Pet Sounds

dog snoutMany condolences to Newsweek‘s Rabbi Marc Gellman, who suffered the loss of a family member this week, a sweet canine named Miles.

I was just thinking that it’s been two years since our beloved dog, Jasmine, exhaled with her distinctive snort for the last time. She was nine when we met, having been El Yenta Man’s constant companion since his freshman year at UGA, but she and I hit it off right away. Come to think of it, she was probably the reason I married El Yenta Man — I figured anyone who’d raised such a cool dog would make an excellent father.

She labored with me — with both kids — by getting into bed and pressing her furry back into mine for hours. Yeah, she had a tendency to fart and was an atrocious beggar, but anyone who knew her could tell you that Jasmine was some dog.

She was a seriously decrepit 16 (that’d be 112 in human years) when El Yenta Man had her euthanized. I would have liked to be there, to hold my husband’s hand as we felt her big rump go cold, but I had a three month-old infant and a toddler who was hysterical at the idea that his snuffly snuggle partner would never be coming back. (Remember Nanny the dog from Peter Pan? Jazz was like that.)

We have a little shrine in the living room to her with a giant photo my father took and the little box of her ashes. (One day, when we have a home of our own, we’ll plant a jasmine bush in soil mixed with the contents of that box.) We still read “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant on a regular basis. (We also maintain that she was the inspiration for “Walter the Farting Dog.”)

Sometimes, I swear I can hear her toenails clicking across the linoleum. After two years, the initial grief has been replaced with wistful nostalgia about the time she snatched a sandwich out of my mother-in-law’s hand when she turned away for a millisecond, but I still miss her.

If you’ve never owned a pet, you might think this all sounds irrational and weird. “It’s not like it was a person, for Pete’s sake! Get over it!”

But it’s a real and deep attachment, one that may enable us to feel compassion for all beings. So, say even if the horror happening in Sudan doesn’t inspire actual weeping, perhaps the space carved out by a beloved pet actual makes our hearts bigger. Rabbi Gellman writes in this week’s column,

“I cannot and will not feel embarrassed at feeling bereft because of the death of my dog. I know. I know that they are not on the same moral level, but I remain convinced that the ability to cry for one tutors the tears for the other.”

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