Sunflower, the blonde lab/greyhound/beautiful dog came into our lives in 2001, at a time when I was gaining a sense of self and high school kids still seemed mature. I had just gone through a breakup, my first “real” one, and I used talk of a new puppy to make conversation with the ex. (Sorry for using you, Sunny). My family had never had a dog before, the extent of our caregiving limited to fish, birds, and I confess, rodents. This was a huge step for us. Shortly after my sister, Linda, rescued Sunny from a shelter in Superior, she moved into a place that didn’t allow pets. So she pawned the little pup off on our family. We quickly had to learn to bond with the canine world, no matter how much we loathed cleaning up messes, repairing furniture, and buying replacement shoes. She. Ate. Everything! The fancy living room chairs not really even meant for sitting? Eaten. The giant Alpaca pillow that was fuzzy and expensive? Eaten. Several pairs of glammed up dancing shoes belonging to my mom? Eaten. Her heavy-duty plastic kennel? Eaten. All the other things? Eaten.
But as annoyed as we were in the wake of her destructive behavior, we couldn’t help but love the almost-violent thrashing of her tail against the washing machine. Or the slobbery kisses that were supremely gross, yet wonderful at the same time. When I was sad, and in my adolescence and early adulthood, that was A LOT, Sunny would sit by my side and provide a comfort no one else could. This dog loved me and I would love this dog, even when she slept diagonal in the middle of the bed. Sunny wasn’t a cuddler, but her personality would have fooled you into believing otherwise. Her sweet demeanor and giddiness for going on walks and playing in the snow are traits I will miss the most. All you had to say was “You wanna…” and she knew that “go for a walk” were the next words that followed. You would try to spell T-R-E-A-T but Sunny knew what you were up to once you got to the R. And a bath? Fuhhhhgetaboutit.
If you’ve never had a dog you were close to, the pain that accompanies loss might seem insane to you. But it feels like a family member has gone. Someone you loved and cherished for several years is no longer physically present. But the sadness and hollow feeling inside go numb after a while, when it’s no longer feasible to shed tears day in and day out. Then you climb over all those obstacles of grief, those stages that work like clockwork, but in no set pattern. The anger, the guilt, the denial – they fade. And what remains? A beautiful memory of a beautiful dog who never once stopped loving for you for something you did or did not do or for who you were or were not. The love between a dog and a human is unconditional, and it’s true.
Sunflower, you will be sorely missed, but tenderly remembered for all of our days.
*This was first written to be posted after Sunflower passed in December 2013. Then, I was going to post it on her birthday in 2014. I never got around to it, for whatever reason. Since then, another family dog (Spirit) has passed away and is playing with Sunflower in Doggy Heaven. She is also missed, and judging by my timing, the post about Spirit will come in a few months.