“Sorry to share sad news, but we unexpectedly had to put Java to sleep this morning…Thankfully, it was Saturday and we were all at home and the vet was open, so I rushed the kids over and we all got to say goodbye.
Thank you for giving us such a wonderful gift.”
This is the text I received at 11:16 this morning.
There were more details, including the obvious part about how she would have called me if she could stop crying. A fact I completely understood.
Let me tell you a little bit about Java.
May 31, 2001. I was in love and living happily in Houston with my beau of one year, so naturally we decided to get a dog. If you have never been to an animal shelter, here’s a little nugget no one tells you:
They know why you’re there.
The dogs call to you and dance for you and do everything in their power to win your love in a glance. On this particular day, a litter of pups was brought in while we were there falling for every animal and wishing we had a farm to which we could bring them all.
Every dog in the building was singing a deafening, soulful tune.
This white blond, 8 week old empress was oddly still, sitting amidst her manic brothers and sister, just looking about as if horrified by the spectacle. She was silent and positively regal. And then she looked at me.
And I was gone.
A year later I was married, and a year after that I was in Chicago. And a year after that, I was divorced.
Java remained with me and enjoyed Gold Coast living for a while. I can’t pass Oak Street Beach without remembering her sleek yellow lab/greyhound-looking* figure soar over the sand dunes in the early morning sun. She was excellent off leash. Except for the occasional lapse (“Squirrel!”), returning on command was one of many in her arsenal of tricks. Sit, down, heel, settle, dance, shake hands, and the ever popular playing of deadness to name a few. Strangers were often invited to point their gun-fingers at her and say “Bang!” to which she would immediately roll over and play dead in an overload of cuteness.
She was simply the best dog ever.
One day, Java came home to me and I distinctly heard her say, “Oh, you again. Where’s my real family? You know, the fun ones.”
I offhandedly asked Jen one day if she would ever consider adopting Java. “If we were to ever have a dog, we’d love one like Java but we’re seriously too busy these days to…”
Now, I wasn’t really thinking about giving Java away. I mean, she was my dog and a great one. When you’re a dog person like I am a dog person, you sometimes wonder if you love dogs more than people. And when you’re newly divorced in a relatively new city, coming home to unwavering enthusiasm for your face is good for the soul.
But I kept hearing that voice.
And then one day, it just made sense to all of us. Any objections they had disappeared and my sadness at losing her paled in comparison to her utter joy in her new home. Besides, I wasn’t losing her at all. And I wasn’t releasing her into the streets for selfish reasons.
I missed her but I could never be sad, knowing that she was so happy.
Jen and Greg have three children now, and Java was in their family longer than she was physically in mine. They lovingly referred to me as Java’s “birth mother” and I occasionally dog-sat for them too. Her reaction to me, they say, was reserved only for those that Java loved best. I like to believe that she knew me and was letting me know how grateful she was for the incredible family she had. I like to joke that, while happy to see me, she would warily ask, “But, I don’t have to go back home with her, right? RIGHT?”
I still catch shit from some friends who can’t believe I would give my beloved dog away.
But here’s the thing about love: if you’re doing it right, it has nothing to do with being loved. Dogs don’t love us in order to be loved back, or to get food, or treats, or attention. They bask in it when it’s given, yes. But they love us just because they love us. The hardest lesson to learn is how to love without requiring love back. Welcome it, value it, and bask in it. But don’t require it in order to give it. And don’t regret it just because it leaves. Love that is given is never, ever wasted. Love people like that and you’ll never be heartbroken again.
*Doggy-DNA testing proved that she was other breeds but whatever. She ran like the wind.