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Howard's Memorial
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A donation was made in Howard's memory by Doctors and Staff of the Northwest Animal Hospital. His memorial was created on 4/21/2014.
Dogs are creatures of habit. They respond to routine, create expectations and learn to set schedules. I have a dog who has essentially replaced my need for an alarm clock, as she is unfailingly the noise and movement that prompts me out of bed at 5:00 every morning. To keep my day running smoothly, Polly signals me when dinner is due, and (like me) she gets noticeably cranky and anxious to get to bed before 9:30pm, often looking towards the stairs as a visual cue to get me off the sofa. All the time in between is dedicated equally to napping and being as close to me as the laws of physics will allow.

It stands, then, that change is the most difficult phenomenon for a dog to handle. Anything that upsets the standard mode of operation is difficult for them to process, whether it’s something as simple as coming home late and disrupting the normal dinner hour to something more traumatic like an extended vacation that leaves the dog in the hand of less familiar caretakers. Polly is currently working her way through the most challenging phenomenon: the loss of her steady canine companion and brother, Howard. It’s going to be a tough road, as he was the cornerstone of her daily existence, the shoulder she literally leaned and slept on while I was at work, and the big brother she followed around and annoyed on a regular basis.

Polly is not alone in her confusion and grief. All of us as Howard’s humans are in various stages of processing this change and this loss, which still hasn’t yet fully sunk in, at least not for me. There are too many thoughts to put in order, though one keeps popping to the forefront, and it is the best way I can pay tribute to Howard, whose nearly 14 years with us was wholly defined by this one thought:

Howard, that creature of habit that he could most definitely be, handled change like a pro. He rolled with the punches and was unfazed by the curve balls. As long as food landed in his bowl and there was a soft place to sleep, Howard found his happy place and almost always managed to stay well within it. I should have found a way to bottle that kind of calm.

It could not have been easy, because we didn’t exactly subject Howard to easy changes. He experienced the kinds of life changes that send those of us higher on the food chain running for alcohol, pharmaceuticals and therapists, and he did it all for some diet treats and belly rubs. Now that he is gone, I am going to try to spend time every day remembering this one thing about Howard above everything else. It is something he never knew that he taught me, and it’s something I would never have expected to learn from such an unlikely source.

Over the course of his time, Howard watched one of primary caretakers walk out of his life to be replaced by me. He watched the kids morph into adults with changing moods and attitudes, coming and going, moving and not coming back. He buried his biological sister and an adopted sister after that, both lost far too soon. Howard watched his house get gutted and rebuilt with all new twists and turns and decidedly slipperier floors, and he was a daily witness to seeing the walls come down, get moved, and some completely disappear. He watched a yard full of yummy grass become a pool full of water that he got occasionally dragged in to against his will. He saw tropical storms and hurricanes, power outages and tornados. Howard was boarded in a kennel, changed vets more than once, and got put in the cargo hold of a big jet airplane to move all the way to Seattle, where he had to learn how to navigate stairs at the ripe old age of thirteen.

Through it all, there was Howard, watching the world with his big, brown, wondering eyes but never complaining, even when he had every right to do so. He instinctively knew, even if got a little impatient now and then, that love was all around, the food was plentiful, and that there was always a pillow and more than enough blankets for all the naps that life required. Maybe he had the answer about handling change: grab a snack, take a nap and see what shit looks like when you wake up.

I really think what animals understand that we do not understand is the full concept of trust. It is something they give so readily and willingly, and continue to give in circumstances in which that trust is not earned or warranted. Howard just trusted that life was going to work, and it always did. He trusted that care was provided, and that the necessary decisions would be made right up to the last decision, no matter how difficult it would be. It was just how life worked.

That, to me, is the secret these creatures of habit try to get us to understand. Trust that life is just going to work somehow, whether you are meant to be here for 10 minutes or 10 decades. Maybe Howard slept like a baby and took it all in stride because he just kept living until the minute the clock ran out, because really, what else can any of us do? As high as we think we are in the food chain, we are no smarter than Howard was at cheating the inevitable. Where we get stupid is sweating all the unimportant stuff along the way, and spending too much time worrying about life instead of living it.

All I hope for Polly now is that I can help her find a way past this loss and change to her own happy place. I want her to spend the rest of her life trusting in treats and naps and cuddles, knowing that there will be love and blankets and food when she needs them. If I’m lucky, I’ll learn right along with her. I’d like to think that Howard would be proud of that.

Michael D.

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