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I used to believe love was a spark. That feeling when the steel of my soul struck against the flint of another’s and set my heart on fire.
We remember sparks vividly. The electricity of a first kiss. The awe of holding your child for the first time. The serenity of first meeting your dog and realizing they were always your dog – it just took a bit of time to find each other.
And what bonfires these sparks light! Skyward reaching blazes which fill our lives with light and warmth and comfort. Each one fueled with the precious tallow of our time. We tend these flames not as a labor of love, but a labor for love. Almost without exception we work under the hope that these are eternal pyres– or at the very least, that they will last as long as our devotion does.
Love shared with a pet makes no such pretense. In fact, it seems closer to madness than anything. Even the savviest salesman would struggle to close the deal. “Over here we have our romantic, familial, spiritual and humanistic models, all of which – if well maintained – could last your entire life!”
“What about that one?”
“Ah…well. I think this one must be broken. The dog requires your undivided care and attention for ten years, give or take, and then dies.”
“That’s the worst case scenario?”
“No, the best.”
Nevertheless, business is booming. A growing number of people choose to share their love with pets and we are more honest and open about the relationship than ever before. Name the latest and greatest site or service, and some of the most popular accounts are inevitably our oldest and most loyal companions. Each new update from these accounts is a monument to the incredible things made possible when we are with our dogs. The results are astounding. It seems most dogs these days are better traveled, better dressed, and more cultured than I am. (It’s a low bar, but still.)
Perversely, these bold proclamations make our eventual loss even more profound. Our joyful articulation of bright love cutoff by speechless sorrow. We cannot escape this fate, nor should we. It is a sacred responsibility quietly shared by all of us.
And I do mean all. A few years ago, Queen Elizabeth stopped breeding Corgis. The Queen has famously been associated with the breed her entire life and the royal corgis have been constant companions. Yet this a figure of immense wealth and power, despite having the means to own every corgi, chooses not to have one more to comfort her near her own end. Why? Because not even her majesty has the power to assure she will be with a new dog at their end.
After a life exalted, bowed to by generations of world leaders, even the Queen bows before her dogs.
When Eko died, I felt his love was extinguished with him. I closed the windows of my heart, drew the shades, and mourned in blackness. In my blind vigil I would strike my soul against Eko’s memory and sob when I felt no spark. I took the hollow ringing as proof his love had gone with him. But what I couldn’t see in the moment was that by closing off my heart I created a vacuum – an airless and cold space in which no fire could catch.
Not until I haggardly tore down the drapes and threw open the windows on behalf of a new puppy did I realize my error. When I finally had the courage to meet Eko’s memory with an open heart, the spark once again ignited my world. I was shocked by the enduring warmth of that love. It felt like Eko nuzzling his head into my chest with playful admonishment. What, you thought I would trust you to handle a new dog, a new baby, or a new day without my love?
I was humbled to discover the fire even larger than before, radiating heat and love and light through me. And I realized my mistake. I mistook love to be the spark. I thought love was the flame. But it is neither. Love is more than both those temporal things. Love is the prerequisite air which breathes life into the sparks and embers of our heart. It is the fuel for our fires, the whipping wind which shapes the dancing flames. It is always there, ready to be discovered, harnessed, stilled, and rediscovered.
This lesson in humility seems unique in the affairs of our hearts. It is a painful but beautiful truth revealed through our dogs, but only because we willingly accept the cost of discovering it.
So we are right to mourn a bright light gone dark, but we should never mistake the loss of life for the loss of love.
It is a fittingly joyful message from our dogs in the end. We can dance wildly around their fires today because although they one day will go dark, the love we share will help light our hearts always.
Thank you for this comment: What, you thought I would trust you to handle a new dog, a new baby, or a new day without my love?
I lost my Dash last year. After a lot of reflection and discussion, a puppy joins our family this weekend and I know I can feel Dash’s presence. Your comment affirmed that for me!
Ah, Will. Pure Valentine’s Day perfection. Thank you for opening your beautiful heart to your readers. We are blessed because of it.
OH yes that’s it even with the loss of a spouse or pet it’ll always be there somewhere in your heart and love never dies just grows with each love you have. Thank you for reminding me of this. Hope you and the family (pups too) have a great Valentines together!
Thank you for this Valentine’s message. I have not had dogs due to circumstances for the last 12 or so years but this January my husband and I adopted our ridgebacks and I had forgotten how they take over your soul and light up your life. Happy Valentines!
As always, your words describe perfectly the emotions I’ve felt since losing my Rusty in August. I, too, mourned in blackness until I knew I had to try again. In November I adopted an almost 2 year old rescue, a girl who has captured my heart. My Roxie. Now I know I didn’t lose Rusty’s love after all. I can even hear him laughing at me as if saying “and you thought I was a crazy puppy!”
Thanks, Will, for being you and for writing about it.
Thank you so much Will! I’m still dealing with the loss of my Molly last April. Your thoughts and words are helping me more than you can ever know.
As with so many of your posts this was quite thought provoking and inspiring. Thanks.
you found the words I couldn’t find and you are right the end oflife is not the end of all love… Happy Valentines to you and your fabulous furmily ;O)
Will I’ve said it before my friend across the miles – found through a blog, through a common love of dogs, your writing is amazing. You put all our thoughts and feelings into words and onto paper. Thank you. I think of Eko often as I think of my Nico extremely often. His memories do bring joy and love to my heart and help me love my boys here in the now even more.
It is so good to see Ekos picture again. I miss hil n never forgot how i cried when i read your story with the black curtain that morning. My heart broke for all of you n poor Penny n how she would deal with her loss. Thank u for this post. Once again never disappoints.
Look at Zeros big head on Penny. Pure love.
Happy Valentines Day
Thank you so much for this. We had to put our 12 year old lab mix down on Tuesday, and what you wrote made my broken heart happy!
Will, this is a wonderful post. Love as the oxygen that breathes life into us. Yes!
After almost 15 years with my first Ridgie (my first love), I thought my heart was broken f-o-r-e-v-e-r..the pain of losing that love is indescribable..I now have 2 young Ridgies who have brought love & lit up my heart once again..I still miss my ‘first love’ every day, but my new fur-kids are full life and love…thank you for sharing xx
Yes, you had so much with Eko that your couldn’t bear to have another dog? If you went in a car accident, would you have wanted your dog to be miserable for the rest of his life? It works both ways.
I too lost my beloved Ridgey after 14 years. I never thought another dog would ever love me as much as my Ivy. I thought her spirit was gone forever and for months I just wanted my spirit to joins hers. And then I ended up babysitting for my son’s basset/beagle mix. She had no spark, no affection, and it seemed like she had no heart to love. I ended up keeping her and found that the more love, play, and more love I gave her, I ended up seeing the spirit of my loving Ivy in her. She was loving, but was also doing the same silly things as Ivy did. It was as if a little of Ivy was being reincarnated into “Sushi” little by little. I realized one day that Ivy’s spirit was created by the love and silly things I did with her, and that Sushi just responded, found trust, and learned to return love in the measure that I gave her. She has turned into a wonderful, sweet silly girl. I know that when I finally get the Ridgy pup I’ve been waiting for for 9 months, I won’t be expecting a copy of Ivy, but all of the love and goofy things I do with my dog(I am just like you, Will) will recreate a wonderful, loving, devoted friend. Part of Ivy will always be with me. As for Sushi, she’s great, but there’s nothing like a Ridgeback.
As always, amazing insights Will. I’m happy you were able to open that window again. You’re too special not to have as many pupper’s as your life permits.
Love and pets…it doesn’t get any more real than that. ❤️
A fantastic article, as always. It truly captures the complexity of a relationship with a ridgeback – and that’s really what it is i- t’s more than having just a pet – as much as one can do so in a brief number of words. You did a spectacular job of describing an incredibly complex emotional journey of ups downs and experiences and emotions that are at times indescribable.
Never in my life have I experienced as much sorrow and heartbreak as when one of my Ridgeback’s passed on unexpectedly and much earlier than I would’ve thought.
I was devastated and stayed that way for months. I came to understand why they describe such sorrow and loss as “heart break” since the middle ages. My heart literally ached.
As you described, eventually and though it took years, my heart healed from this wound, and the joy and promise of a beautiful new ridgeback puppy was that which mended me.
Again, a wonderful article as always. My sincere thanks for your eloquent efforts.
Just the dive into the heart’s chasms that I needed.
Beautifully stated. I love my dogs with all my heart. I give them great experiences and an adventure filled life. We take them everywhere with us, I set up daily playtime with their friends, we belong to a ridgeback play group, and I home cook their food. I would do anything for them and love them with joy. Why? Because their time with us is so darn short. I make every breath they take special…..because that is what they do for me.