A Man and His Dog
In the Times of Dis-Ease
I am generally described as a cheerful person who tends toward optimism. But lately I find myself lingering over any mention of grief or fear or loss. Rather than turning away and protecting myself… I find that I am, in the face of this pandemic, turning toward the dark, unpleasant places. COVID-19 has forced us to isolate… to slow down… to think more… to consider consequences. We have more time to “go deeper.” We no longer have the usual distractions to coax us away from fear and sadness.
Last Sunday’s New York Times essay, “I’m Grieving Now. You May Be, Too,” examines the author’s difficulty writing because of the pandemic. He quotes Megan Devine, author of It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok, as she describes how bad we are at talking about and coping with grief and loss and pain, “As a culture we don’t talk about grief, we don’t make space for sadness.” We don’t talk about it… and it just gets worse and builds to something Devine labels “epidemics of unspoken grief.” That grief, according to her, makes us feel helpless.
And so it was in this particular mindset as I was reading my daily Nextdoor Alston Road when I came across a post that stunned me.
Ron Brand from Eucalyptus Hill Road wrote:
I just lost my 15-year-old dog and would love to get another dog that needs a home. Ideally I would like a medium/large size female under six months. I’ve tried Cold Noses-Warm Hearts and the SB Humane Society.
Anyone know of a sweet little pup that needs a home?
Here was a fellow human being suffering the isolating consequences of COVID-19 along with the rest of us and he had just lost his dear companion of 15 years.
Tears welled and I swallowed hard, reaching for the keypad; “Dear Ron… I am sooo terribly sorry for your loss… wow 15 years… that’s a good long life. I’m starting a project about people and their dogs. Would you talk?”
I don’t know Ron. He tells me he’s a local realtor who has lived on the Riviera for 30 years. He also owns sundry store MATE in the Vons shopping center next to Rory’s Artisanal Creamery. Ron and I discover we have 42 mutual Facebook friends. He agrees to share his story in order to help others; “I got Makenna 15 years ago… she came right on the heels of the death of my last dog. I wasn’t really intending to get another dog and… long story short… she found me and… I’ll never forget… I took her down to Miramar Beach for the first time and I asked her if she wanted to live with me and she wagged her tail and that was it… we developed this incredible bond.”
Ron’s voice breaks… I give him a moment to recover… then gently ask,
“What kind of a dog was she and how did you get her?”
“She was a ….”
Ron stops again… apologizes… then resumes…
“…she was a Rhodesian Ridgeback Boxer mix… and,” his voice breaks again…
“…. she… ah… Sorry… she… we had this… intuition between us… where we could… where I could communicate with her without actually speaking and it was all in the eyes… between the two of us… the way my head moved… she would just know… if we were going to the beach… or if I wanted her to get off the bed… we knew just purely by the way we looked at each other.
She was… just a really… an extremely special dog. I saw this (her death) coming for a while… and one day… she just told me… just by the way she looked at me… that she was done… that she had had enough.”
Ron struggles to go on, “Yeah I just… I just… made the decision and I got the date… and I really would have preferred to have a vet come to the house and do it… but yeah she… helped me through some of the toughest times in my life… the death of my mother… and a few other things that were very difficult. She was unconditional love… something that you can never get from a human… you can only get from a dog… People who don’t have dogs and have never had dogs probably won’t understand what I’m saying.”
There is a long silence.
“How did you and McKenna find each other?”
“She came from Palm Springs… somebody just didn’t want her… they drove by the home of a friend… and literally took her out of the car and threw her over the fence into my friend’s garden.”
“They threw Mckenna over the fence?”
“Yes… she was just a puppy… and somebody wanted to get rid of her so they threw her into my friend’s backyard”.
“Oh my God… what an amazing story.”
“Yes… And my friend found out I had just lost my dog and he called and said, ‘look I’m going to just get her in the car and drive her up to you in Santa Barbara.” And it was… it was just love at first sight… she was this beautiful golden… kind of a taupe-colored dog and she looked like her nose had been dipped in a pot of black paint. Bright beautiful eyes… and with so much affection for me the moment we met… and I for her.”
“How amazing that a tragic case of abandonment could turn into such a love story!”
“Yes yes yes… McKenna lived the best life… we were inseparable… we’d cruise around in my old ‘88 Jeep to Miramar and Fernald Point and she just had a great life… a Santa Barbara life for a dog. She was lucky. We both were.”
We both chuckle.
“Humans are pretty much the only primates that make companions outside of our own species. Why do you think that is?”
“I think God put them on this planet to teach us how to care for each other… not just as human beings… but as animals on the earth. I kind of feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have a dog and I try to tell every person I know to get one. There are dogs out there who need you more than you need them… and you might just find that this dog could rescue you in a way you may not even know you needed to be rescued.
“Anyway,” Ron continues, “I don’t think humans are the only species with pets. Because McKenna most definitely adopted me.”
Thank you, Ron, for sharing your story of love and loss.
The interview is cathartic for me… reminding me we all have our stories of pain and loss and grief. That it’s not the circumstances that come our way. It’s how we handle them.
Ron’s post on Nextdoor has generated dozens of responses from his neighbors… encouraging him to get another pup and hang in there while dealing with the loss of his beloved McKenna. The outpouring of support is a reminder… that right now maybe you can’t physically see your friends and neighbors. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
We have each other.
And our dogs.