// "We Belong Together" by Randy Newman //
Bruno was my first best friend. Bruno is my Cocker Spaniel. I got him when I was four years old; he turned seventeen this past summer (June 2018). The year that he turned fourteen was the first year that it truly hit me; it hit me hard that my Bruno wasn't going to live a life as long and as full as mine.
The summer of 2017, that fear only grew. I came home one day from summer school and found him napping in the garage (nothing out of the ordinary). I went to go say hello. He's been deaf for a couple of years now and doesn't hear us when we come home. I hit the point in my dog's life that I had to check up on him whenever he's asleep which makes my heart sink every time. When I pet him, he was barely able to pick his head up. He whimpered as he tried to move his legs and get up. Panicking, I picked him up and brought him inside the house. I called my mom, on the verge of breaking down, and she told me to put ice on his back legs. He wouldn't stop whimpering. The ice helped him after fifteen minutes and he was able to get up. The next day, I took him to the vet. His vet was honest with me; that's my favorite thing about this veterinary clinic, they don't sugarcoat or lie to their patients. Bruno has an enlarged heart, which stresses his lungs and makes it hard for him to breathe. Not only did they find that he has arthritis, but also that his spine is curved in a way that adds on to the pain he has on a daily basis. His vet told us he doesn't have much time left; he prescribed strong pain medicine to help ease him.
My Bruno has had cancerous tumors, he is deaf, he has arthritis, and he has an enlarged heart. Yet, he is the best listener and always enjoys our walks. He's the best, best friend I've ever had.
Dogs are truly "in it" with us. Fully invested, fully engaged, fully present in the moment, and wholly committed. For better or for worse. It doesn't occur to them that: 1) you are a clumsy dork only pretending to have your life put together, 2) you have your own life going on while you are their whole world.
They take the good with the not so good and simply stick around. It would appear naïve for me to think I'm sharing some new insight about dogs you didn't already know, but it doesn't mean we don't need a reminder about its impact. With Bruno, it didn't matter why I was in tears. It didn't enter into his mind that I might deserve the circumstances I was in. It didn't occur to him to withhold his love as a way to punish me for not walking him every day. All that mattered was that I was experiencing heartache—and he could do something about that. Without hesitation, he'd simply lick the tears right off my face.
When you feel as though there is no one there for you, when you feel as though somehow all of your friends have forgotten about you, could you really fathom giving up the purest form of friendship there ever was? There is a great safety and comfort knowing that Bruno would never willingly leave my side (actually, this might not be completely true. Bruno loves food almost as much as he loves me). He would never walk away from me though; it feels as though a lot of people you thought would be there for everything, walk away when you are not doing your best or when it’s an inconvenient time for them. There’s a deep, real power in the knowledge that he'd never leave. A transcendent safety.
Withholding love, to punish, or simply because one may not "have time" for it, is not something my dog Bruno knows how to do. Passive-aggressiveness is not something he knows how to do.
I believe there is a profound truth in the notion that dogs are here, existentially, to teach and inspire us. To model behavior for us. Behavior that, if us lowly, idiotic, egotistic humans could learn to adopt more freely, could perhaps save us from the inevitable act of falling apart every so often: deep trust, profound willingness towards co-operation, and generous, unconditional love shown through actions.
It's behavior that, if we mirrored it ourselves, we could suspend our critical inner-voices and truly deepen our bonds with the people around us. I mean that in the most earnest sense—that, quite literally, this remarkably unique relationship that we have with dogs—are gifts from God.
Bruno reminds me daily that I am deserving of his love, simply because I am. Simply because I exist. That alone, is enough to be deserving—whether my inner critic wants to accept it or not.
As a child, I wasn't really one to get in trouble with my parents. But when I did, it was not fun and I'd end up crying 9/10 of the times (jeez, what a baby). Bruno and I had this spot that we would go to; we'd cross the "No Trespassing" sign behind a couple of houses and climb up to the top. There, we'd stare at the city and sky for at least half an hour. He wasn't anxious to leave, he'd just sit like the good boy he is. Every so often, he'd look up to me as if to check if I was still crying. Later on in life, these trips to our little haven on a hill were not caused by tears from getting in trouble, but tears of losing a loved one, a friend, or simply feeling lost. I lost my maternal grandmother in 2016; that was probably the time I needed someone most yet no one was around. Bruno was there, every time.
I'm not the best dog mom, yet he looks at me every day like I'm the most beautiful person he's ever seen. Every time I wake him up, he presses his face against my hand. What did we, as imperfect humans, do to deserve the perfect love that dogs give us?
It could be said that I am over-exaggerating, but it's truly what my dog has shown me: love, in the purest sense.
Go give your dog a hug and twenty minutes of devoted playtime. He needs that more than he needs another treat. In fact, you both do.