I take Lazarus to the dog park next to our duplex pretty often--I'd say at least 3 times a week when it's warm, and maybe 2 times a week in the winter. After it snows, we're there every day--it's his favorite time to be at the dog park, and no one is ever there so it's like this giant playground all to ourselves. He does pretty good at the dog park, and doesn't get too snippy (unless it's a boxer or a standard poodle; I don't understand the dislike of the boxers since those were his BFFs as a puppy, the poodles are asshats so I get that). He likes to run and catch a ball, frisbee, does tricks, etc., and it keeps him focused and tires him out faster.
Yesterday was a dog park day. We played for about 45 minutes until he got a little snippy with an overly friendly boxer. I had him follow me to the gate at the furthest end of the dog park, where I noticed that there was a woman and a great dane sitting in the grass under a large tree just outside of the fence of the dog park. I had seen her helping the dane walk over to the tree, and helping it lay down in the grass. She was gently petting the dane, rearranging the pretty orange scarf tied around its neck and talking quietly to it.
Lazarus--the welcoming party for all dogs and people--beelined over to them. I had just enough time to ask, "Is it friendly?" before Laz descended upon the dane lying in the grass, licking its face with his ears back and tail wagging profusely, like it was a long lost friend. The dane sniffed up at Lazarus, clearly three times the size of my dog, and allowed Laz to lick its face over and over again while mildly scrunching up its nose as if to say, "Blargh, but whatever. Nice to meet you too."
Laz then turned to the woman crouching behind her dog, greeting her in the same manner. She laughed and pet him, saying softly, "You're a nice dog, aren't you? You're a sweety." After making sure to lick me once, he lay down in the grass next to the dane, obviously spent from our playtime in the dog park.
Finally, it was our turn to speak, having gotten the dog greetings out of the way. I smiled and asked, "Why are you sitting outside of the dog park?"
She looked down at her dane and replied with a soft smile, "Well, we're doing a bucket list. This was one of them."
"What? A bucket list?? But she looks fine!" I stared increduously down at the great dane. She was a gorgeous light caramel color, a little darker than a tan. She had a young face that showed that she had many more years to go--no white grizzles on her muzzle--but I could tell she wasn't quite a puppy like my Lazarus still seemed to be. I knelt down and began to pet her, wondering what could possibly be wrong. Cancer was the only thing I could possibly think of--something from within because she was a beautiful healthy color on the outside.
It was at this point that the woman began to cry. She was still smiling, but tears were tumbling down her face faster than she could wipe them. I instantly felt contrite and horrible--I had been far too direct with a complete stranger. I apologized, saying, "Oh! I totally didn't mean to make you cry! Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!"
She waved her hand at me and laughed, tears still pouring out of her eyes. One hand was always on her dog laying placidly in the grass, stroking gently. "Oh no, I've been crying buckets for the last few days now, probably at least four times a day. No, no, you didn't make me cry, I promise. It's her spine. She can't walk anymore."
I still felt bad. "How old is she?"
"She's three," the woman replied, looking lovingly down at her dog. Lazarus got up and began to lick the face of the great dane again, and the woman laughed. "He really is a sweet dog."
"So is yours," I immediately replied, and I meant it. I caressed her large tan head, talking to her about how sweet she was. The woman cried on, and I asked, "So there was nothing they could do for her?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Her spine can't be fixed. She can't move; can't walk. She would have a very poor quality of life, not being able to get up or move around. So we're living it up while we can, doing everything we wanted to do!"
I looked down at the sweet dog under my hand, looking into her eyes as she took in the dogs romping and playing in the dog park. She looked like she wanted to get in there and play desperately, but couldn't move to do so.
"So... you have to put her to sleep?"
This opened up a new floodgate of tears as she nodded her head, and I found myself choking back some as well. I gave her some time before I said, "Oh, poor, poor, sweet baby. And only three years old."
"The best three years of my life. She's the best dog I've ever had!" the woman stated fiercly, and I nodded, understanding her sentiment completely.
"Great danes are fantastic dogs. I grew up with them; my dad bred and trained them, and I was actually named after his favorite great dane," I responded.
She looked up at me, and the tears seemed to slow their descent. "Really? That's pretty funny! What is your name and what happened?"
"Well, my dad and mom had this blue great dane. They loved her very much, and her name was Shauna Lee Blue. She died too early from something--I don't know what--but they decided to name me after her. I'm Shauna Lynn instead of Shauna Lee, though."
The woman laughed and laughed, finding it much funnier than I thought it was, but I suppose it was laughing for the sake of laughing after crying so much for the past few days. I guess finding out someone was named after a beloved pet is probably somewhat comical too. My story seemed to cheer her up considerably.
"We came out here so she could relax in the grass and see the other dogs. I'm going to do some studying," she stated. Lazarus got up and moved towards her, licking her face again as she pet him. The great dane looked up at him and then back at the dog park, not seeming to care that Lazarus was bathing her owner with too many kisses. She spoke to him softly, loving the extra attention being lavished upon her from a dog unlike her own, and allowing him to kiss her on the face and neck, rubbing his muzzle into her face as if to comfort her.
We got up and began to walk towards her car, which she had parked right in the grass about 100 yards from where her dog currently sat under the tree. Her great dane looked at us in alarm, as if to say, "You're freaking leaving me here!?" Seeing her dog clearly wanting to come along, the woman laughed and joked, "Stay, stay! We're coming back! Not that you can get up anyhow, but stay!" This seemed to appease the great dane for a moment, and she went back to watching the dog park.
We said our goodbyes, and as I walked away from her and her dog, all I could think was that I would never see that great dane again.
It's amazing, though, the love we feel for our pets. If it weren't for Lazarus, I wouldn't know anyone in my current neighborhood. And if it weren't for Lazarus I would definitely be missing a vital part of life--loving something other than yourself, that loves you on your best and worst days, no matter what you look like and no matter how you treat it. Unconditional love is something hard to come by. I hope that woman is able to grieve and move on, knowing that her dog loved her unconditionally, and that it was a love that was definitely returned.