The other night I was going upstairs to bed when I realized that the dog was sleeping in what has now become the guest bedroom. The room used to be my dads- yes, my parents slept apart but it was only because when my dad was working he had to get up stupid early and because my mom has a bad back and he’d always crush her. Anyways, I walked into the room and found my dog curled up in the middle of the bed. She isn’t the kind of dog that really sleeps with people. She’ll come up and lay with me or my mom for a while but after a bit of time she leaves to have her own space. Not to mention she’s not allowed on the furniture so it’s a rare day when you find her sleeping on something while you’re actually home and technically she’s knows she’s not supposed to be on it. Anyway, I walked into the room to “confront” her but actually wound up laying down on the bed with her for a little while which was probably a mistake since I ended up sobbing for 15 minutes.
We got Zero (named after Jack Skellington’s dog from The Nightmare Before Christmas) in August of 2013. I’d never had a dog in my house because both of my parents worked and they decided early on it wouldn’t have been fair to get a dog and then never spend time with it. After both parents retired and I graduated the discussion was quickly brought up by my father and I and after some hesitancy my mom agreed that we could get one. We walked into the shelter with two very specific rules from my mom- no shedding and no puppies. We had already been to one shelter the week before and hadn’t found a dog we liked so we were pretty unsure if we’d find one we liked this trip either but then my mom saw Zero. She was emaciated, she was scared, she shed like a bitch, but she was so loving. We spent some time with her alone and decided as a family that she’d be ours.
Zero was my mom’s dog right off the bat and I think that upset my dad a little because he’s the one that wanted a dog the most. Our poor girl had been severely beaten in her last home and was pretty afraid of men. This was just another thing that made my dad distance himself from her. He didn’t want to walk her or pet her and I could tell it was because he was afraid of scaring her. Not long after we got her I got my first job so much to his displeasure he had to step up on dog duties. He started with walks. They wouldn’t go very far, maybe a block or two, but my mom and I always got a kick out of watching them because my dad would let Zero sniff everything she could find and pee on every tree, bush, and fire hydrant in the neighborhood. This is where they finally got to bond. She gained a trust in him and he gained a new understanding of her. Before you knew it they were walking every day, sharing “quiet time” in the morning, and going for rides in the neighborhood. Suddenly my dad had a new best friend
That’s actually the only picture I have of the two of them together. It was taken in November of 2016 which was before we knew he was sick. It’s hard to look at pictures from that time because now we know what we know. At that time though, I think Zero knew. I know it sounds crazy but I honestly think she knew something was wrong with him. She’d never jump onto that chair with him but she started doing that more and more. She didn’t really like being in the basement but she’d spend all her time down there if that’s where he was. She would jump into his bed at night and watch TV with him.
When my dad started to get really sick she became inconsolable. There was eventually a time where we had to stop her from getting into bed with him because she’d accidentally step on him and it would cause him pain. It broke my heart to tell her no because she’d sit outside his door and try to look through the crack to see him. Some nights she’d lay down in front of the door and cry because she wanted to be in there so badly. When we’d let her in she’d nudge his hands to pet her and lick his fingers until he told her to go away. When she wasn’t in front of the door she’d pace through the house. She was very on edge as the end came nearer and more and more strange people were going into his room. I didn’t know how to calm her down and it broke my heart.
When the hospice nurse came for the second time we somehow got onto the topic of dogs and we shared stories about our dog and how she was handling the situation. The nurse told us a few stories about other patients she’d had who had dogs and how dogs grieve. She suggested that when my dad passes we let Zero in to see him so she could take her own time to process what happened. Never in a million years would we have thought to do that so I’m really glad she told us to. The day he died we let her in and she basically scanned him from head to toe before she decided to lay down next to him for a while. When she was done she got up and left the room. Just like that… she knew he wasn’t there anymore. She’d come in every now and then and kiss his hands and when the hospice nurse came she laid across his feet as if she was protecting him from her. You could tell that she understood he had died though. Her whole demeanor changed and for the first time in probably two weeks I watched her go to bed and pass out.
This brings me back to Saturday night when I caught her laying in his bed. Originally I was going to just lay there for a bit but then I had this thought pop into my mind. Was she laying there because she remembers him? Does his room still smell like him to her? Does she miss him? Then the other side of my brain started to counter with the idea that she’s a dog and of course she doesn’t remember him. That she’s probably just laying in his bed because it’s comfortable and she can look out of the window. The back and forth just put me in a mood so I started to cry. I hated the idea that she was coming into the room because she wanted to feel close to him and I hated the idea that she didn’t remember him even more. Zero, being the angel she is, came over to console me and about 15 minutes later I calmed myself down and went to bed.
The truth is that I don’t know which theory is right and I’ll never know unless they come up with some technology to process the thoughts of a dog. Either way though it makes me sad. I’m so glad we have Zero in our lives especially now that my dad is gone because she brings us such great company. Zero also brought my dad a lot of joy and I’ll forever be grateful for that. Dogs really are amazing.