As I was wrapping up work for the day last night, I got an email letting me know that my dog, Hutch, passed away just a few hours prior. He had been out playing in the hot California sun and got overheated and never recovered even after cool water and shade and ice and everything else was tried. I sat here at my desk reading the email like I do with all of the other hundreds of reports I sift through a day about wounded and dead soldiers, and wounded and dead Taliban. It read just like another casualty at first – just another tally in the “KIA” (killed in action) box for my daily reports. But then it hit. That death was MY DOG…the closest thing I’ve experienced to my own child thus far…and he was just POOF gone forever. I’m surrounded by big, burly, scruffy soldiers, but I couldn’t help but just put my head in my hands and silently weep at my desk.
When I gathered up myself to turn my computer off and leave the office, I realized there was really nowhere to go to keep crying. My roommate is – well she’s a bitch – I’m not feeling friendly right now and I’ll just come out and say it. She has the warmth of a cold, wet, floppy fish. So I couldn’t go to my room, I didn’t want to go sit at the picnic tables where a few people were out playing cards and talking to significant others on Skype. Where to mourn alone on a relatively small base? Good question. I finally found a staircase out behind a building that was out of the way and gave me a little spot to collapse back down in tears as I started reeling through all the great Hutch memories stored up. I understand that here I’m more surrounded in the context of death than I ever have been or ever will be the rest of my life, but I also know better than to diminish my own loss with that justification. I had to let myself cry it out – just weep with the pain of losing something so cherished, so loved.
Hutch was my great protector through these last eight and a half years. I was the first one to coax him out of the tiny crate he arrived in on a plane from another Hawaiian island; I poured hours of training into him to be the great and obedient dog he came to be; I threw a tennis ball to him what must be tens of thousands of times over the years – tennis balls were his crack – he could never get enough of them. When he was just a puppy, our other dog was attacked while we were out on a trail, and from that day on, Hutch became my personal body guard. He made sure to stay between me and anyone else approaching or talking to me. In my years alone, Hutch was always the warm body I cuddled with on the couch or next to me in bed, and the poor guy was often a willing pillow if I was on the ground watching a movie. There were days of depression where I couldn’t even get out of bed, but it was Hutch who forced me to get up and feed him and take outside on a walk. I remember having the realization one day that if I didn’t have to go to the grocery store to get Hutch more food periodically, I would probably never get out to get food for myself. He forced me to take my attention and pity off myself and care for him…which in turn helped me. Hutch was a pack dog – he wanted nothing more than to be where the crowd was – and then he was perfectly content laying down and resting or playing with kids and running around. But he never once understood that he was any different than the 5lb Yorkie he grew up with – so he was ever my 80lb lap dog who would creep into any little space he could squeeze as long as it was close to me…or close to a warm body…as if you don’t notice an 80lb dog sneaking onto your lap. As long as he could be ON a piece of furniture or cushion of some sort, he was content…even if it was curling ridiculously on top of a tiny Yorkie dog bed.