My Little Teacher

My Little Teacher

One of my favorite local newspaper columnists Dan Ruth wrote a really beautiful piece in the Tampa Bay Times last week about losing his dog. I encourage you to check it out, as well. Thank you.



I haven’t thought about you yet this morning. Not until right now. And I only cried twice yesterday. So that’s pretty good.


I knew I needed to write this blog about you, but I put it off as long as possible. I knew the day that I would write it would bring all of my feelings of sorrow back to the surface. It already has and I’m only two paragraphs into it. Damn.


Thirteen and a half years. That’s a really long time. Everyone tells me without actually saying it that I should feel lucky that you were in my life that long. You were 15 1/2 years old we estimate since you were a rescue dog and no one can know for certain, but even if that’s considered long to have a pet in your life, it’s not long enough.


Let’s see, in 13 1/2 years, we’ve lived in two places, watched four  presidential inaugurations together and drove five cars during that time. I held seven positions at five different employers before going to work for myself in 2009 – involuntarily at first. I had no idea at the time that the greatest perk of all from being let go from my job would be the opportunity to spend every workday hanging out with my best friend for the next 4+ years.


I called you my assistant, but we both know that more times than not, you presented more challenges to the job than support. Hovering under my feet when I needed to get up to change for a business appointment, leaving me little presents in the hallway for me as a wonderful send-off while rushing around trying to get to a meeting and instead having to stop to clean up an accident.


And you know what? I’d give everything I own to have you hovering at my feet right now or even cleaning up after you.


Because you were actually a good assistant in a way…you forced an otherwise sedentary professional to get up off her ass and walk around once in a while – take you outside for a pee break, go for a walk down the street, stop to have lunch or just take a few moments to cuddle or play. And sometimes, I’d forget to do this and you’d just patiently lie there watching me and I’m sure wonder when the hell we were going to do something fun. But you were always there for me. Heck. You were even my fantasy football teammate.



I thought it would be hard navigating the house full of over a dozen years of mementos, photos, your beds which still sit in every room, but I think for me they’ve blended in with the walls and the furniture. What is hardest are those moments when my instinct reacts involuntarily and for a brief moment forgets that you’re not around anymore. When the thunder rattles the walls and I quickly look around wondering if you’re already shaking with fright, when it’s time to head out for an errand and I begin to head toward the bathroom to prepare it for your upcoming stay, when your dad comes down the guest hallway to greet me in the morning and I almost think I hear your little paw nails clicking against the wood floors but then realize I’m imagining things. Those are the moments that are hardest of all. Those are the moments when I sometimes fall to pieces.


The house is so quiet without you. The walls seem to hold less color for me these days. Sometimes I feel like a zombie ambling through the house wondering if I could have done better those past few months to spend more time with you, wishing I had been more attentive in those last extremely busy weeks. Had I only known…


Friends try to be helpful. Tell you to remember those fond memories and there are plenty to hold on to but it doesn’t help. Not really. It’s still too raw for those memories to exist without tears accompanying them. So I try to think about all that you taught me. I learned so much from you. How could a little 17” long, 16-pound bundle of Dachshund and Chihuahua teach me anything? Well, you did. More than you ever could have realized.


What I learned…


  • For the first time ever, in my whole life, I saw animals as living, breathing creatures sharing the same space, the same world, the same resources, with people. I experienced a disconnect between the image of that cow standing in the pasture and that slab of steak on my plate. I stopped eating meat because of you the moment I learned that a pig is smarter and potentially easier to train than a dog, I couldn’t look at a piece of bacon the same way again. Of course, you would have been happy to oblige to help me eat that. But in effect, you changed the way I looked at the world and all of the creatures in it.


  • I used to look at everything negatively – see the glass half-empty, notice the clouds and not the sunshine peeking behind it. And then I watched you tear into a stuffed animal like it was the most incredible thing you’d ever found. Saw what precision and enthusiasm you tackled a blanket to “build your nest” to bury yourself within and what great care and attention you put into every step of that process. And I was smitten immediately by your awe and wonder with the world. I think in a way you mentored me to see the universe through brighter, less cynical eyes, and it never really dawned on me until after your light was gone.


  • I’d always heard the expression unconditional love batted around – usually used to describe the love between parents and their children or spouses with each other. But while this may be true for some families and relationships, no…real unconditional love is only found between the hearts of a pet with its loving, doting family. Because there are no expectations and no ways to disappoint the other. None at all. There is just love and loyalty and affection. You showed me firsthand unconditional love when I wasn’t always in my greatest of moods, and somehow, I still warranted your loving nose tap to the shin or a little lick of the hand or the face, as if to say ‘I know you’re not your best self right now, but I still love you anyway.’ I hope you truly did feel that in return.


  • It was only when I became a full-time freelancer that I realized so many of the things that seemed important to me once, weren’t all that important. Not really. What mattered most was time — and there just isn’t enough of it, is there? But despite all of our running around, overscheduling, showing up late or missing appointments, at the end of the day, it was seeing the ones you loved and spending time with them that really mattered. And even when a deadline had me glued to my laptop and the most I could offer you was a special spot next to me on the couch on your blanket, your head lying against my thigh while I worked, occasionally looking up at me with those dark, soulful eyes, that was enough for you. And when your dad and I would return from being gone all day, running errands, you greeted us as if we were the best thing to enter your day and I know why now. Because to you, in that moment, we were the best thing to enter your day, and what a wonderful lesson to teach us. How many of us come home from a 9 to 5 job and greet our family like that? No, most of us don’t. We’re so wrapped up in the stress of the day or that long commute home that we forget to be excited to see the ones we love and to greet them with the affection and the care that we truly feel for them but often forget to demonstrate. You reminded us of that, every time we came home to “free” you from the bathroom.



Your dad and I know we need to pack up some of your things but we haven’t done so yet. There will be pictures and mementos that will remain but the blankets and pillows will find a temporary home. I know you’d want us to invite another little rescue pup into our home someday, maybe two, and I know that you would understand we could not and would not ever replace you. It isn’t possible.


But there’s love to share, and after all, you were always big on diplomatically sharing your love with anyone who came to visit. You wouldn’t want us to deny another little doggie needing a home that same love and affection we showered on you these past 13 years. You would want to share your beds, your blankets, your toys, your home. And someday you will. But your dad and I just aren’t ready to think about that right now.


Right now, we will think about all that you taught us, all the wonderful memories you left us and all of the special moments and love you shared with each of us individually. I have decided that I’m going to start a list in a journal. Whenever I think of something specifically related to you, some loving gesture, a funny quirk or oddball thing you did — the way you cried whenever you heard the harmonica from Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It” or how you scurried around our feet giving us what we affectionately called the ‘one-paw no-touch tap’ when we’d ask ‘Do you wanna’ go for a ride?’ — I’ll jot it all down. I’m going to write all of these many different memories in one journal, and I don’t care how many pages or how many years it takes me until I’m done writing them, but I’m going to keep recording them, so I never forget one moment with you.


I know that a little piece of my heart left with you two Mondays ago and it’ll take a long time for anything to fill that hole again. But I am a much wiser, kinder and better person than I was 14 years ago, and it is all because of you, Dexter.


My first and only little sweetheart. I’ll miss you.



  1. John Barr

    A beautiful way to remember a friend and family member, I think your journal idea is great, I wish I’d thought to do something similar for Snowball.
    They do a great job of turning a house into a home, little balls of lunacy, forcing us to think of something other than ourselves, to get a bit of fresh air and exercise.
    to share our lives and bring a little (lot of) love to our hearts.

    • chriskuhn

      Thanks so much, John, for your comment. The journal idea started as a therapeutic way to deal with this loss but I do think it will end up serving a greater purpose than I realized, as an invaluable memento to look back upon our time together. I couldn’t agree with you more either. Pets definitely force us to think of something other than ourselves and that may be their greatest gift of all. Appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. Thanks again. xx ~ Chris

  2. Shelby Coriaty

    My heart still grieves from the loss of my Micah girl back in 2006. From the moment I got her she never left my side…literally. She would wiggle her way around anyone just to be next to me and was my constant companion when I was battling cancer. When I threw up, so did she, when I was in the hospital she would sit on my sons bed and stare out the window, not eating, not leaving that space until she saw me coming home. Her passing was unexpected and I held her in my arms when life slipped away from her and the grief still breaks my heart. Micah was a blue merle aussie and every time I look up and see the blue sky mixed with storm clouds I am reminded of her and know that she is waiting for me…just in that place where there is no pain and only joy. For those of us that have made our pets a part of family the loss is forever. Dexter is not replaceable and the memories you have will always be with you. When your heart is ready I know that you will rescue the dog that looks in your eyes and says I’m for you and you are for me…just like Dexter did.

  3. chriskuhn

    Shelby, your thoughtful words mean the world to me and I empathize with the loss you still feel today for your Micah as I do John’s (above) for his Snowball. We are all part of a large family in a way, of people who entrusted our hearts and trust to these small, beautiful creatures who come into our life in a flash, never let us down and love us conditionally. And when they depart, they leave such a huge mark on our soul. Yes, someday my heart will be ready and you’re right, that next set of soulful eyes will tell me so. They just will. Thank you. xx ~ Chris

  4. Dearest Chris – So sorry for your loss Hun…what a beautiful tribute! They bring so much to our lives xo

    • chriskuhn

      Thanks so much, Deb. They absolutely bring us so much joy and love. Nothing beats having a special pet in your life. xo ~ ck

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