My First Dog, Sonny
by Eleanor Wittrup Sochacki
(Valley Springs, CA, USA)
Sonny ready to go
I don't know anything about his early life, except that it left him with scars. A big one on his leg, and a couple of little ones other places. I found him on Pacific Avenue (a busy street) following a pickup truck, which I thought showed poor enough judgment that he could not be left to take care of himself.
He happily let me put a chain and leash on him (I always carried one with me in those days) and then I tried to find out who he belonged to. As it turned out, he belonged to me, a fact that only I, at that point, was unclear about. He didn't know much when we met. He could sit, and sort of walk on a leash. He didn't know how to get along with other dogs. I called him "Son" because that is what cowboys call dogs, and I didn't intend to keep him. By the time I realized he was mine it stuck, and so Sonny he became.
He loved me. I don't know why. But for him, I was IT. So now that he's died, it is like a part of me is gone too. I knew he was that firmly attached to me, but I didn't realize it went the other way as well. Dumb, huh? I've had cats all my life, and I've put down two of my three horses. I went into shock after my horse Michael died, although that was not at all unexpected.
Sonny's cancer came on fast and furious, and by the time we realized there was a problem it was too late. And now, I just feel beaten and bruised. Heartsick is a word I now understand. It is like a great gaping hole in my chest. Sonny is gone. Of course he would not leave me. I had to put him down. Not that there was a choice, he was so miserable, it wasn't fair to keep him a moment longer.
But who knew it would hurt so much once he was dead and buried? I am good at death, and acceptance and all that. My best human friend died of cancer, and my house-mate/cousin had before that. It was not like this. This is worse. It hurts more.
He wanted dog friends, and he got them. He was the alpha dog of our dogs when he died, with two exuberant younger dogs to keep in line. He inherited that position from Bubba, a remarkable dog himself, who, with the help of our neighbor dog Sally, retrained Sonny and taught him to be a good and noble dog. They taught him manners, self reliance and duty. I don't know how they explained these things to him, but he was not the same after they retrained him.
Oh, he still danced when I brought out the leash or his dinner, he'd twirl around and bark (no small feat for a stocky 85 pound pit/retriever mix!) and he loved to retrieve squeaky toys, but he never let me out of his sight on the trail, or slept more than ten feet away from me (outside the house) voluntarily, or let me walk off our property unaccompanied.
He was a gentle and friendly dog to his own, and a ruthless killer of possums. He didn't have much use for strays, and always escorted them off our property. He liked one of the cats, and was aloof to the others. He slept harder than any animal I've ever known.
Sonny was my dog. He listened to me first and foremost, and made my wishes his. He was polite and even affectionate to my husband and daughter, but my attention was what was most important to him. Wholehearted is what he was about me. Maybe that is why he seems to have taken a big hunk of mine with him.
Sonny was my first dog. I found him when I was forty. That is late, I think, to get your first dog. I am surprised to discover a new breed of grief with his passing. It hurts with remarkable depth and persistence. It is, as the buddhist teachers say, a very advanced practice.