I know an animal is not human and that most people hold the lives of humans far above any dog or cat, I am not one of them. I have a love for dogs that goes as deep as my love for children. The innocence, trust and vulnerability in the eyes is the same. The ability that dogs have to ask for nothing but food and love and trust that they will get the right amounts of both leaves me longing to make sure I provide enough of both and more.
It was not love at first sight for Milo and me. He was dirty, smelly and had stitches below both eyes. He didn't greet me with a wagging tail and a feeling of warmth. Instead, he paid me no attention in the waiting room of the shelter. He sat up straight and tall and gazed off into the distance as if trying not to be noticed. He showed some excitement as he got into my car, but it was mostly an excitement that said "I don't care where we're going, just get me away from that place."
It wasn't even love after the first week. His personality was friendly, but very aloof. I certainly cared about him and took care of him, but this dog was not like the labs I had known before. As I researched more about what his possible mix was-- hm, black spots on his tongue... Chow?-- I realized that I had happened upon a lab who was mixed with the most clever breed of dog. The border collie.
As I began to read more about his breed, Milo's behavior made more sense. He truly understood what was being asked of him at any point in time. He knew the rules before being told (he was never one to get on the furniture) and rarely did anything explicitly against them. His nipping at my arms to take him out was his trademark herding behavior, not signs of a mean dog.
As time went on, and he was more secure in his place in the household (mama's baby being his favorite place), he became more affectionate and sweet and funny. He was a serious dog, but his propensity for properness never failed to make me laugh. He often sat straight backed and tall, looking so regal.
One habit that was well-developed almost immediately, was his love of shoes. As soon as anyone important left the house, he would run off to get a shoe (tho clothing worked in a pinch) to hold as he watched that person leave. There were shoes strewn about the apartment and one time even the comforter from the bed. These things were never destroyed, but rather treated like comfort objects.
After about 9 months, Milo and I ventured out on our own. I was nervous and felt pressure. I had never owned a dog by myself and knew how much work it was. But, really, there was no other option. Milo had become my dog and I would have taken it to court if necessary. Thankfully, there was almost no resistance. As we got into our rhythm, Milo we developed a bond that is deeper than anything I have yet to experience in my life. We could read each other's moods. I knew every single thing he would do in response to anything I did. Running off leash, the dichotomy of his personality was most visible. He wanted to run ahead, be free and set the path. A simple "Hey!" could get this headstrong and bossy dog to turn on his heel and follow the direction I set. But he still did not want to be a follower. He'd run ahead, almost cutting me off at the knees, herding in his own way. No matter how far ahead he ran, though, his need for eye contact was far greater than his need for freedom.
One of my favorite memories of Milo happened in April 2006. We had gone to the then fiance's family's house on the Cape for Easter. Milo enjoyed his time there immensely. He swam in the ocean and got fed copious table scraps. As I began packing the car, Milo darted out of the house and sat next to my car. I called him to come in and he refused to move. I opened the car door and he hopped into my seat and again he refused to move. We didn't leave for another half hour but his fear of being left behind was written all of his face so he was allowed to sit in the car while we said our goodbyes, content to know that he was still mine.
Milo had many quirks, most of which never failed to garner an audible giggle no matter where I was or who was around. Anytime I got out of the car to run into a store or the ATM, I would invariably return to the car to find him sitting in the driver's seat as if he were at 16 year old with his permit, eager to get some practice in. Milo was never great at fetch, but a good game of chase was always welcome. Bones and treats tasted better when they were chewed on the carpet. A ride in the car was the best part of any day, regardless of the destination.
In the three years I had Milo, I watched him change several times. I saw him go from an aloof dog, to a lovingly independent dog, who would sleep in a different room, but come in for hugs and kisses every once in a while. I watched him go from a demanding, insecure dog that barked whenever left alone, to a dog that preferred company, but did not lose his mind when I left. He went from a dog who could not be around another dog without lunging and barking, to a dog with a well-developed sense of autonomy, which allowed him to mostly ignore the presence of other dogs (well, in large open spaces).
Milo's life was far too short. I certainly loved him beyond reason, but I was always trying to make up for those years he lived before me. The years that kept him from being carefree and goofy. Each day was filled with activity to make him happy. My first and last movements of any day revolved around him. The love this dog and I had may be insignificant to some, but it has been the most solid love I've known in my adult life. He was so very special to me in every way and I wonder how I will ever fill the void.
What do you do when the sun, moon and stars are turned off? He was my sunshine and the love of my life and I'm not sure where I turn from there. How long until I accept that he's never going to go slinking upstairs for no reason? That he will never sit in my front window in a chair facing out, waiting for the sound of my car so he can run to me and show me his ball? How long until I stop saving the last few bites for him?
Milo was simply the the love of my life and everything feels off-center without him.
Sir Milo von Gorgeous, 2001-2008, known for his valiant efforts to rid the neighborhood of all squirrels and feral cats, one bark at a time.
Rest in peace, my bunny.