The Soothing Spirit of a Dog

by Christa Hines on July 25, 2012

A home without pets feels foreign to me. I’ve known people who sneer at us crazy dog people and can’t understand why we love our dogs so much. My dogs are important members of the beautiful chaos of my family life so this attitude is hard for me to wrap my brain around. Would life be easier without them? Not really. To be honest, my dogs are much easier to deal with on a daily basis then my children ever have been! For me, the hardest part of dog ownership comes at the end of a dog’s life. Yesterday, we came to the harsh realization that our gentle giant, Buster, was slipping away from us.

Buster entered our lives almost ten years ago at a time when getting out of bed each morning felt like a leap of faith. When I think back to that time of my life, I remember the world feeling colorless, dark and cold. My husband and I lost a baby, our first child, at 25 weeks gestation. When you hold your dying baby in your arms, you question the what fors and the whys – or at least I did. My faith was on shaky ground.

A white rose hung on our hospital room door, a telling sign to those around us that we were in a sacred space, but that space couldn’t block out the healthy, glorious screams of new life entering the building. Listening to those cries, I stared at my tiny silent son swaddled in his blue blanket willing him to breathe even though I knew it was impossible. I was on an island stuck in a nightmare in the middle of a swelling ocean of grief. I jumped in, barely clinging to the life raft my family tried to throw me.

My husband gave me Buster as a Christmas gift that year. When we went to look at the litter of puppies, Buster came over and sat down next to me. I held him all the way home, his giant puppy paws covering my heart. Our other golden retriever Elvie was not entirely pleased with her new roly-poly little brother. But, he quickly won her over – she could still be the boss – and she came around. Before long it was hard to imagine our family unit without Buster.

The only two things Buster didn’t like was confrontation and change. The minute voices raised, he headed for cover. I’ll never forget the winter day when I looked out the dining room window of our new house and saw Buster sitting in the middle of the yard, staring back at the house with snowflakes beginning to accumulate on his head looking completely disgusted that he was living in a new house with two exceptionally loud children.

Nonetheless, he was a quiet, loyal presence keeping close watch over our boys when they played outside and sounding the alarm if anyone passed by our yard. He loved people and had a tendency to lean into them not realizing his barrel-chested strength could knock a person over flat. He greeted us every day with his tail thumping so hard it reverberated across the house. His favorite activities were his walks, playing ball, curling up with my husband on the floor to watch football and napping in the winter sun, flanking my side as I worked.

As you know, we are blessed with two beautiful, healthy boys – sons who I thought at one time would be impossible to have. Naturally, I still grieve the loss of our first son. It’s a period of my life that’s excruciatingly painful for me to talk about. I like to imagine that God knows I find peace and meaning in animal spirits. It’s no coincidence Buster came into our lives at a time when we needed his gentle soothing presence. Caring for a new puppy, helped coax me out of the well of grief I couldn’t quite pull myself out of on my own. As my husband often says: “He saved you.” Maybe he saved us both. Rest in peace my friend… Buster B. 7/24/12

Steph July 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Beautiful tribute, Christa. I am so sorry about Buster’s passing. The unconditional love pets give us is such a gift. I feel your loss and I completely understand. Sending hugs your way.

Christa Melnyk Hines July 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Thanks, Steph! I hope you guys are doing well! 🙂

Pete Anthan July 27, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Thanks for writing this, Christa. It is amazing how dogs are in our lives at just the right times. It’s been several years since we had to put big Mack down suddenly and for similar reasons. At long last, a dog recently came into our lives and, once again, just the right big lummox at just the right time. We each have our very rough times in life and, to me, that’s why God made dogs. Non-dog people miss that. Rest in peace, Buster.

Christa Melnyk Hines July 27, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thanks, Pete. Mackie was a great dog. The relatively brief life span of a dog is their primary design flaw! But you’re right, it’s uncanny how they come into your life when you need them most and love you unconditionally no matter what.

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