I have had many sad days over the last six months. Days of intense loneliness like I have never experienced in my life, days of feeling heartbroken and helpless about children’s dire life circumstances, days of feeling despised, degraded and fearful. But today is the saddest day. My beautiful little puppy, my ray of sunshine in amongst so many dark clouds, passed away in my arms this morning. He had been sick for four days – he had eaten something or caught a bug, could not eat or drink and eventually couldn’t move except to vomit up blood. All I could do was wish his pain away and hope that it would pass quickly, one way or another.
Buddy was the best dog ever. Obviously, he was the cutest dog. I mean, just look at him. But he was also a good dog – without any training at all he immediately came when I called him, followed at my heels wherever I went (even up epic mountains with his tiny “lickle” legs) and stopped still behind me when there was a car or motorcycle passing by. He was also a brilliant judge of character; he instantly loved all my favourite people while growling his scariest baby dog growl at the super sleazy men. He was gentle and playful with the children. He was the perfect blend of courageous explorer and cuddly friend, always equally enthusiastic about an outdoor adventure or curling up on my lap. He did the ecstatic whole-body-wiggle and showered my toes with kisses every time he saw me, even if I’ve only been away for ten minutes. Until the last few days when all he could manage was a tiny wag of his tail, and then today when he could not move at all.
I had been preparing myself all along that he was not mine to keep, that all too soon I would have to say a forever-goodbye. I knew I had only a couple of months to ‘love bomb’ him with a lifetime’s worth of nurturing, cuddles, nourishing food, and friendship. He was a Jamaican dog; this was his home; where he was meant to be. I knew we were lucky we found each other, if only for a while. He had already been through much trauma in his little life, losing his mother and being all on his own. He was so strong and resilient. Locals told me once I left Buddy would become just like any other dog around here; all skin and bone and savagery. It seemed undeniable when I saw the house he was meant to go to – the concrete slab where their other dog was chained up, painfully thin and barking ferociously at anyone that walked by. I could not allow myself to imagine Buddy there, could not fathom him losing his curiosity; his openness; his joy. I had to believe that maybe if I gave him enough love now he would remember what it is to be protected and cared for, and his spirit would remain unbroken.
And now it will. Perhaps he was never meant to make it. He will not have to ever live without love. His short life was filled to the brim with it. Scratches behind the ears the way he liked, belly rubs that sent him straight into blissful sleep. Adventures with me to the river or the schools, splashing through streams and scrambling over rocks and feeling the lush grass under his paws.
The tough new Jamaican Cat is not a big crier (Say what now? Yep, strange but true.) But as Buddy gave one last whimper and fell still my tears fell down on his little body like rain. I cried for myself at the injustice of him being taken from me, the one piece of happiness Jamaica had given me. And I cried for him; for the pain he had suffered and the beautiful spirit that had not had a chance to live a full life. I lifted his limp little body back onto his pillow, half the stuffing torn out as a stark reminder of when he was full of energy and mischief. Then came those long surreal moments when every sound and object seems simultaneously clearer and further away. Time disappeared and for several slow heartbeats it seemed like it was not possible to go on without him.
And then something I read in Ashley Judd’s memoir All That Is Bitter And Sweet (an incredibly inspiring book) about how she coped with losing a beloved pet came back to me:
Of course, Buddy came to teach me the same thing. We have both given and received total, beautiful, unflinching unconditional love to and from one another, when we each needed it most. I wish I was able to call my own Tennie, wish I had a friend to sit with me in this pain, but as with all the heartbreaking things I have experienced here I know I must bear this on my own. There is injustice in that too, but also acceptance. There is justice in a beautiful puppy living just long enough to soak up a lifetime of love. Perhaps Buddy did not live the true length of his life, but he certainly lived the width of it. My heart will hurt for a long time knowing this sweet little creature is no longer on this earth, but he is one boy I will never ever regret giving my whole heart to.