This is a tough one for me. Really tough. See, Bandit was my dog. I thought he was just another dog but that turned out not to be true. Bandit was the inspiration for this blog because I learned so much from his death he made me me question my ethics, morals and my relationship to other living things. Although my lesson is still unfolding, and will likely continue, I wanted to write about what I have so far, after 10 months of reflection.
As a biologist I have given serious thought to my relationships to other living things. I have learned, however, that thinking and experiencing are very different. It’s hard to know where to begin but I will start with the dogs in my life (although I love cats too!). I have lived with dogs all my life: Corky, Soda Pop, Buffy, Chelsea, Chester, Brashly, Jack, and Bandit — they have been threaded through my life since birth and are irreparably a part of who I am, and I loved them all. When I was 12, we brought Soda into our lives; a beagle-terrier mix, and he and I were very close. A boy and his dog. Of course. But then boys grow older, and dogs are not what they once were, but that is where I was wrong. We bought Bandit a few years ago when I was in my mid-50s. At first, he was just another dog but for whatever reason, maybe because of where I was in my life, or that he was a special dog — a Jack Russell Terrier–he and I connected in a way that I have never experienced. He was my buddy and followed me everywhere. We bonded and it was more than physical. It’s still hard for me to describe because I really felt it only when it was gone. When he was just two, he got out of our yard and was run over by a car. It was sudden and it hit me hard, very hard and it hurt me physically; I found it difficult to breath. The depth of my grief took me by surprise. I still don’t completely understand it, and maybe never will, it but it got me thinking.
What is it I bonded with? Does each animal, each dog or cat or horse have the potential to make that connection at some level that I have been unable to fathom? That same bright and loving spirit? Have I been missing this connection because I never took the time, the energy, to focus on my relationship with that individual? If so, my God, what have I been missing in life and how can we live with the terrible ways we treated our spiritual kin? What have we done to our planet and consequently to ourselves and our future? Do we just need to spend more time listening, feeling, being open to the world to feel their energy, their spirit? Is there a language we are missing? One we don’t understand? In the words of Derrick Jensen, who speaks of nature lost and the silencing that goes with human abuse:
There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists. — Derrick Jensen, from A Language Older Than Words (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2000)
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I endeavor to find out. Indeed, it is one of the great challenges of my life, of our time, to embrace all living things, to create a collective consciousnesses that allows us to transcend our petty preoccupations and develop a true global awareness. We may not get there in my generation but if we don’t start trying, we never will. But I do know this, which is a mystery in itself: at the bargaining stage of grief, I made a deal with God: bring Bandit back to me and I’ll do almost anything; take my job, whatever, but bring him back. The miracle is that it happened.
The day after he died, I finally got up enough courage to bury him on our property in Washington State. I took my time to say goodbye, including my personal rituals to send him on to his next life. That night the coyotes howled. Time passed. But then. I finally. Let him go. Months passed. I agreed with my wife to put off looking for a new dog until our life was more settled, sometime in the future. But something kept bugging me, kept me awake at night, a hole in my heart. So, I started looking for a new dog. Not to replace Bandit but to somehow help fill the hole. I tried to track down the breeder in Oregon who gave us bandit, thinking it would be great to have a relative. Gone, moved to California, nowhere to be found. Even the dog breeders’ network couldn’t find her. Weeks passed. I searched dozens of websites and looked at dogs from all over the country, but nothing seemed right. I gave up. This wasn’t going to work. But then… There was one dog that I saw online that I couldn’t forget and ironically, he was only miles from our house. So, on a bright Sunday I went there with my wife and daughter, and we bought a new Jack Russell puppy, Baxter.
The miracle is this: Bandit was Baxter’s uncle! As we were talking with Baxter’s owner, she mentioned the name of his mother’s breeder: it was the same as Bandit’s! As it turned out, Baxter’s mother was Bandit’s sister!! He did come back to me. The same loving and bright spirit that warms my heart. And although Baxter isn’t Bandit, he is an amazing dog and follows me everywhere. We are buds. And then I saw this poem, which rang true:
It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog and I will become as generous and loving as they are. — Anonymous