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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

A friend emailed to tell us that his dog died today. He must have been worried about her-- he had mentioned that she was in failing health when I saw him over the weekend. Today she just gave out, and he and his wife had to perform the last act of kindness we can perform for the ones who have done nothing but devote their simple lives to making us happy.

I expressed my condolences, but in the instance of a dog, the condolences of friends mean little. Although I do not have a dog, I know this well. My brother has always said that his autobiography will begin, "I grew up on Long Island, where I was raised by Golden Retrievers," and that is as true a statement of our childhood as I can imagine. As I walked home from work today, I thought about what my friend must be feeling, and I thought about that the fact that the first time I think I ever saw my father consumed with grief was when our dog, Dusty, died. I'm bad at guessing ages, but I think must have been younger than 8, and that would have made my dad, what? Late 20's, perhaps? Certainly younger than I am now. Both his parents were still alive, and if they weren't close to my age now, they were certainly younger than my dad is today. I remember him coming home, and just lying on the bed in the guest bedroom, staring at the ceiling. Certainly death was nothing new to him, certainly he had experienced the death of a dog before, but I had not, and I had never seen my dad that sad.

I guess that's the trade off we have with our dogs. They make us happy, just by being there for us, but the price we pay is profound sadness when they die. They always die, of course. We all do, but dogs live on an accelerated cycle-- they are that much more happy to see us, we are that much more profoundly sad when we will never see them again. And we are always sad when we think about it, except when our dogs are there to take our minds from it.

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