed over his chest.
“Can we get a dog?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, instead unsnapping two buttons of his coat. A tiny black face appeared, its brilliant eyes full of joy and its left ear cocked forward as if awaiting our decision. Until that very instant my response would have been an unequivocal, firm “NO!”
Instead, our son saw his chance and moved that three-pound pup from his jacket to my lap. It had been so long since I had cradled a pup that I was sure I couldn’t bear to go through loving and losing another dog, but Molly would not give up her instant hold on my lap and my heart. When my son tried to pass her to my wife, Molly whined and yelped and dug her sharp little nails through my sweater and into my chest. She had made the decision to stay, an ultimatum delivered rather than a solicitation of our favor. I had no choice but to hold her, love her, and touch my nose to hers.
Molly was one of the most intelligent and loving beings I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. She wore the glistening black coat of her Labrador retriever mother paired with the perfect body of her Elk Hound father. Her tail curled gracefully over her back in Elk Hound fashion while her shoulders wore a vest-like combination of long and progressively shorter hair that ended in a perfect V on her chest.
Despite her exceptional beauty and captivating vibrancy, Molly had a dark side. She hated squirrels and wasps, had absolutely nothing good to say about turtles, enjoyed jumping into the water to fetch live fish, and loved to argue politics. She was a conservative, I am a liberal. She felt I spent too much time in front of the television, too little treating her as she wished to be treated, too much time hunting deer and not enough time hunting squirrels. She loved Greenies, puppies (although she never had any of her own), babies, and an occasional beer.
Most of the time Molly’s joy and curiosity led to positive experiences. On one occasion, though, they proved problematic.
We discovered that wasps had set up housekeeping inside the eaves of our house. A quick trip to a hardware store armed us with some high-end wasp killing spray. Molly stood to our rear as we soaked the nest. Wasps began to tumble out, most still moving but incapable of flight. She could see odd things falling to the ground, but apparently felt she needed a better view.
It is important at this point to remember that Molly’s tail curled tightly up and over her back, a trait that left her sensitive anal area unprotected.
Molly stepped around us and sat down on the ground in an area littered with dying, angry wasps. She was instantly stung. She jumped up with a howl and began trying to dislodge the wasps she could see attached to her person. Swollen and in great pain, she instantly became every wasp’s mortal enemy. From that day forward she would snatch wasps out of the air, kill them with a single chomp, and then spit their lifeless forms at her feet.
She became our shadow. We never left her behind. She wandered our computer store. She slept under the cash register. Twice people came into the store intending us harm, and both times Molly found it necessary to vigorously invite those people to leave. Some of the locals came only to ask if they could take Molly for a walk.
Molly felt most loved when allowed to sleep at the foot of our bed, and we felt most loved when she would climb into our bed to lay her head on our chests because we felt ill. She has left a great void in our lives, one that will only be healed when we can once again walk along a quiet stream together, argue politics over a nice beer, and touch one another for no other reason than to assure us that we love and are loved in such a way that no one else can ever experience.
It was June 16th, 2006, more than a decade now since our sweet Molly-dog died. I cradled her in my arms as she took her last breath and whispered in her ear, "Tell God that you have been a good girl." The veterinarian matter-of-factly warned me against picking her up and carrying her to my car because she would urinate when her muscles relaxed. I have been to war and cradled death more than once, and I was astonished. All I could do was to remind her, "We all do."
Some pundit once said that dogs are lucky because they can see God every day, implying that we hairless monkeys are God to our pets. That idiot had it all wrong. At least once in everyone's life God breaks a piece of divinity free from the heavens and sends it out to find us and teach us what true unconditional love is. For some it is a perfect life partner, for some it is a holy place, for some it is an orphan. For me and my magnificent wife it was Molly.
Molly rests with her favorite toys in the bosom of a hilltop on our West 80. She homesteaded the site for those who have followed her: the cats Pepper and JD; dogs Toby, Blue, Cookie, Dozer, twins Bayer and Mousse, Penny, and Tank; llamas Rambo, Peach, Steph 'N Lee, Allie, Summertime Girl, and our beloved cougar-chasing hero Oscar.
Were it possible, I would someday join them there on the hill so we could sit together and watch the seasons change. Since that is not possible, I will simply lie down where death takes me and call her name.
Molly will come.