my dog's heart

The first time Terence, Chaucer and I went for an Epic Walk together, I was less than impressed by his performance. Terence's, I mean. He walked too slow, for one thing, ambling and distracted by the sights. He didn't hold the leash correctly when I passed it off. And worst of all, he complained about a bit of drool Chaucer got on his pants. You do not complain about Chaucer drool when you are trying to impress Ellie, oh no you do not.

Terence had gone on short walks with us together before that, but this was his first Epic Walk. EW's are serious business around here. Up through the financial district, a fetch session at the John Ferraro Building, then down through the park to socialize in the dog play area before heading home. Sometimes we add in stops at Walt Disney Hall or the pool at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. All of it sacred space for Chaucer and I, a long-established, much treasured path we've perfected in our years downtown - years during which Chaucer saw me through a divorce, the deaths of both parents, a handful of breakups (romantic or otherwise), a broken foot, dry socket, and a host of depressive episodes. The least I can do for him is give him a nice, long, stimulating and tiring walk, whenever I have the time. Hence were born Epic Walks - my dogspeak thank you for seven years of constant companionship.

Then Terence came along and screwed everything up by making us both fall in love with him.

Chaucer didn't make it easy, in the beginning. Doleful stares from the side of the bed, inches from our faces. His expression clear: I don't know about you, buddy. I don't know about you at all. It can't have been easy to break into the space between me and my dog, I know that. It is very, very narrow, that space. Even on my worst days, when I'm at my lowest and most withdrawn, I still have endless cuddles and kisses and affection for Chaucer - and he is the only creature on this planet who can make that claim. I love my dog with a fierceness that is knowable only to those who have experienced grief. One part terror of losing yet another thing. One part knowing that loss is inevitable. All parts soaking up each minute with him gratefully. So, so gratefully.

But in spite of how intimidating my attachment to Chaucer may have been, Terence opened his heart to him - all 130lbs of him. He came to know and accept Chaucer's quirks and challenges, and to even find the humor and joy in them. He learned Chaucer's schedule, got familiar with his needs, and started helping me with the daily chores of dog ownership. He was endlessly patient with me as I insisted on the particular, precise ways in which things needed to be done for Chaucer, because I am a pain in the ass but also because I want my dog to have stability and routine, so he feels relaxed and comfortable. Slowly Terence took on a greater role in Chaucer's care until one day I realized that he's got it. I never have to worry when I'm not around. My dog will always be fed, walked, safe, and loved. For his part, Chaucer fell as fast as I did. He grew to trust the man in our life, who was gentle and calm and never raised his voice. Add in tug-o-war and treats, affection and attention...and Chaucer's trust soon turned into love.

None of this was expected. I've always firmly believed: my dog, my responsibility. I'd come to accept that messy Mastiffs are not for everyone. And I honestly would have been happy had Terence just tolerated the very big place that Chaucer takes up in my home and in my heart. The fact that the two of them have moved far past friendship is a thing I never would have dreamed of.

We have our own secret language, the three of us. Silly voices that no outsider will ever hear. Inside jokes and memes and made-up songs and references some of which are a year deep. All the things we express to one another wordlessly. Cuddling in a heap on the floor, on the bed, weekend mornings or movie nights. Our hands touching as we stroke his broad, soft back. It's hard for me to use the f-word, so much invisible and implied weight attached to it. But when we're all laying together like that, it feels more like an f-word than I've felt in a long, long time.

Loving Chaucer is loving me by extension. And every bit of love that Terence pours onto my dog I feel my heart swell with twice as much to give him in return. The kindness with which he treats Chaucer - and the bond that the two of them have formed - have secured Terence a place in my heart more sure and meaningful than any vow I could utter. I used to say that the way to my heart was through my funny bone. And it was, back in the day. But that was before Chaucer padded into my life. Now I know without a doubt that the way to my heart is through my dog's heart.

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Recently, Epic Walks had to come to an end. Chaucer just isn't up to the hills anymore. It broke my heart to have to give up our beloved path, through the quiet and stillness of the banking towers. But we readjusted and struck a new course through the middle of town instead. Then, a few days ago, Terence had a thought: what if we bypass the hills and take elevators up through the lower levels of the US Bank Building instead? I wasn't sure if we could get high enough, but Terence assured me we could. So we tried it. And yep, we can. We can get back to the same area we used to - wide open sidewalks and grassy areas for roaming; no steep hills to challenge Chaucer's aging hips.

Terence saved Epic Walks. And in doing so, he gave something back to me the value of which I don't know how to make him understand. Except by maybe writing this post.