On Losing My Dog and Finding My Way


My blog is my story. When I lost Eko, the black ink of my anguish blotted out the most painful chapter. Each of you was kind enough to give me the time, space and support I needed, never asking I share what was written on those stained pages. Yet they are the most important pages, so I must go back and rewrite them – for myself and for the dog who changed my story forever.

I steady my hand, carefully dip my pen into that sorrowful ink, and share these words about the day Eko died.

I dream I search the world for my dog. I shout for Eko from the top of each mountain. I dive to the darkest depths of the sea. I cannot find him.

Enraged, I storm the doors of hell and tear down the gates of heaven. I lay waste to any man, beast, angel or demon who dares bar my path. I battle and bleed until I cannot walk. So I crawl. Until, at last, I confront the creator herself. What God this may be is of no import. She holds Eko by her side, surveying my ragged form and the destruction in my wake.

“You do all this for your dog?” she asks.

“You misunderstand,” I reply. “This is the least I would do for my dog.”

“But he is in a better place.”

I laugh at the thought and call to Eko. He bounds over to my crippled body and licks the blood and tears from my face. God trembles. For who would ever choose a broken boy over divine perfection? My dog, that’s who. For us, there is no better place than by each other’s side.

“Take your dog and go,” she commands. “You may never return.”

We are cast from heaven, blissful. I carry in my arms all the salvation I will ever need.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

I wake to the crack of thunder. Jaw clenched, muscles rigid, tears soaking the pillow. My puppy is dead. This is the real nightmare. I relive our final day together for the thousandth time:

“Good morning, baby dogs!” I say through a yawn. On cue, Eko and Penny pounce to life and shower me with kisses to speed my rise from bed. We go for a walk, the pups eat breakfast, and they cuddle together on the couch while I write. Later, I head to the gym under an ominous gray sky and think that it’s perfect weather for a day at the beach.

Most people want beach days with blue skies, bright sun and warm breezes. But I’ve found both the beach and my dogs come alive in the hours before a storm. I load the pups into the car and we drive to the deserted shore of Lake Michigan. A city of nearly three million people teems behind us, but on this side of the dune the world is ours.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

The wind whips, the waves crash, and we whip and crash along the shore in time with the music of the earth. We wrestle and play and laugh. Not even the fears and troubles which chase me each day can catch us here. Here it is only a boy, his dogs, and love.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

We pause to watch a kite surfer wade into the water. He stands on his board and rides the current swiftly past our revelry. Penny gives chase. Only she possesses the audacity to believe she can catch the wind. Eko stands at the ready by my side. Guarding me, but with a watchful eye on Penny. Only he possesses the strength to protect us both.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

The kite surfer, seeing he would soon be caught, quickly accelerates downwind. Penny runs back to us with an impish grin and I laugh as we turn for home. Eko soars over the fence and we hop in the car. Dirty, exhausted and thoroughly content.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

Back home, Eko and Penny curl up again while I send a few emails before leaving for the airport. Just like the weekend before, Emily and I have a wedding to attend. I feed the pups dinner and I shut our closet doors, checking for stray socks, shoes and other chewing temptations. Both dogs are well past the age of getting into trouble, but I am overly cautious.

An hour later we go for one last walk. I tuck Eko and Penny back into their favorite spots on the couch then give them each a treat and a kiss. As I always do before leaving the apartment, whether for a minute or for the rare weekend away, I make the pups one last promise – “I’ll be right back.”

That was the last time I saw Eko.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

My phone vibrates incessantly the moment we touch down in Charleston, South Carolina. Through her sobs my mom is only just barely able to tell me that Eko is dead. It’s difficult to articulate my feelings in that exact moment. The closest I can come is to say I felt like a ghost who believed himself a person, but just discovered he is in fact dead. While my body landed safely, my soul died in a fiery crash.

I collapse in a chair just past the jetway, crying with Emily. It takes four tries to steady my hands enough to call my brother. Just as he had the week prior, James arrived to my apartment a few hours after I left. Except this time he found Eko on the ground, barely breathing. My poor brother, who only two years ago held his own dying dog, now had to hold mine – knowing that as Eko died, so too did his little brother.

James heroically carried my dog and my heart to the emergency vet, but both were gone before he made it through the door. Here are the meaningless answers: They do not know why Eko died. It was not bloat. It could have been a brain aneurysm, it could have been an acute cardiac issue, it could have been massive organ failure due to an undetected cancer.

The only meaningful certainty, both that night and now, is Eko is gone.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

I, the ghostly remains of my dog, haunt the streets of Charleston. There are no flights to Chicago until morning. I cry and choke on my tears as Emily props me up. I am lost, I am scared and I want to run home. Both the feeling and the place are familiar. The pain tears open a memory from four years ago, right here in Charleston, when the only certainty I could hold onto in this world was my dog.

It was the end of the initial three-month trial of the crazy idea to live with Eko on the road for a year. I was exhausted and I wondered how the hell I was going to survive another nine months. I wanted to run for the comfort of home.

To contemplate my future, I rented a kayak and paddled into the Atlantic with Eko standing up front like George Washington crossing the Delaware. People on shore took photos and waved as we passed by. I settled into my seat and weighed my options. I could go home or…

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

Eko left me no time to finish the thought as he dove off the bow of our ship. He’d spotted a large group of seagulls lounging on a small island offshore. I knew his intention, but despite my furious paddling Eko made it to land first. He bounded into the heart of the flock and sent the birds exploding skyward. I could hear the laughs and shouts of the people on shore as I chased Eko around the tiny beach.

Somewhere in the space between footsteps the chase turned into a game of tag. Instead of running at Eko, I decided to run with him. We raced across the sand until we were both happily panting from the exertion. The birds Eko sent into the wind seemed to carry my troubles with them.

I pushed us back out to sea with a laugh and I knew right then we’d carry on. I was still scared and I was still lost, but I had Eko. A boy and a dog are safe at home, but that is not what boys and dogs are made for. We are all here to dive into unknown waters, chase off our fears and delight in the adventure of the experience. It takes courage, but luckily our dogs are happy to lend us theirs when our own falters.

Now, four years later, I’m ready to run home again. But is it even home anymore without Eko? This is my worst fear. The one where everything you love is cruelly and suddenly ripped from you without warning. How am I supposed to face this without Eko to steady me?

I rise from bed at dawn and take off down the street at full speed. I run until I the agony in my muscles matches the agony in my heart. I run until my lungs gasp for air the same way my soul does. I find an old semi-truck tire in a field and flip it over and over until my body is as broken as my spirit.

Sitting in the field, I weakly reach for my phone to tell James I cannot come home. I do not know what to do, but I know I cannot hide. I tell him I need him to hold Penny for me, and he says he already called out of work to do just that. He understands I cannot honor the dog who taught me to be brave by choosing to run away.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

We stay in Charleston for the weekend. It is interminable. It is excruciating. It is necessary. This is Eko’s last test. It was easy to spread joy and love when he was by my side and life was wonderful. But do I have the courage to do it when my heart is tarred black? I sit crying on the waterfront where I once sat with Eko and I think about my parents.

Shortly after my younger brother was born he suffered a SIDS episode and had to be rushed to the hospital. Nate survived, but he was transferred to the NICU where his life hung precariously in the balance. While Nate was in the hospital I remember my mom coming home to read me a book and then crying in the middle of it. I remember visiting Nate with my dad and seeing the tracks of tears on his face. While his infant son could die at any moment on one side of the glass, my father made his other son feel safe, loved and less afraid by doing silly voices.

“So that is the true measure of a person,” I think. “When blinded by grief, can you remember what love looks like? Even if you can’t see it yourself, can you find a way to still put love into the world?”

My mother did it. My father did it. I do my best. I cry with Emily and then make our friends laugh when we go out for lunch. I sob alone in the bathroom then wipe my eyes and exit with a smile for my wife. But I fail at this juggling act. I endeavor to drink my grief away and end up wailing in the street while Emily holds me.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

The hopeless dam I attempted to build in Charleston collapses the moment I’m home. I don’t know if there’s a heaven but I’m quite certain there’s a hell. There’s no fire or brimstone, just the unbearable torture of opening your front door knowing your dog is not on the other side.

I lay on Eko’s bed and weep. He was supposed to grow old and gray. He was supposed to lay with my children on the couch and keep them warm and safe. He was healthy, he was fit, and I brushed his goddamn teeth to perfection because I needed him to stay with me for a long, long time.

Our story was only halfway done. How could it end like this?

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

I wander a post-apocalyptic wasteland of my soul. I look at the crumbled ruins and struggle to remember the skyscrapers of joy and laughter and delight which once seemed indestructible. I starve for Eko’s love and nothing in this broken world can satiate that hunger, so I wither.

The outpouring of sympathy we receive after sharing news of Eko’s death astounds me. Thousands of people from around the globe take time from their lives to honor my dog. My friends and family support me when I cannot stand on my own. The flood of my tears is matched by a flood of empathetic emails, letters, comments and calls. I hope one day to have the ability to properly express my gratitude for everything each one of you has done for me.

8-Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

But I must first confess an ugly truth. In this moment I wish I could build a bonfire with every word I have ever written, every blog I have ever posted and every photo I have ever shared. I wish I could use every kindness ever said to me about Eko as kindling. I wish I could tear flesh from my bones, strip years from my life, sacrifice them to the flames and burn it all down for one more chance to hold my puppy.

I am so angry and bitter and depressed that I scare my wife. She tries to pierce my sorrow with tenderness, but of what use is tenderness to one who has lost his heart? My pain and sorrow swirl until I am a tempest of grief. My winds of anguish blow aside all the love and support in my path. Emily and Penny, alone in the eye of the storm, watch as my rage pushes the world away.

Emily stands unwavering against the gale, holding me in her arms. She makes no promises and offers no answers. She simply whispers the three most important words she’s ever said to me.

“You’re my Eko.”

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

The storm breaks. One final swell of emotion crashes over me as I remember everything Eko was, is, and will be for me. A well drilled into my soul from which I draw forth courage, inspiration and a limitless supply of love. Worse than losing Eko would be to also lose everything he taught me. I must pick myself up and practice that seemingly impossible juggling act of grief and love. I will fail. But I will begin again and again until I get it right. I must honor my dog by living his legacy. I must do for this world what he did for my world.

I must build a funeral pyre of all I’ve done and all I’ve learned – not to burn it down, but to spark a signal fire that stretches to the stars. A beacon which reaches to the furthest corners of the earth and shouts, “Do not be afraid of the darkness! Come see how the love of a dog can light the world!”

I will build this fire.

The next morning we visit the beach with Penny before sunrise. It’s cloudy and dark, but there is just enough light to see by.

Rhodesian Ridgeback. losing a dog

267 thoughts on “On Losing My Dog and Finding My Way”

  1. I share your heartache. Six months ago I had a similar loss and still hurt from it. I’m very sorry for your loss, but to read of your affection for your friend brings me some solace to know that others have found such friendship with a 4 legged friend. Thank you and I wish you the best going forward.

  2. Nobody can understand this feeling if you don’t live it. I am a mother, I have 3 daughters, and I can tell you I love my dog like another son. All the people think I am crazy, it doesn’t matter. I will love my sweet “WILL” forever. They give us everything without ask for nothing. I am sure there aren’t humans like them. I am sorry for your lost. I can not imagine how you stood up again after this. I don’t imagine a life without my Will. Thanks! To all these beautiful dogs, we really don’t deserve all this love.

  3. I just had to put to rest my 9.5 year old Ridgeback, Bariki. Watching him struggle in his last breath, I cannot stop crying hysterically and uncontrollably. I’m spiraling into that dark place. I dreaded this day coming. Sometimes it feels like people do not understand how powerful the bond is between a person and their dog. I’m broken. Shattered. Your post and video made me feel like someone understood how completely wrecked the heart can feel when your best friend is no longer here. Thank you.

    • I feel your pain , and Know the feeling of people don’t understand how someone can feel a so deep loss over “just a dog” But we know that your best closest friend is more than “just a dog” . Let no one tell you how you should feel , the pain will never go away , you learn to live with it , 4 years later I can still burst in to tears thinking over my Mugambi last breath .. the only thing that helped some was to get a puppy RR ,, never to replace Mugambi , but to help me think of something else , to still have someone to care for , to maintain some of the daily routine .. Obasi is now 3.5 years old , and lies here snugged in with me in the couch with he’s Legs up in the air snoring like a grizzly 😊 . He is not Mugambi , he is not a replacement , but I think I grown to love him as much as “Gambi” and I fear the day when I have to make the ultimate test of that love … But I hope and pray that that day is still far away ..

    • The pain and sorrow are yours. Earned with an earnest and open heart, in full knowledge of the price you’d one day pay. Don’t shy away from it or let anyone else minimize it. You’ll carry the scar with you always but never regret what caused it. The way forward isn’t easy, but keep putting one foot in front of the other. Glad we could provide a small solace during an impossibly lonely and difficult time.

  4. We lost our most wonderful Dylan, in May this year. He had to be put to sleep and was only 1.5 years old. I have never experienced such pain in my life, 6 months later he is in my thoughts every day. I loved him immensely and I don’t ever remember crying like I did when we had to have him sent over the rainbow. I trusted him with my life and he was my best friend, I’ll never have another like him.

    Your story is incredible and I am so sorry for your loss. Loosing an animal can be just as painful as a human, they are our family with fur and Waggy tails, after all. I know in time I will be ok, but even now months later I have moments where I just sob and sob.

    Thank you, x

    • Like you I had Rhodesian Ridgeback for blissful 14 years. He was the only dog that I’m aware of that was permitted to walk between MIT and Harvard campus leash-less…. He was allowed by the Cambridge, Harvard, and MIT police to be leash-less… The bond I had with him was friends for life, brothers until one of us dies… He traveled with me for three long years in Land rover SUV into four continents and he shown me what a true companion is and what it meant to be.
      Watching your video brought unbelievable times to cry and also to reminisce the old good days I had with my beloved dogs…Now I have a doberman pinscher who just as good….
      Now enjoy your lovely dogs but don’t forget about your wonderful other half….

  5. My RR boy Cy passed suddenly and unexpectedly in May this year, he was one of the loves of my life and I miss him terribly.
    I lost both of my children to years apart and if it wasn’t for Cy and his sister Taja a Mastiff/Dane I truly don’t think I’d still be here. Cy had this uncanny way of knowing what I was thinking and when through grief and loss of my boys I would be having a moment there would be Cy beside me baring witness to my pain and suffering, in a way no human has ever been able too. He would place his head or paw in my lap with those wonderful ridgy eyes searching my face, and wouldn’t allow me to cry, and if I was he would get up in my face and literally lick the tears from my face until I stopped crying and/or began laughing. Invariably he would continue in his goofy way or insist on a walk and I would forget about crying or being sad. There has never been a person who has ever been able to cut through my grief as this dog was able too.
    It would take me all day to go over all the special qualities that made him the dog he was. The three of us went through so much together and on many adventures that took us through most parts of Australia, through mountains, rainforests, perfect beaches and congested cities, to eventually ending up in Tasmania. He was my protector, and guardian, mate and friend and he never took his eyes off me. He was one of a kind, so special, I loved him dearly.
    I now have Buddha Boi my new RR pup, he’s as loving and focused on me as he is on this new forever unfolding world that continues to invitingly beckon his discovery of every moment of everyday. I know we have many adventures ahead of us and look forward to them together. He won’t replace Cy, he’s his own dog, with his own personality.
    I miss Cy everyday and will never ever forget the amazing dog he was or how much I loved him or the amazing unconditional love he gave to me.
    Our RR’s past and present are and were truly awesome remarkable 🐕 wonderful animals ~🐕
    In Love and Light…


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