Griffin and me

I wasn’t going to write about this, but it’s the only thing on my mind today, and deadline beckons. It’s a sad post, but a hopeful one, too.

Last Tuesday, my wife, Cheryl, and I made the difficult decision to put down our dog Griffin. He had been sick for a few months, and after several trips to the vet, we finally discovered he had pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver. At that point, he was wasting away and regurgitating fluid almost constantly. The options were few to none – other than allowing him to continue suffering while we made peace with the inevitable – so we let him go.

Anyone who’s ever been through this kind of thing knows it was a gut-wrenching decision, but made easier by our love for our dog. I’m hardly unique in that respect, so I almost feel silly airing my grief publicly. But I’m not your typical dog owner, either.

I guess you’d say I’m an accidental dog owner. Griffin, and his much bigger brother, Romeo, were part of the package when I started dating Cheryl. At the time, I was the furthest thing from a dog person you could ever imagine. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and I’m an ardent supporter of animal rights, but I had very little use for the animals themselves. I used to amuse myself by telling people this, and watching their reaction. I would also smirk and roll my eyes when people talked about and doted on their pets, and particularly when they spent gobs of cash on them.

I suppose I showed the same bemused indifference when I first met Griffin. He seemed a bit crazed and hyperactive, and Romeo, a Rottweiler mix, seemed mildly intimidating. (Cheryl still laughs at the fact that I asked, only half-jokingly, if Romeo was going to bite me as he sat looking at me, with his tongue rolled out, in a classic friendly-dog posture.)

Gradually, I warmed to Cheryl’s dogs, particularly Griffin. Though I knew little about dogs (hence the fear that the slobbery goofus Romeo was poised to go for the throat), Cheryl acknowledged my growing suspicion that Griff was an unusual and special animal. He could never have won a ribbon at a dog show, unless there was a category for “most enthusiastic leaping before lunch.” He looked kind of funny, really, and was frequently a challenge (he stole almost all our tomatoes this year, and was smart enough to find a way into the garden even after we put up fencing). Of course, all of that was part of his charm.

I think I bonded with Griff because we were so much alike in so many ways. We were both high-strung and anxious, fairly socially awkward, perhaps a bit funny looking, and able to shift from melancholia to dopey exuberance at the drop of a hat. (And we both were rescued by the same woman, just as we were about to run out of chances.)

But while Griffin was basically the same dog as when I met him, by the time he left us, I was irrevocably changed.

The pet industry is a $55-billion-a-year business. I used to think, “what a scam” and “what a waste of good money.” But I understand now. I certainly don’t think anyone in veterinary medicine is out to make a quick buck or screw over consumers. Indeed, I’m forever grateful to the folks at Odyssey Veterinary Care and Veterinary Emergency Service for doing all they could – and for making Griff’s last days as comfortable as possible. And I’m especially thankful for the kindness the VES staff showed when the end finally came. On top of everything else, I think I’ll be just a little kinder as a result of their inexhaustible understanding and patience.

Opening your heart to an animal who at best will live to be 15 or 16 is a reckless thing to do, but I’ve come to believe that it’s infinitely better than living your life in a bubble. For better or worse, change is the way of the universe. It often hurts, but it often makes us better, too. And whether you’re involved in business, politics, art, or love, it’s the only path available to you.

Helen Keller once said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

As much as anyone I’ve ever known, Griffin helped teach me that. Silly dog – he probably thought he was just begging for breakfast.

Our goofy little dog is gone, but his influence is lasting. He’s knocked me just slightly off the path I was walking, and I know I can never retrace my steps. And because I’m changed, I now have the opportunity to ever-so-subtly change others, and those changes will continue to echo until the last dog on earth barks at the last befuddled jogger.

Griffin’s not Steve Jobs. He didn’t remake the world. But he did make it better, and that’s all you can ever ask of anyone’s life.

Griffin, 2001?-2011

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