The Power of the Dog is a movie that was a contender for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. However, I am not writing about that power of the dog. Instead, I am writing about the power of a little brown miniature dachshund named Stretch who died on January 15th … the power of THAT dog.
After my husband and I went on our first date many years ago, we spent the next day on the phone for over four hours. This was back when you had either a cord attached to a wall or a cordless landline with an antenna, so you were a bit limited in where you could go in your home while talking on the phone. In my husband’s case, he spent that time on the phone with me lounged on his couch while throwing a tennis ball down a hallway for his little brown dachshund named General to play fetch. I eventually married into that little dog, who stole my heart, and our family said goodbye to him when he was 15 years old and very sick. Our girls were 12 and 10, and it was heart wrenching and awful – a huge loss for us all. My girls had never seen their dad distraught like that, had never seen him cry, so it was a rare peek into the tremendous vulnerability and emotional depth laid bare from underneath all that manly exterior. In essence, it was the power of that little dog that brought that out in him.
Two weeks after that horrible experience with General, and after many proclamations by my husband that “We are never getting another dog again! I cannot go through that again!” … I received a message from him out of the blue … “I’m at the dachshund farm.” And so, it began, the way to heal from the grief of that awful loss, displaying yet again the power of the dog.
We all made our way out to the farm, and after choosing a General look-alike puppy that he named Stretch, my husband thought it would be a good idea to get another one. So, we chose a black and tan girl, and named her Slinky. Soon, our girls rode home in the car while holding two new puppy wiener dogs to love and raise and welcome home. The dogs immediately became a part of our family and provided a profound and meaningful context to our lives in their own separate ways, like dogs do … the power of the dogs.
Years later, when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I remember watching him hold Stretch up in the air like Simba in The Lion King facing inward and declaring to him: “My goal is to outlive you!” Stretch was 9 at that time. My husband, like all of us, saw the quirky highly stressed Stretchy boy as the beating heart of our family. He was a nut. Playful and fun, whiny and goofy, full of energy, spice, and anxiety. He would bark at us in the kitchen all the time if we were cooking or preparing food. He was everyone’s favorite dog with his roll over belly rub gestures, and he hated to be alone, so he’d follow us everywhere – to the bathroom, to the door, to attic storage space, always burrowing himself under a blanket. He was always on high alert and ready to go, stressed out that he was missing out on something, the originator of FOMO. He greeted me at the mud room door when he heard my car pull into the garage after work each day. Everyone else in my family would ignore my arrival, but not him. I could always rely on him to love me and be happy to see me no matter what.
Stretch brought out the best in my husband. We all talked in a Stretch voice, but my husband even did it when no one was home. One time, our daughter was home, and he didn’t realize she was in the house. He was in the kitchen preparing some food. Stretch, as always, was at his feet, barking. He asked Stretch, “What do you want?” And Stretch answered out loud, “I want those chips.” Basically, he was talking to himself, but anyone who loves a dog knows that the dog talking back is a part of the dynamic.
During my husband’s final four comatose days, I watched Stretch and his behavior as he furthered himself from my husband’s sleeping body, as my husband went closer and closer to the other side of the veil. On Day 1, Stretch snuggled up next to his legs under the blanket, like usual, on the hospital bed in our bedroom. Day 2, Stretch moved down to the bottom of his feet. By Day 3, Stretch sat at the opening of the bedroom door on the floor and watched my husband in the bed from across the room. Day 4, Stretch watched my husband – the part of him that I could not see – walk out of the house to wherever he went after his body gave up.
During the months of transition and change in my life, Stretch was the one who, late at night, randomly, sensed a change in the energy in the room and would crawl up on my shoulders like he was spooked by something. Stretch was the one who would randomly stare intensely at a blank wall, as if he was looking at something that I could not see. Look at me, look at the wall, look at me, look at the wall. I figured that he was seeing something after all. Stretch was the one who kept me linked to my husband in this way. And now that special link, just like so many other links to my husband and my family overall in the past five years, is broken, too.
In December, Stretch began limping and a cancerous growth was removed from his back upper leg. The surgery was successful, but the limping remained. Two weeks later, he had a huge mass develop on one side of his long body, cancerous polyps had formed under his legs, and edema accumulated along his entire back half, sagging his legs and feet full of fluid like balloons. His kidneys were failing. After informing my girls of what was happening to our sweetest boy, I had to make the worst phone call ever – to let him go, to stop his suffering, to say goodbye, to kill my dog. I sobbed for an hour on the couch as he looked at me with sad eyes, as if he knew that he was headed to the rainbow bridge soon, that his days with us were ending, wondering if his dad would meet him there.
The power of the dog is understood by anyone who has ever loved a dog, ever raised one, ever bonded with one, ever had one be there for you through the worst time in your life. Stretch was that dog. He is truly one of the great loves of my life. And still, yet another piece of my life with my husband and my family has been cruelly pulled from desperate clutches, another loss, another chunk of my heart torn out, and it is like I have lost my husband all over again.
PS – Slinky is still hanging in there but she sure misses her partner in crime.
Have you heard about Hope for Widows Foundation’s annual Restoring Hope & Peace Grant program? It was established by the organization in 2019 to help widowed women offset financial challenges as they navigate their healing journey. You can find out details, timeline and the history of this grant here: https://hopeforwidows.org/grant/ All widows based in U.S. and Canada are encouraged to apply. Applications are now open. For additional questions feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org