If you’ve ever owned a dog, then you probably know the feeling of walking out into the backyard early one morning with a shovel in hand to say farewell to a friend. I’ve done this a few times in life.
The first time was with a cocker spaniel that my dad playfully named “Chika.” She was my childhood dog, and she lived with our family through it all.
Once while living in Long Beach, California, an oil refinery across the street caught fire and our entire neighborhood was forcefully evacuated to a nearby shelter. We had been away the entire afternoon. By the time we returned, the police had already barricaded our street. Once we got settled into the shelter, my sister and I realized that Chika was still in the house, frightened and trapped. Ironically, we too were alone. As is a sailor’s life, our dad was out to sea. As my sister and I sat there with tears settling on our faces, my mother had a difficult decision to make. Stay here where it’s safe or risk the unknown and dangerous trek back home to rescue our family dog? One look at us and she knew what she had to do. We all piled in and sped toward Navy housing and the burning oil refinery. We reached the police barricade. “Ma’am, you can’t go in there,” the officer politely but confidently explained. “I know, but we just need 10 minutes,” my mom responded. And before the officer could argue, she hit the gas pedal and pulled past the barricade. The car screeched to a stop. “Kids don’t move.” And in less than a minute, she was back with Chika.
I’m sure looking back, there was some risk calculation involved when my mom decided to make a run for it to rescue the family dog. But in that moment, my mom was my hero. She was our protector and nothing was too scary or too dangerous to stop her.
When Chika died 13 years later, my mom waited patiently for me to come home from school before doing anything. She grabbed my hand, walked me out to the garage and told me it was time to say goodbye. I spent the entire night in the garage building a casket for her. I wanted to bury her alone.
As a boy I learned a lot from Chika, like loyalty and how to care for something. But most importantly, she taught me about unconditional love.
As a man, we lose those life lessons from time to time. And that’s why I always try to keep a dog in my life.