Goodbye Dante

Today we say goodbye to our friend and family member Dante. Our hearts are absolutely broken.

Dante-with-stickIt is with great sadness that we mark the passing of our oldest boy, Dante.  Surrounded by myself and Lawrence, his brothers, and friends who came to say goodbye, he died peacefully at home and left the pain of his arthritis, wasting and cancer behind.

He came to us shortly after we got married and he was the first dog that was “ours” together.  We were living in Greenwich Village and it was an unusually warm Spring evening – so warm, in fact, that we decided that it was just too nice for a regular walk for Atticus so we decided to head over to the dog run in Tompkins Square Park.

We were going into the “airlock” gates of the dog run when a young woman came over to us and asked us if we wanted a dog.  Our apartment was too small for the two of us, Atticus, and our two cats, so the idea of a second dog was out of the question.

She, however, was persistent.  Just say hi to Goofy, she pleaded.  (Goofy was the original name she gave to Dante.)  Lawrence was insistent that we didn’t have the room and we wished her luck and walked past the woman, into the dog run, and over to one of the benches to sit down.

At one point while we were watching Atticus play Lawrence stooped down to tie his shoe.  Suddenly a large Shepherd mix bolted out of the group of dogs, bee-lined toward Lawrence, and stopped only to lick his face in a line of slobber that stretched from his chin to his forehead.  This strange dog then turned to Atticus and gave him a play bark that could have set off car alarms before licking me on the face, too, and darting back off into the play group.

We laughed about it, but then the dog kept coming back to us to check in before darting back out to play.  We noticed that Atticus was unusually friendly with our new visitor, which was very unlike him at the time.

After a while, the young woman we met at the entrance came over to us and asked what we thought of Goofy.  She told us that he had been wandering the streets of Brooklyn by a junkyard near to where she lived and had followed her husband home during a jog through the area.

She pleaded with us again to take Goofy as she didn’t have the room for him at her apartment and her own dog didn’t like the new visitor.  I was shocked when it was Lawrence who was talking me into taking him, but he insisted to the woman that it was only going to be for the weekend to give her some time to find a permanent home for him and to give her own dogs a break.

That weekend lasted from April of 1997 to today, as we both couldn’t bring ourselves to send him away by the end of our first weekend together.  The cats couldn’t make heads or tails of their new brother but Atticus was like a puppy again and blossomed by having a second dog in the apartment.  For us, Atticus sealed the deal but the name Goofy would have to go.

It took us a surprisingly long time to come up with a name, but it was Lawrence who came up with Dante.  From the looks of Dante at the time – severely malnourished, caked with dirt, and crawling with worms – it looked like he had been through Hell and back, hence the name.

For all the unpleasantness that Dante suffered before he came to us, we were amazed by just how none of it ever seemed to dampen his outgoing personality.  He seemed to fill whatever room he was in, going from person to person like a seasoned politician, and it quickly became obvious that he was born to be a therapy dog.

If dogs could have vocations, Dante’s was visiting as a therapy dog.  No matter how exhausting the visits were for us, he would always bounce up and down whenever he saw this Delta Society vest – even when it became clear to me he was past his prime.  His spirit was willing but his body had begun to wear out, and when he retired from therapy work he did so with well over 500 visits to his credit.

His senior years were happy and quiet for him, but in the last year the dog that had spent his life helping others needed more and more help from us.  When he was diagnosed with cancer we knew that his story was coming to a close but, being the dog that he was, we also knew that he would not ever leave willingly no matter the pain he was in.

Today we made the decision for him, and our hearts are broken.

All told, dogs ask very little of us.  They ask us for love, they ask us for patience and understanding, and for our mercy and bravery when their time comes.  And once they’re gone, they part with one final request:  to not let the pain of their loss stop us from someday filling the dog-shaped hole they leave in our lives with another canine soul.

Dante was a great friend and a hell of a dog, and while we will certainly honor his final request – for now the three dogs will be two until the time is right.