From my earliest memories, there were always dogs in the house. Beginning with our first black Lab Spike coming into my room to wake me up for school. He was a gentle, calm, kind dog and was very patient with myself and my sister who were both under the age of 6. He was so gentle with us, most dogs would not tolerate us always petting him and lying on his stomach while we watched movies on the floor.
When Spike passed away, I was 6 years old. Our family cat Howdey, Spike’s best friend, also passed away a few months after him. For the first time in my life I remember waking up to a much more empty feeling house. In reality, it wasn’t that empty as my little sister had also just been born and we were now a family of 5. A year and a half after Spike died, we went to a shelter and ended up bringing home Rocky, another large black dog.
Rocky and Spike could not have been more opposite from each other. All my memories of Spike were when he was a senior dog, but Rocky, a two year old rescue, was very different. We dealt with a very hyper dog who only my Mom could walk. Behavioural issues of reactivity to other dogs on our walks; he was bit the day we adopted him by another dog who was up for adoption. But from the minute I saw him looking up at me with those big trusting eyes I knew, this was my best friend. No matter what the issues were, all the training classes we took, the sound of paws running towards me when I would come home from school was worth all of it.
Growing up can be hard enough with every new experience, with every new lesson and the slow discovery of who you are going to be. Having a dog at home can lighten the load in some ways as a constant in your life. That one animal who knows you, who sees you and who loves you no matter who you become or how long it takes you to get there. I got to watch him grow up the same way he watched me grow up and the thing that never changed was how I felt about him and how he felt about me.
He reminded me to be playful and curious. He reminded me that every day is an opportunity for an adventure and that even a walk through the same trails we both knew so well could always be a new adventure. He reminded me to give everyone a chance and unconditional love for other humans, even strangers. He reminded me that you never know when you will meet someone who will be another constant in your life for some time. He reminded me that being alive is about seeing, hearing, tasting, talking about and feeling as much as you can for however long you’re able to.
When he passed away at the age of 14, I had become a fully grown woman and his passing marked a new era in my life. It was incredibly sad but at the same time I was able to find peace knowing that my best friend is still checking up on me somewhere. He’s still with me rooting me on the sidelines, reminding me to be excited and curious instead of afraid and probably still trying to find someone to cuddle him. My first best friend can’t be replaced because he’ll never really be gone. My first best friend will always be the voice in the back of my head reminding me not to take everything so seriously and to take time finding the adventure in everyday life.
Written by Mandy Kiley