I was not seeking love, or even companionship, on that Valentine’s Day 14 years ago.
My heart was as cold as the Montana winter day it was when I moseyed into the Flathead Valley Animal Control shelter. Six months removed from the childish conclusion of my first grown-up relationship, I was four months deep into an as-far-away-from-civilization-as-I-could-get gig as a reporter in a northern Montana hamlet; I was at the shelter to interview its director about the facility’s skyrocketing intake and euthanization figures.
After our conversation, I was given a tour of the medical examination (and extermination) room, then invited to explore the rest of the shelter at my leisure. I made the costly mistake of wandering into the canine adoption area. There, at the far end of two rows of dogs imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, an animated husky pup hurled himself against his kennel gate and howled at a fever pitch.
Reese, then just a number, was a frenetic furball pegged at about 4-months-old. Now 14, he has lost a couple steps, but none of his spirit. And how I wish I could have traded bodies with him in his prime; to race through the woods with fleet abandon, to leap over things double one’s height mid-stride with the flick of a mental switch, to uncover the mystery of why it’s necessary to pee on every. single. object. protruding more than a few inches from the earth.
Watching your pet age at a disproportionately fast rate can be devastating; it’s no wonder writers as disparate as Rudyard Kipling, Ogden Nash and Pablo Neruda have waxed mournful on the matter. But it has its pleasures as well.
Reese no longer requires being screamed at every five minutes to getoffthef***ingcounter. He physically can’t get up there anymore.
He stopped eating books. Though he had good taste; a prized illustrated and annotated edition of Thoreau’s Walden, and Gary Panter’s exquisite graphic novel Jimbo in Purgatory were among the works he savored.
He no longer digs in like the lead dog of a sled team on walks, dragging me in his wake in a species-reversal of the notorious National Lampoon’s Vacation scene. “Poor little guy,” they would say about me when Reese showed up on our doorstep, leash dragging behind him without a human attached. “Probably kept up with the dog for a mile or so. Tough little human…”
He snuggles more tightly. Trust, as I would learn with Miles, does not always come easy to rescue dogs. Reese, who was abandoned at less than 3 months of age and had little human contact in his month-plus behind bars, gave his instantly, and it has only deepened since. This is especially remarkable considering I nearly drowned him on our first walk together (it was an accident involving thin ice, the Swan River and human hubris).
Valentine’s Day, at least the way we celebrate it, is one of those bogus holidays in which people participate (i.e., spend money) based on marketing-induced guilt. Reese, for me, gave the date a little meaning. Over the course of 14 years, he has also demonstrated that when you have a dog, every day is Valentine’s Day.