When was that moment in our history when the fate of man and dog became so closely intertwined? When did our hearts & minds become so tightly linked to these creatures? They are the only large carnivore that we have this relationship with, the first species on the planet that became domesticated. Fossils records show humans began living alongside dogs four thousand years before the husbandry of goats and pigs occurred. Somewhere along the way, in Europe-Asia, hunter-gatherers began to work with dogs to take down prey, each partner getting what they needed to survive the harsh conditions of the land. In that struggle to survive, a love was born, loyalty and devotion that will thrive until the last embers of our sun burn out.
Clyde came into our lives seven years ago. My wife and I had been married for about three years, and we had hit our first & roughest patch. I was unemployed and not taking it well, in retrospect, depressed and unable to articulate my emotions well. I don’t know what sparked my wife’s thought, but she began looking at EastCAN, a dog rescue group in our area. She came across Clyde’s description, which piqued her curiosity, and we decided to foster him and see if we were a fit. Within hours we knew, Clyde was our dog; he was a part of our family. We never looked back.
Before Clyde came to us, he lived the life, so many pits are born into. Abuse and possibly used to fight or breed for human greed. He was rescued at some point in those early years. A bit later, he was hit by a car and survived. That is one thing I will always remember about him; he was a survivor who fought to hold onto life until the very end. That car accident caused him to lose his tail and likely contributed to arthritis in his hips that would come to plague him in this final year. But he soldiered on.
Clyde was perfect around children, in fact very protective even of children he’d just met. Pits used to be known as nanny dogs. They gained this moniker because if they were raised around children, they would become devoted to them. You could easily let your kids wander free with their nanny dog in tow because anyone attempting to mess with them would be quite foolish and possibly not walk away at all. In the old Little Rascals shorts, this is why they have Petey the pit bull. He is their protector, following them on their misadventures. Clyde would always watch over children and get very upset if he didn’t like how an adult was even speaking to them. He once barked at my sister for bouncing her infant daughter in a way he thought was too rough.
Clyde had a code of honor I never fully cracked. He made sure our other dog Lily knew it and would get into fights with her if he thought she had breached protocol. While Lily would get up in your personal space and snuggle, Clyde seemed to think that was not polite. He would rather lay at your feet or across your legs. You practically had to pull him closer to snuggle, which he immediately gave into. He seemed to understand the hierarchy of the pack and live by that.
Clyde loved food. My wife decided to spoil him a bit in the early years and let him eat a mini powdered sugar doughnut once. The way his eyes lit up when he got that sugar hit left an impression on us. Anytime he got sick or didn’t feel well, I’d make sure he had a couple of those doughnuts as a treat for a few days. He was Prednisone for the last year of his life, and that made him ravenous. Paper towels became a bizarre snack food of choice. In his last couple of weeks, he got to eat better than he ever had. We had a feeling things were winding down and decided to make sure he enjoyed every bite he got.
Clyde loved people with his whole heart. One of my students temporarily lived with us after a rough home situation, and on her first night in our house, Clyde went to the guest bedroom and climbed into the bed to sleep across her legs. He seemed to know when people needed his love and would give it freely, wanting to help them heal. Overnight guests would wake up to Clyde either watching them as they slept or climbing into the bed with them.
When I think back to yesterday morning when we took him to the vet, it was obvious this was the end, even though we wanted to deny that. He hadn’t moved on his own in twenty hours, hadn’t drunk water, wet his dog bed (very uncharacteristic). The vet believed that his eyesight was fading, and it was clear his heartbeat was becoming erratic. He was thirteen years old and had lived a life full of love. We agreed with the vet’s recommendation that the time for things to end had come. It happened so quickly after the shot was administered. We held him, we cried. I whispered to him that he was loved, that he would always be a part of our family, that he was free now & he wouldn’t hurt anymore. I told him somehow we’d find him in whatever came next and to go be with Lily in the meantime.
There is such a palpable gap where Clyde was in our home now. I feel his absence just as I still feel Lily’s. It’s hard to move on when you loved someone as much as that. My mindset is to go headfirst into that pain, not try to hold back the tears or the ache, but not become lost inside it. Already, I have had moments where I remember silly things about Clyde amongst the tears. A love as strong as that between humans & dogs cannot die even when the physical forms crumble away. Clyde and Lily won’t remain our only dogs. One day, when we are ready, we’ll bring another family member in. My hope is that reincarnation exists for dogs and that as he passed from our lives somewhere in this world, his spirit awakened in a puppy that will be born to someone else who needs him. Dogs like that are bigger than us, hearts so strong they can’t last in their bodies as long as we do.