I’ve got a problem. My dog is gone and I miss her.
As some of you know, I lost my little dog Molly about three months ago, on June 19 to be exact. She died at the age of sixteen from old age and recurring respiratory problems. Molly had been with me since she was just eight weeks old. She was a wonderful part of my life all those years, and now I miss her.
I’m not a very emotional person. Too much Irish-German heritage. But Molly’s passing has challenged my emotional boundaries, unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
Just to be clear, Molly’s loss hasn’t thrown me into the depths of depression or anything like that. It hasn’t affected my health, my daily activity or my outlook on life. (At least not that I’ll admit!) But I miss her constant companionship at the house and the little things that became part of our routine.
I miss that when I come home from the office or a parish visit she’s not there to run down (in her early years) or amble down (in her last years) the hall to greet me.
I miss the click-click-click of her toes on the hardwood surfaces as she moved between living room, dining room and bedroom.
I miss watching her stand at the closet door at the kitchen waiting for her favorite treat, or appearing at my table expecting something from my plate, barking to let me know she was there, as if I didn’t know.
I miss the little walks with her around the property, first thing in the morning, during the day, and last thing at night.
I miss having her sit with me on the front porch, watching the traffic on the Wampanoag Trail, while I sipped coffee and prayed the Breviary.
And I miss the constant conversation I had with her when I was home during the day: “Time to get up, Molly . . . C’mon, let’s go outside . . Here’s your treat, Molly . . . You’re a silly girl, Molly . . . Hurry up, Molly, it’s cold out here . . . Someone’s coming, Molly . . . The Steelers are idiots, Molly . . . You’re the best dog in the history of the world, Molly!”
The house is so different now. It’s quiet and empty.
When Molly died lots of thoughtful people offered me very kind and helpful personal comments, cards, letters, and even gifts. Many of these folks had pets of their own and understood the loss. I didn’t know that there were so many creative cards designed specifically to express sympathy at the loss of a dog.
One card has a constellation of stars in the form of a dog against the night sky with the inscription, “Heaven is a little brighter now; I’m really sorry for your loss.” Another has a picture of a little dog with angel wings and says, “To make Heaven a perfect resting place for loved ones we adore, God made sure those pearly gates contained a doggy door.” And one of my favorite cards shows an old pickup truck speeding down a country road with a dog in the passenger seat, head out the window braced against the wind, with the inscription, “In Heaven, the car windows are always rolled down.”
In many ways, Molly is still with me. Her leash and now empty collar are rolled-up in the kitchen closet where we kept her supplies. So are the food and water bowls she used for sixteen years, along with the favorite treat toy she played with all the time, even until the morning of the day she died. On my phone I have a “selfie” with Molly and me on the couch, taken just moments before we got in the car for her final trip to the vet. I think about Molly just about every day; there are pictures of her all around the house, and her remains are resting in a little mahogany memorial box on a shelf in the living room.
I can’t escape her memory but I really don’t want to. Every so often, as I travel around the diocese, someone who didn’t know about Molly’s passing will ask, “And how’s Molly doing?” It can be awkward, but I don’t mind. I’m grateful that they remembered her.
And at least a hundred times someone’s asked me the big question: “So, are you going to get another dog?” The answer is always the same. “Maybe someday. I’m open to it. If God wants me to have another dog, he’ll provide.”
So, I might get another dog someday. But I don’t want just any dog. I want a dog that’s not too big or too small; a dog that’s alert but not a yapper; a dog that doesn’t shed and is neat and clean; a dog that’s smart, playful and really good with people; a dog that’s just a little bit feisty but also obedient; a dog that’s attentive to me but is also comfortable being alone. In other words, I want a perfect dog. I want Molly.
One day after Molly died, I came across a newspaper article that asked the question, “Do dogs go to heaven?” The article explains that traditional Catholic theology would say no, because animals aren’t created in the image and likeness of God and don’t have immortal souls.
I don’t know if all dogs go to heaven. But I know one who did.