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Goodbye, Dear Friend

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Is my dog Jewish? photo

I bid farewell to one of my oldest and dearest friends. He could not speak, but he had a mighty roar. He held no grudges, but carried a world’s worth of love in his eyes. In the end, he could not hear, but always trusted his nose. He could not cry, but we knew it was time. My family made the painful decision to lay our dog, Archie, to rest this week.

Some might recall Archie’s brief moments of YouTube stardom, in which he debuted his special talent for single-handedly scarfing down an entire challah in OyChicago’s Hanukkah promo video. Others might remember my ode to Archie back in 2010, in which I questioned the relationship between faith and pets in my article, “Is my dog Jewish?” In the article I half-jokingly criticized people’s obsessions with their pets—and let’s face it, my own.

Goodbye, Dear Friend photo

Archie, a blonde cocker spaniel-poodle mutt born on a farm in Iowa and raised in a Jewish suburb of Chicago, liked romping through grass, catching bugs, eating challah and matzah, and was always up for a good cuddle. His neurosis surfaced when left alone, when watching others hug and when one made eye contact with him for too long. Archie was a seductive flirt and always got what he wanted: a scratch under his belly or behind the ears. He feared most men—likely because he lived in a house of nearly all women. Archie also was unaware that he, himself, was a dog. Thus he also feared most dogs—including those smaller than he. Generally, Archie’s life consisted of an insatiable quest for love from humans, and we fed him generously.

When he passed, my mom donated most of Archie’s belongings such as his leash, but kept two items: She held onto a blue neckerchief with white Jewish stars that she put on Archie during the Jewish holidays. She also kept Archie’s blue stocking that she hung above our fireplace during Christmas alongside mine and my sisters’—all filled with Hanukkah gelt. (This was my mom’s confusing method for making us, Jews, feel included during Christmastime.)

We first got Archie about 15 years ago. He was born on Mother’s Day, but we had to wait the allotted number of weeks for him to wean. I was 13 and still in braces. My older sister surprised us with him on a trip home from college at the University of Iowa. She got him from a farm in a nearby town. At the time, my family was struggling to recover from the loss of our previous pet, Rosie, a Shar Pei who lived a short and fragile life marked by health problems. Archie, a mutt from the farm, showed promise of a long and sturdy life, and that, he had.

Archie and I supported each other through our awkward years. I tortured him with sweaters and Halloween costumes and he wriggled out of them and loved me anyway.

My sisters were older and they spent less time with Archie during his formative years. One of my sisters, who was not Archie’s biggest fan, was unaware that Archie schooled himself on spite while she was away. She came home from college one weekend and Archie walked into her doorway, took one look at her, peed, and walked out. Welcome home!

Dogs are intuitive; they give what they get, and then they give some more. My mom and I were reflecting today that Archie related to each of us in our family differently, based on how we interacted with him. My oldest sister took on the role of Archie’s original mother figure that swept him away at a young age from the farm into his new life. He knew no boundaries with her and their attachment ran deep. Whereas, my mother was the nurturer and bearer of discipline—Archie knew he couldn’t mess with her. My dad was the play pal. I was the affectionate cuddle buddy who always snapped pictures of him. Archie would never dare pee in my doorway…though he would get into mischief.

At my book club this week, we discussed that living with a significant other before marriage can be a true test of a relationship because even after a bad day, you have to face that person—whereas if you’re just dating, you can avoid them until you’re shiny and happy. Pets are the opposite of impatient lovers. They insistently nuzzle you with love when your cheeks are streaked with tears and your world is crashing around you.

Nothing can prepare you for the love that develops for a pet over the years of its life. Similarly, nothing can prepare you for the great loss felt by that pet’s absence. One day, a veterinarian declares your pet unfit for life and then you feel guilty for every indecisive minute thereafter that you are keeping him alive.

Had we opened our eyes sooner, we might have acted sooner—only because Archie endured a lot of pain these last few months of his life. This regret now haunts us.

We had eyes, but could not see. We had hearts ill-prepared to break.

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