This is a post from my old blog before I switched to a garden model.

Yesterday morning, our dog Squirt passed away. He took his last breath as I held him in my arms. He was 15, going on 16 years old, and he had a lot of health problems, so it wasn’t unexpected. But expected or not, it doesn’t sooth the dog-shaped hole in my heart.

He was the sweetest, most loving, most gentle being I have ever met, and I miss him so much that I can’t hold back the tears as I write this.

What’s the big deal, it was just a dog.

I know a lot of people who think this way, and so I want to tell you more about my dearly departed friend, and show you how dogs are not pets, but dear family members.

Growing up, my family wasn’t a “dog family”. I grew up in rural parts of Texas and any pets we had were “outside pets”. We had a family of cats that we took care of, and sometimes we’d let them inside, but for the most part they were just animals that hung around because we fed them. Occasionally one would just disappear, presumably because coyotes got them. While I was close to a few of them, it wasn’t nearly the same.

So, 8 years ago, when my partner Lidia suggested rescuing a dog I was skeptical. “Why do you want to have a dirty animal living in our house?” I thought. I didn’t really push back on it though, because she spoke of her fond memories of growing up with a dog. She spent weeks looking at the Austin Pets Alive (APA) website, and we went to the shelter a few times to look at potential candidates, until one day she saw a listing for Squirt. He was 7 years old at the time, suffering from heart worms and needing a good home.

Side note

A lot of people pass up on rescuing dogs with existing issues, especially heartworms. Heartworms are very treatable and while it was hard on him, and he needed three rounds of treatment instead of the usual two, he recovered from it. APA covered the cost as part of the adoption.

There’s no reason not to adopt a dog with heartworms. As long as it’s treated they can live a long healthy life.

We aren’t very good with names, so he kept the name that APA gave him, even though it wasn’t his original name (not sure his original name would have been good, since it might have had bad memories attached). My Chilean in-laws had trouble saying Squirt, so he’s also know as Señor Chocolate (say it like it’s Spanish). This evolved into my partner and I sometimes calling him the Senior Señor.

I still remember coming home to meet this very serious little fellow. He was a very brown dog then, not a hint of grey in his fur, and he walked up to me at the front door and sniffed my shoes suspiciously, but then I guess he decide I was okay and went back into the living room.

I think it took him a while to let his guard down and feel safe with us. He had terrible separation anxiety, and from the information we got from APA, we suspected he spent some time out on the streets. He was always terrified of thunderstorms (up until a year ago when we think maybe he couldn’t hear them as well anymore). He also had signs of abuse (he always hated white socked feet). He never ever barked at us, but would always whine softly when he wanted something, a sound I now miss as I write this. But he always wanted to snuggle and be loved.

The first night he spent with us, Lidia wanted to let him sleep in our bed, and I was firm and didn’t want this “animal” sleeping in bed with us. He spent most of the night quietly whining in his bed, and the next night I decided to let him sleep with us. He was slowly working his way into my heart. From then on, he was always in our bed at night.

Dogs are not pets, but dear family members

Over the years, he was a constant companion to us, and the one thing he wanted above all was to just sit with us and snuggle.

His anxiety got better very slowly. At our first apartment with him, he would howl and cry anytime we left, even going so far as to rip up the carpet near our bedroom door to try to get out. Even as recently as the last few months in our new house, we’d come back home to him howling, though we think that was only because he noticed we were back.

To try to help him out, we decided maybe he needed a friend. So we went back to APA. Turns out we were there on Valentine’s day, and we didn’t really intend to find a dog that day, but we did. Which is how we found Dottie (again, APA named her and we kept it).

Dottie is a very different dog. Jealous of attention, a little goofy. We sometimes think of her as the “helper dog” (re: the link, this is the only reference I could find on the internet for some reason). I’m not sure how much she actually helped Squirt. She kinda just put up with him.

She’s an excellent “guard dog” as she always tells us when people come to the door (or just walk by really), a fact that she surprised us with by being very quiet for the first month or so that we had her. She went from being this quiet dog we rescued, to a very noisy dog practically overnight.

Just what you need in your darkest moments

Squirt (and Dottie in her own way) was always there for me when I needed him most. He could tell when I was depressed or upset, and would come up to me and nudge me with his nose to get me to put him next to me and snuggle.

Be it going through bouts of depression while my partner was away doing her PhD at Yale, or dealing with the death of my father in 2020, he was always there, giving me love when I needed it most.

He was not my pet. We didn’t “own” him. We took care of him when he needed us most, and he took care of us when we needed him most.

Even in his twilight years, when he was on multiple medications for his heart disease, and his chronic hepatitis, and his lung issues (effects of the heartworms catching up with him), and his arthritis, you could still see his puppy self shining through as he chased my son Eliot’s toy balls across the room (something he was never ever really into), leaping about, tail wagging with joy.

Though their lifespan is short, they live in every moment. Dogs and humans have co-evolved for millennia, and we get as much from them as they get from us. They are the dear companions who go with us on our journey, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of my time with him for anything in the world.

I’m glad I was able to be there in his final moments and that it was at home in my arms (he was terrified of the vet), I only wish we had met him sooner in his life.

Someday soon, we’ll get a “helper dog” for Dottie, and invite someone wonderful into our lives again. Not a replacement, because no dog could ever replace Squirt. A new and completely different friend to get to know and love.