You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us. ~Robert Louis Stevenson
I wasn’t the most well-behaved kid growing up. I’d say from 4th through 10th grade, I was grounded about 80% of the time. I ran away from home on a weekly basis and got in fights with my parents and brother approximately every other hour. I still don’t know why, but when I was at home, I just couldn’t seem to be at peace.
I did have a constant, doting companion through those years though: my little dog, Boots. Known best as Bootie. When I was fighting with my brother, she was more than happy to bite him for me. When I was sent to my room, she was there waiting. When I was lonely after fighting for hours, she was in my lap. When I had packed all my worldly belongings into a bag and was setting out for God knows where, she was by my side. And when I came home at night, she cuddled up to sleep with me. She was my best friend.
When I left for college, I would call home frequently and ask to speak to her. Meanwhile, back at home, my mom had to remake my bed every morning because Boots was still insistent on sleeping there. I bought her a Demon Deacon sweater my first semester. She hated it. But she looked great.
I talk about Boots a lot. After all, my life is full of Boots stories. I hardly remember a time when she wasn’t around. And when, for the first time, I moved into a house where I could have a dog, I wanted a dachshund—and I wanted her to be just like Boots. Because I’d been missing my friend since the day I’d left home for college.
When I got Rosie, I told her about Boots. I told her that I hoped one day she would grow up to be as good of a dog as her cousin Boots was. I told her that if dogs talked, she should talk to Boots because that old dog had some great stories.
Boots wasn’t perfect. In fact, many would say she was far from it. But that was half her appeal. Boots wouldn’t take anything from anyone. In her glory days, she attacked anything that walked—no matter the size. I can’t count how many times I apologized to people for Boots biting them. Or how many times I had to risk life and limb to pull Boots out of a fight with a much larger dog.
It’s impossible to tell of Boots’ life and not mention what many would consider her biggest flaw: When I was in 7th grade, we bred Boots to another dachshund named Scamper. She had five beautiful puppies, but from the moment she began to give birth it was apparent that something was wrong. Boots wasn’t meant to be a mother. I won’t go into detail, but within a few days Boots had killed all of the puppies.
The thing is, when I think of the experience, my clearest memory is going into the small room in the house considered “Boots’ room” to be with her the morning it happened as my parents cleaned up the mess. Boots was distraught, crying and scratching to get out. For weeks she searched the house for those puppies. Chemicals do weird things to people’s brains. I don’t think dogs are so different. I think the puppy experience was more traumatic for Boots than anyone. But in a strange way that experience made me love Boots even more—we all make awful mistakes at some point in our lives and Boots was no different.
I have a million Boots stories. Times when she made me laugh with her antics (Boots understood the English language better than most people), times when she did amazing things (Boots could jump about 8 times her height when she was young and she could eat about 4 times her body weight. Once, during one of my parents’ dinner parties, she jumped onto the kitchen table and ate an entire salmon when no one was watching), and times when the sheer depth of her personality showed through (Boots was the consummate alpha dog—even in her later years and even when dealing with a golden retriever 10 times her size). But really, most of my memories of Boots are just of her being there.
She always accompanied me when I cut through my backyard and over to my best friend’s house to hang out when I was a kid. She patiently waited for bites under the table from me at every family dinner. Whenever I was away from home, I received mail “from Boots.” She was there every Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving—occasionally even donning holiday attire. She would never miss a chance for a walk. She moved with our family from our home in town to one in the country. She licked my face the morning I found out my grandfather had died. She’s in first-day-of-school photos, Christmas card photos, prom photos, and graduation photos. In college my family would email me videos of Boots with a white sock-turned-turban around her head and would do voice-overs of Boots as her “other” personality, “Osama Boots Laden.” I’ve received about 1,000 emails over the years alerting me to some new, amusing action by Boots. She went on trips to the beach and the lake and the mountains. For 16 years she felt more like another sibling than the family dog.
Life is so short. Unfortunately, it’s even shorter for our pets. I wanted Boots to live forever and with her tenacity and incredible strength of will, I almost thought she would. But, in her later years Boots had lost most of her hearing and her sight. Arthritis made walking hard. While she aged as gracefully as is possible for a dog—I think sheer pride wouldn’t allow her to give in—the Boots who loved chasing runners, hunting frogs, and stretching on her back in the sunshine was being inhibited by all those pesky pains of age that we all face eventually.
Now she’s gone. And while I’ll miss her and really can’t imagine exactly what life is going to feel like knowing she’s not around, I have to believe that right now Boots is in a place where things like arthritis don’t exist. Boots taught me a whole lot about unconditional love. Now I think she’s with the Creator of that kind of love. I just hope there are frogs in heaven too.