So there I was, alone, sitting outside Tully’s and enjoying a latte when a woman approached me.
“Excuse me,” she said, looking concerned. “Is your dog okay?”
Puzzled, I reassured her that Elvis was fine. He’d gone on a walk earlier and couldn’t be budged off his La-Z-Dog recliner.
I had to ask. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
“No,” she replied, smiling. “It’s just that I see you around town and you’re never without your dog. I wanted to be sure he’s okay.”
She was right. Elvis is such an integral part of my life that even strangers see me as incomplete without him. I’ve loved many dogs since childhood, but none has been like this one. To use an expression coined by A Good Dog author, Jon Katz, Elvis is my “lifetime dog,” a dog I’ll hold dear long after he’s gone and others have staked their spots on the sofa.
“So many people told me they had one dog in their life that meant everything to them, that stood out in their hearts and memories,” Katz responded when I wrote asking about the expression. “Sometimes it was a dog that entered their life at a critical juncture or changed their life. When people hear the term, they all nod. Loving a dog can be a powerful experience.”
Indeed. Because Elvis isn’t “just” a pet. He’s my companion, my friend, my joy. He isn’t a replacement for the husband I never married or the children I never had. Johnny Depp could be my betrothed and cherubs my children. I wouldn’t love this dog one iota less.
When Golden State Greyhound Adoption delivered Elvis to my home six years ago, I had no idea what a life-altering occasion it was. When I first met my trembling new dog, I was struck by two emotions simultaneously: first, delight that he was so pretty, immediately followed by sheer terror. How would I manage this horse in my house?
Today I would ask: How would I manage without him? I love that Elvis greets me at the door with a toy in his mouth, jumping with joy whether I’ve been gone 10 minutes or 10 hours. I love how he rests his head on my lap while I’m watching television, wanting nothing more than to feel my touch. I love how he guzzles his food with gusto and then, with kernels of rice still on his nose, does a happy little trot as though offering his compliments to the chef. I love how he meanders over to my bed every night and taps my face with his soft, wet snoot before retiring to his La-Z-Dog recliner.
I love caring for Elvis, stroking his knobby head, rubbing his velvety ears, observing him with other dogs, other people. Today, when I look at my beloved boy, who is now nine, I note his gray muzzle and eyebrows. Like his human, Elvis is showing signs of age. And unlike the life I might have enjoyed with that man I never married or those children I never had, I realize with an ache that our time together will be much too brief.
That explains why I’m so fond of one particular Twilight Zone episode. Titled “The Hunt,” it’s about a recently deceased man and his dog. As they amble down a country road in the hereafter, they come upon a gate. “Welcome to heaven!” the gatekeeper declares. Except for the dog, that is. “What kind of heaven won’t allow dogs?” the old man asks. “If he can’t come in, then I’ll stay out with him. He’s been my faithful companion all his life. I can’t desert him now.”
So the old man and his dog continue down the road. Later, they come upon yet another gate. “Welcome to heaven!” the gatekeeper greets both man and dog. When the old man inquires about the previous gatekeeper’s proclamation, he learns he’d been talking to the Devil. “He gets people who are willing to give up a lifelong companion for a comfortable place to stay,” the old man is told. “They soon find out their mistake, but then it’s too late.” And then man and dog pass through the gates, toward the light. Toward heaven.
When I cradle my dog’s face in my hands and look into his liquid eyes, so full of unwavering loyalty and love, there’s no doubt. Elvis is my faithful companion. My lifetime dog. And this is heaven.