Unconditional Love

He came to us by the way of the pound. Medium sized with a permanent smile on his face. His fur and stature reminded us of a coyote; his personality reminded us of the Roadrunner coyote. So his name came easy…Wiley.

My daughter grew up with dogs in her life and so wanted a dog to keep her company at college. Her childhood pet, a Border Collie Husky mix, had died of cancer while Elle was home for a weekend visit. I’m glad she was home to say goodbye and bury her love for Sasha with her. Her brother Lucas was home and he sobbed as much as Elle. Our son and daughter have been close and best friends all their lives…he said he felt more that the loss of Shasha was a loss, an end to an era…he and Elle clung to each other as my wife Angela and I looked on…happy they had each other at a time like this.

Time went by and they healed and Elle moved into a house we purchased for her to live in while she finished college. To her it was the true beginning of her adulthood…and of course there was a place in her heart that Sasha had filled and the memory of the comfort of a pet made her long for a furry friend to share her new beginnings with. So during a visit to help her make her new house her new home we took a trip to the shelter just to look…yea right… and we found Wiley.  Although he was about two years old, Elle said he was “perfect.” I had my doubts but, at my daughter’s insistence, Wiley came home with us. After all it was her house and her choice to take on this responsibility. I felt she would be better off with a puppy that carried less baggage than Wiley, but Elle’s eyes sparkled with puppy love and there was no way to convince her of anything else.

We later found that Wiley was skittish and wary of men, loud noises and baseball caps. We began to believe that he had been abused and was only at the shelter because he had managed of escape the reach of his tormentor. He barked at all who entered my daughter’s home and he ran to hide under the bed. My daughter was devastated. With friends coming and going Wiley was in constant turmoil, Elle knew it wasn’t fair to make Wiley live like this and she felt terrible that she would be unable to keep him as she hoped, but she was also emotionally unable to take him back to the shelter, and in tears asked if we would take him.  I told my wife that another dog was not in the plan nor was it the best idea at the time. Angie already had a Dobie-Sheppard mix, Zoey, which needed way too much attention. Through my daughter’s tears and my wife’s insistence that he wouldn’t get a better home if we sent him back to the pound, and that he wouldn’t be a burden on us, I acquiesced. Wiley came home with us from Corvallis and by default or design became my dog. I had just inherited this loving, barking, terrified ball of energy.

We became fast friends and he followed me most places I went. Even on car rides he sat on my side of the car…his head on my lap and his doggie eyes full of gratitude and puppy love. What did I ever do to deserve this? For what ever reason it didn’t matter to him that I was a man, that I occasionally wore a baseball cap or that as a construction worker I periodically made an ungodly amount of noise…or that I really didn’t choose to have a dog, he chose me to be his human.  He barked at and ran from every other male that came into the house, and it even took some time for him to warm up to my son. But when I came in the door, he would run to me, nip at my hand and herd me to whatever room was occupied by my wife and whoever might be there visiting. My couch was no longer my private place of nightly repose as my wife and I kicked each other’s butt at Jeopardy. Wiley was there…curled up next to me; like I needed him to keep me warm, help me with the answers to the clues Alex read, like I needed him to love me to make me complete. On trips to the beach he would run off to play, but would return periodically to give my hand a lick and a nip just to let me know that he hadn’t left me. If I got too far behind the family pack his instincts would take over and he would herd me in, right there in public view, to join them. He still didn’t understand or care that I didn’t want a dog of my own.

We noticed on one of these trips that he was slowing down. He didn’t run and play as much as was his habit. He would stay with me most of the time and not play Zoey as much. He no longer needed to be leashed to keep him from running off at the wrong time. The waves no longer held the enticement for a game of wet foot tag and the gulls were safe from his playful torment. Was he just worn out from too much play? A trip to the vet confirmed that he wasn’t just run down from too much romping but that he had a blood disorder, one of an unexplainable origin. Vitamins and antibiotics seemed to help for a while but one morning he was unable to even lift his head. I have had to put many of our pets to sleep because of old age but Wiley was still young enough to have more life left to live.

We held him at the vets and wept for our loss and internalized that bitter sweet felling knowing…Wiley was no longer suffering. We had him cremated and buried in a communal grave with other dogs so he would have company. But mentally, we buried Wiley half way to Reno…at a wayside stop where he used to love to run…the forest and wilds of Northern California his new home.

Whenever we go to visit my daughter, now living in Reno, we take dog treats, stop at the wayside and toss the treats into the field and say hi. We talk and laugh about his life with us and shed a tear for our loss.

I have to thank my daughter for her instance that she take Wiley home from the shelter and her daughterly pleas that I take him home with me when it became necessary. Wiley taught me the true meaning of gratitude and unconditional love…I just wished I could have been more open and receptive to it when he was at my side sharing it with me.

In my mind’s eye I see Wiley in the woods taunting me to come and play…head down and his tail up and wagging…the way he used to do when I was his human…and he was my dog.

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