There are a lot of clichés about dog ownership. People talk about how owning a dog changes your life. How dog people are always talking about their dogs or someone else’s dogs. How the dog begins to train you instead of the other way around. Like most clichés, they are said because there is some truth to all of them and you find yourself nodding and laughing in agreement, “oh yeah, that’s my dog exactly.”
One cliché that always resonated with me was how a dog becomes part of your family. When we adopted Heidi so many years ago, this was almost immediately apparent. On the night we brought her home, Elise and I were in bed discussing if Heidi would be comfortable sleeping in her kennel in the corner of our bedroom. Mid-sentence she hopped up onto the bed by our feet and we knew that we were family.
Every family member serves as structural element of the family dynamic. As we got to know Heidi, we quickly saw how her energy, enthusiasm, stubbornness, and shocking speed were going to not just fit into our lives but also change them. This feeling that she was an integral part of our lives was so obvious, came so quickly, and was such a natural feeling, I didn’t give it much thought. But it is the subtleties of family that make relationships so powerful which I only now appreciate.
A lot has changed since we adopted Heidi. Countries, cities, jobs, cultures, language, circles of friends have all changed multiple times, but Elise and I always had Heidi as a constant. Always eager for a new adventure, Heidi loved traveling with us from the start. To her it always seemed that it didn’t matter where she was, as long as her people were with her. Somehow, through the years and travels, I only now realize that it very much worked the other way around, too.
Starting fresh in a new city or country is not easy. Long days at work trying to understand language and cultural differences in addition to your actual job can exhaust one physically and mentally. But no matter where we were, Heidi was always there for us at the end of the day with her signature greeting of running like a bolt of red lighting to the door, leaping an astounding distance straight up in the air, and bark-squeaking with joy at seeing us again which never, ever failed to elicit a swelling of the chest and enormous grin, no matter how long the day.
A peripatetic lifestyle like working as a consultant can at times be very lonely and it exacerbated the feeling of being unrooted. Since Elise’s job didn’t require travel, for long stretches of time, she spent far more time with Heidi than with me. Seeing Heidi and enjoying her hysterically exuberant welcome when I got home from a week’s travel with Elise smiling at the both of us in the doorway kept me grounded. Heidi made our lives possible.
Establishing new roots can be difficult and takes a long time. Having to take out Heidi four times a day made sure that we quickly became familiar with the neighborhood. Since the eyes of anyone worth talking to will light up when seeing a wiener-dog, Heidi helped us get to know a lot of people. And her natural curiosity led us down many paths that might have otherwise gone unexplored, helping us understand our new locale no matter where we were.
Countries changed. Cities changed. Job changed. Friends changed. Homes changed. Heidi was the one stable thing in our lives for so many years.
Heidi was always there.
We are thankful for the exceptionally long and healthy life Heidi had. It seems that we have been talking about the “old lady” for so long that at times it is shocking to think back on that red-sable little weenie that we adopted so many years ago. Though we might have made jokes about the increasing gray hair and number of naps she seemed to take, she was still there with us, well beyond her expected years, still eager to vacation with us some place new, go on a day’s hike, or even climb a mountain.
Therefore it was a shock to see her finally start to slow down. Walks got shorter, naps got longer, and she contented herself with being on the rug, dispensing with the bother of jumping up on the sofa. Then one day the signature greetings stopped. She still came to the door to welcome us home of course, but with a muted trot and tail wag instead of the bolting, barking, frenzy she once was. My heart ached at that realization, but I also understood that family means growing old together.
Family also means making heartbreaking decisions. And though Heidi may no longer be there to greet us when we get home, we will be forever thankful that we were able to grow old together and share in her amazing little life. That we were able to be a family together will never stop bringing us joy.
Ours will always be Huus Heidi.
This post originally appeared on chrisandelise.com and is republished here with permission.