Athens, Georgia, Dogs

Dogs and Emotions

Lizzie and Reggie cuddled together on the couch watching TV

There is a common misconception among many people that dogs do not feel the same emotions that we do. I wonder how they got that idea? Perhaps because dogs don’t speak English, and like infants, they can’t communicate except through noises: barking, whimpering, growling…and that’s mostly it, at least in my experience, which I dare say, is pretty extensive, considering my mom and dad adopted the first dog I ever had while I was in utero…even if I didn’t adopt my own dog until I was 30 years old. Our house was filled with many dogs during my childhood, teenage years, and beyond…when I would come home to visit, Mom, and Dad in his own home 30 miles away, had dogs.

Now, I can’t imagine life without my own dog. And losing a dog is like losing a piece of me – not just my heart, but it feels as if a body part, an organ, has been removed, all of a sudden, and then there is this phantom-like presence inside of me, where that organ, that limb, used to be. It’s the part of me that is forever occupied by the memories of that dog. First Toby, and now, I can feel it, that time is coming with Lizzie, soon, and I thought it would be easier this time, but my stomach has been in my throat all day. I can’t sit still, it’s hard to breathe, hearing Lizzie straining to breathe all weekend…again…it should be easier, shouldn’t it? It’s not.

I can’t imagine my life without her. Looking at her, resting on Toby’s cushion, on top of his dog bed, I can’t fathom that soon there will be an empty space where she used to sit next to me as I write in this favorite chair, looking out the window at the forest full of trees, my favorite view, in my favorite room, with my favorite girl: Lizzie Bear.

Lizzie on the purple cushion on top of Toby’s bed – with Toby’s photo in the background

Back in 2009, Audie’s friend and ex-girlfriend, Addie, made the most selfless decision anyone has ever made: she gave up her dog, Reggie, so that Lizzie and Reggie would not be separated. Audie was planning to fly back to Seattle to bring Lizzie back to San Diego to live with us, and I was worried, at first, that Toby and Reggie would not get along (two alpha males), or that two more dogs would be too much for Toby. Lizzie was Audie’s dog, so we considered keeping Lizzie and Toby, and letting Addie keep her dog, Reggie. She made a joke at the time that Reggie would be okay, and she’d buy him a new chew toy.

But, we all thought more about it, me especially, and I remembered, that dogs feel bonds of love and friendship and family…and the pain of loss, just like people do.

In the end, Audie brought both Reggie and Lizzie home to San Diego with him, and Addie made the ultimate sacrifice, one, to this day, I don’t know if I could make in her shoes, and one that I will always admire and respect her for, as an animal lover, and as a human being.

As it turns out, dogs definitely feel all the feelings humans do, and they express them in their own unique ways.

Reggie is no exception; in fact, he has been sticking close to Lizzie today, and I wonder if he knows she does not have much time left…

Reggie sitting beside Lizzie…off the cushion…he knows she doesn’t like to share it.

Reggie is a very emotional dog, and…a very possessive dog. I would even call him jealous at times. I’ve run into this problem with Reggie off and on over the years. It started with Toby, almost from the start. He attacked Toby early on in their relationship and I was terrified it would be a pattern. I even asked Audie to send Reggie back to Addie in Seattle.

Thankfully, I changed my mind and gave the dogs more time to become friends. I can’t imagine life without Reggie Roberts.

Granted, it wasn’t always easy. Reggie did go after Toby twice more while Toby was still here, once over food, I have no idea why, and once, just because. Toby was fragile, but thankfully he wasn’t hurt.

Speaking of human emotions in dogs, both male dogs were in love with Lizzie. Toby, especially, fell head over heels in love with her, and would follow her around the condo and constantly lick her – dogs’ version of kissing. Reggie was tolerant of it, but I swear he used to frown. Lizzie was his first, you know. But, it just goes to show, male and female dogs fall in love and compete for romance like people do.

Dogs also experience loss, like we do. In fact, Reggie, ironically, and surprisingly, was the dog that grieved over Toby’s death…for a full week. He was sad, and kept looking for Toby. Lizzie did not, for some reason, she took it in stride. She always was the toughest, least emotional of all three dogs…maybe that’s why she’s cheated death so many times. She’s tough as nails.

A few nights ago, on Audie’s 48th birthday, I witnessed yet another example of the complexity of dogs’ emotions, and in Reggie’s case, his response to loss, and confusion, and anxiety, and sadness.

Reggie was sitting on the bed with me, and usually he gets to be the only dog on the bed. Lizzie tends to like to stay on the floor or in her dog bed, and Reggie’s used to that privilege she’s unwittingly granted him.

It had been a long time since I’d broken that tradition, but I opted to pick up Lizzie and put her on the bed with Reggie and me…presumably just for a little while. (I knew Lizzie would not want to stay there long, and being nearly blind, she’d likely fall off, if she didn’t jump off first, and give me a heart attack that she might hurt herself…or worse. Recently I found her halfway down the stairs on the landing. It’s been a while since she was able to climb the stairs, much less descend them, safely. But every now and then she has tumbled down, and somehow, avoids the kind of injury that could kill a dog as fragile as she is.  Her emotions: stubbornness…and courage. She’s a lot like her daddy – doesn’t let anything stop her when she sets her mind to something.

Knowing that Lizzie is such a little daredevil, I had no intention of keeping her up there with me for long, and I did not think Reggie would get upset, he loves her after all.

Well, I was sorely mistaken. It didn’t take but 25 seconds, maybe less, of Lizzie on the bed to set off Reggie’s jealousy, and he went after her, right in the neck and face – full on growling, teeth, all of it.

I pulled him off of her, as I’ve done many times before, when Reggie’s gotten jealous at having to share – usually his daddy, but in this case, me…go figure…I did not realize I was now his “human,” but after a certain number of months, I should have known that Reggie would attach himself to me like this.

I just didn’t realize how sensitive he was about being alone with me on that bed.

But, I know Reggie is emotional, like me, although I don’t go biting people, or dogs, in the face when I get jealous.

At first I was angry, afraid Reggie had collapsed Lizzie’s trachea, and I may be right, though I hope I’m wrong. Lizzie was panting and hyperventilating, in the midst of that fight-or-flight defense mechanism she has gotten into time and again when Reggie’s pulled this stunt. He did it with Toby, too, but Toby didn’t have breathing problems, nor a collapsed trachea.

Ever since Wednesday night, Lizzie’s coughing has gotten much worse, after two days of relief from the hydrocodone that suppressed her cough. She’s struggling to inhale more, and now, we are in the midst of the second Sunday night in a row, after a full day of the same worrying, waiting, and hoping not only that she’d make it until 8 a.m. when the vet opens, but that this won’t be the end…that I won’t have to make that decision, not now.

But I know it’s coming. And I know I may have to make it alone, though I hope that is not the case.

Reggie has felt bad, since Wednesday. I think he feels remorse that he hurt Lizzie. I can tell that he knows she’s not okay – he’s stayed close to her, and he has been sad. (You know when your dog is sad, trust me).

I feel for Reggie. He couldn’t help it, I know that. He was just being a dog, expressing his emotions the only way he knew how. He probably knows better (I hope), but still, this has been a hard four months, for all of us, and his emotions are “only human.”

I worry about Reggie having to say goodbye to Lizzie. As she got older, especially in the last two years, I’ve worried more for what the loss of his beloved partner would do to Reggie than what it would do to me.

I’ve heard that dogs figure it out and that there are things we can do, when dogs lose their other half. I worry that it won’t be enough, that I won’t be enough, to soothe Reggie’s pain, as I soothe my own, too.

I thought I was ready. But, I’m not. And I guess, I have to accept, like so many other truths in life, that we just are never ready to say goodbye.

For now, Lizzie is nearby, and Reggie is with her. And all that love, that friendship, that bond that they’ve shared for so many years, is right there – and I know, that Reggie’s love, like human love, is a comfort to her.

Just like people, dogs know when they are truly loved.

Lizzie and Reggie in December 2009 when they first came to live with Toby and me.


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