This month, as we are now halfway through another year, basking in the sunshine of long summer days, I am also basking in the glow of memories. Throughout my life, I have had the pleasure of living with 10 different dogs as part of my family, and the loss of one brings the memories of all the others flooding back.
The memories of seven of these dogs, now departed, make me smile, warm my heart, and occasionally cause an intense ache of longing that dulls a bit as the years pass, but never fully fades away.
First, there was Rusty. He was wild and free. He could run like the wind, and what I remember most about him is the delightful feel of his silky, deep-red coat against my 4-year-old cheek. Then there was Charlie Brown, the constant companion of my school years. He is a presence that populates every single memory I have of growing up. My very first best friend, he was the one who assured I never lived a day of my life without a dog or two (or three) by my side. He sealed the deal, set me on my path. Then Ivan, my first protector, my greatest teacher, and Ollie, the sidekick who became a regal king. Claude came along and widened my perspective. He taught me patience and reminded me I still had much to learn. Soon after, Dune joined my life, and he saved me one day. His lesson: See the dog in front of you. Then Hugo, my little heart; I have never laughed so much with a dog before or since. He taught me that I shouldn’t take myself so seriously.
Flash to present time: life with Laz and Mars. The daily blur of activity with these two of 10 dogs keeps me focused forward, so I don’t get stuck in the past with my furry memories. These boys are very much alive and demand my full presence in the here and now. They keep me very busy, helping me live life to the fullest and make memories to savor once they, too, depart.
And yet, there is one more to make 10. She lives neither only in my past, nor fully in my present. She is still part of my every day, her presence and lack thereof straddling two worlds as her very being begins to slowly fade into Memoryland. I can reminisce about her early days, when she was skinny, long-legged, awkward, untamed, and new, or about last week, when she sat near me in my yard, her weary bones soaking up the sun while I planted my summer vegetable garden.
But I can also still hear her, the tap of her always slightly too long nails on my floor as she followed me around my house: always just three steps behind, always nearby, ever watchful. I still see her, out of the corner of my eye, even as I type these words, in the worn brown leather chair where she liked to curl up, her chin resting on the armrest, gazing at me while I worked. She is still in the earth outside, where her brothers sniff at the spot where she last relieved herself and in the tufts of coarse black hair that drift across the floor of my living room when a breeze comes through. Her food bowl is still in place, empty for days now. I should probably put it up, but it seems impossible that I won’t need it anymore, impossible to comprehend that she won’t ever be back. Zou Zou is gone.
Zou was a wonderfully sweet natured girl and full of energy. When she came to us, at 11 months of age, she was a wild child. She’d been living outdoors without much in the way of training, supervision, or real companionship. Her arrival caused much upheaval in my family, with everyone, every dog and person, except me, ready to vote her off the island. I stubbornly kept her, though I’ll admit in those early days, I privately questioned not only my decision, but also my sanity. Over time, as Zou calmed down and learned the ways of the civilized world, her silly, earnest side came through. She had not an aggressive bone in her body, and she was the world’s most patient nanny dog, not only for the many, many puppies she helped me raise, but also for the human children of friends and family. She really adored babies of all kinds. She nursed Dune and Hugo in their senior years, grooming Dune every evening and cuddling with Hugo to keep him warm. She loved canine circus class and herding sheep. She could run like the wind and had the stride of a racehorse. In her final years, she lived a quiet life of privileged luxury; queen of the neighborhood, making regular appearances at social events and on errand runs. She was Ian’s sous chef and gardening assistant. She watched every game of the Warriors this season, save the last one, which we are sure they won just for her. Rest in peace, sweet Zou. Thank you for the memories.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, the family business.
Main article photo by: Kelly Gorman Dunbar