As I write this column, I lay beside my Australian Shepherd/German Shepherd/Collie/Chow mix named Dude, whose 12-year lifespan has dwindled to only a few hours. Cancer has spread throughout his body for the last six months, constricting his lungs and tearing apart his body from within. By the time this column goes to print, he will have passed and been buried in a designated plot of land next to his sister, Jenny, our beagle who passed away in 2007.
This is the quantitative data regarding Dudeâ€™s passing, the cold hard facts that accompany the events surrounding his passing from this life into the next. Usually I prefer cold hard facts over emotion and rely on them to shape my opinions.
But sometimes, the facts are just too damn cold and too damn hard.
I write this before his passing rather than after, as the weight of my grief will leave me unable to share my thoughts and feelings on the matter. Today, I offer something not rooted in statistics or data, not mired in a political stance based on logic, but on feelings, emotion and purely qualitative sentiment.Â
I received the bad news about Dude over spring break while vacationing in Florida. The urge to shut down, hide and avoid any pleasurable activities was overwhelming. To suggest that I should have fun while my best friend lay dying 3,000 miles away was almost sacrilege, almost a rejection of the lessons he has taught me throughout his life.
And every dog owner will agree with me when I say that no animal is a better teacher than a dog. No animal brings as many life lessons as our canine companions. Instead of shutting down I realized one of Dudeâ€™s greatest lessons was to enjoy every moment of life despite the dire circumstances we continually face. When his sister Jenny passed, he grieved sullenly for a week, but he still played ball, performed his fun tricks and gobbled his tasty treats with no hesitation.
There is not a doubt in my mind that he was in great pain over Jennyâ€™s passing, but his insistence on savoring the little things in life motivated me to behave similarly over spring break.
He remained in my thoughts as I visited Universal Studios and in my prayers as I dined in Downtown Disney.
Although the grieving process had already begun, I managed to enjoy the little things.
This incredibly important aspect of life, the ability to appreciate seemingly trivial events and places, was taught to me by my dog and further stressed by the friends who accompanied me to Orlando this past week. Without them and their insistence on appreciating every moment of our vacation, I may have succumbed to the temptation of accepting defeat.
I know it sounds trite and clichÃ©, but Dude taught me the meaning of love and friendship like no one else could. Throughout middle school and high school, I was a nerdy kid with severe acne who never dated and couldnâ€™t make friends. Dude showed me the definition of loyalty and commitment when others failed.
I realize that Dude may no longer be able to accompany me on a morning run or play fetch in the backyard or happily greet me with his speckled tongue and wagging tail, but his part in my life is far from over.Â
He has left a lasting imprint that will never fade from my memory and, ultimately, has allowed me to see the world in a brighter light. This will be proven when I am paralyzed with grief over his loss, as we can only experience such pain after losing something so wonderful.
And I revel in the knowledge that I will see him again. There is no quantitative data to prove that animals are accepted into the afterlife, but my qualitative reasoning leads to the inevitable conclusion that God cares enough to admit even dogs through the Pearly Gates.
So take it from Dude and dogs everywhere â€” life is more than just graduating college and getting that job. Itâ€™s about all the things that make up our journey.
Josh Phillips is a senior business administration major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.