The lights dimmed and then ceased to shine today in the eyes of an old friend this cold and overcast Monday morning. If Wilson had been a child rather than a dog, one might have said he was wise beyond his years. Though the vet guessed his age at little more than a year old when we first found him, the friend we brought home from the animal shelter seemed from the beginning as though he could have never been a puppy. Wilson, you see, understood his place in the universe. He accepted his role as a special provision of God’s general grace. Unlike with so many entitled creatures of the human variety, an air about him said he embraced putting away childish things to become something more.
As I looked into his weary brown eyes, I did not see death. Rather, I saw what I did the first time we met. I saw a reflection of me searching through countless stalls for the right pet to replace our Missy, another friend of thirteen years. Wilson sat alone far away from all the other dogs that were falling over themselves to attract the attention of a new owner. Instead, he waited patiently in a corner: matted hair, still, almost stoic, waiting – for us.
With one look he announced that nothing could prevent him from coming home with us. “Don’t worry,” he said with the vibration of a tail much too short to wag. “I know you need me. I know your best friend, your wife, hurts so deeply after watching her Missy close her eyes for the last time. You both need me, not to replace Missy because that can never be done. Rather, you need me because I need you. Better, we choose each other.”
From the time we first raised a leash to the last, he never met such with resistance. Everything was an adventure, something to be embraced with joy. Some dogs fear the groomer and the vet but not Wilson. Each trip was a time to let other people know how much they needed him as well. And, when a new visitor came to the house, he left our side to compel our guest to embrace him. Not with yapping and unwanted licks to the face, but with a loyalty that could not be earned, only given.
How this very special companion came to be abandoned in the first place remains a mystery. It is more likely that Wilson made the mistake of sharing his unbridled loyalty with too many. Like the day after he came to live with us and decided the mail carrier needed a riding companion. Or, the day a child at the store beyond our fence looked lonely and Wilson headed over to make sure all was okay.
We named him Wilson because something about his face reminded us of a character by the same name on a television show. He had the look of one who would remain a friend no matter much we failed to return that friendship. Now, on this day, this bleak November day, he thanked me for never taking advantage of such a sacred trust. I stoked his head. Too weak to lift a paw, his eyes let me know. We needed him and he needed us. What accompanied such a transparent trust had not been violated. It was okay to say goodbye, we had both done out best.