I was blowing the dust off of some of my Grandma’s old photo albums the other day and looking at pictures of that little boy I used to be. One in particular caught my eye. I was smiling, sitting in a corner chair by an old bookcase, hugging my best friend in the whole world. That friend was my dog, Duke.
Duke was a strange name for such a little dog. He couldn’t have weighed more than 20 lbs.He was a mixed breed with a light brown coat. He had long legs with white paws and a white stripe that ran up his nose and head. He was my constant companion from the moment I could walk until I was ten years old. He curled up with me in that chair when I read books. When I went outside to play cowboy he would herd our cats up the trees and then walk off looking proud of himself. When He was hungry he would carry his food dish in his mouth and drop it at my Mom’s feet. He would sleep on top of my bed covers at night and when I had the mumps he refused to leave my bed until I got better.
I learned a lot from Duke over the years too. I learned a nap in the middle of the afternoon could be good for you. I learned that sometimes you need to growl a little to get your point across. I learned that you can never give or get too many hugs and kisses. I learned that the simplest dinner can be delicious when you eat it with gusto. I learned that life can be good when lived with love and joy. Sadly, I also learned that life in this world is short especially if you are a dog.
I lost Duke way too soon in my young life. Being an adventurous soul, Duke would often let his nose lead him away from home. Usually he would return days later hungry and exhausted. When I was ten, however, he went off one day and never returned. I cried and my Dad and I went on long walks searching for him but to no avail.
Since I lost Duke I have had many dogs in my life. All of them have been special. All of them have been unique. All of them have taught me to open my heart and love more. I hope to see them all again one day in Heaven. I would like to ask God too why our dogs’ lives here are so short and ours so long. I think maybe that I do know at least part of the answer. If one of the reasons we are here is to learn how to love then our best teachers certainly wouldn’t need to be here as long as we would. May you learn much, love well, and live your live with the heart of a dog.
Joseph J. Mazzella