“It’s hard to imagine Anne without Trixie,” my friend Karen said on Friday when I had to say goodbye to my beloved 15-year-old dog. It’s hard for me to imagine me without Trixie either, because we were so connected, nearly inseparable, for the past 14 years. I feel a kind of naked I’ve never known without my tricolor shadow following just behind me, her soft weight pressing into my legs.
It’s a kind of loss I don’t even want to talk about with those who aren’t “dog people,” for fear of someone not understanding that this grief, predictable though it was, is as painful as any I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve experienced plenty (“it’s the shit end of the deal we make when we let these creatures into our hearts,” my friend Pat rightly said). It will take a lot out of me if anyone offers well-meaning platitudes about how long she lived or my mother says “well, you knew it was coming.” And anyone who says she was just a dog will be lucky if they avoid a punch in the face.
Trixie saw me through the death of my big brother, several different jobs, the loss of friends, moving houses, the break up of my marriage. We spent time in the woods of New Hampshire, in the waves on Martha’s Vineyard, the mountains of Western Massachusetts, on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. I laughed with her (and at her) and cried into her scruff. She barked at every stranger dog, but loved all cats and kids. We spent a lot of time staring adoringly into each other’s eyes — so much that, with anyone else, it would have gotten weird (that oxytocin rush was real). She was equal parts gentle and fierce, athletic and chill. My partner in crime, my adventure buddy, my snuggle partner, the most patient listener, truly my best friend.
When you’ve experienced the unconditional love of a dog — someone who thinks the world of you even when you are an utter mess — especially for so many years, then you know. It’s true that Trixie exceeded everyone’s expectations, living — and living well — with a heart murmur, arthritis, and kidney disease for ages. I wrote about how I thought I might only have her a little while longer nearly three years ago, the anticipatory grief I was feeling. And then I had nearly three more amazing years with my devoted companion, during which she got whiter in the face, wobblier on her legs, deafer in her ears, and somehow even cuter to me.
Trixie was a badass, and likely held out as long as she did, in some part, because she loved me as much as I loved her. Her vets called her a rock star; friends called her The Queen; I just called her my girl. It took an extreme act of bravery to let her go.
Despite how much it hurts right now, how unimaginable it is to wake up in the morning and realize Trixie’s enormous Yoda-like ears aren’t on the pillow next to mine anymore, I will risk my heart again. Because to have that kind of love for more than a quarter of my life was a gift beyond explanation. It was the greatest privilege of my life to care for her. The care she gave me in return was immeasurable. My heart has never felt so full and so broken at the same time.
For anyone who isn’t a dog person, I hope someday you become one, so that you can feel what I got to feel.