Old Dogs and Falling Leaves

I opened the door and she was sitting there. She was young and full of mischief and energy. She ran strong and loud and I named her Harley. Harley Anne.

Harley was the worst puppy I ever had. She ate shoes and toothbrushes, hoses and the wires inside the lawnmower. She dug holes and escaped yards. She was a whirlwind of destruction. Sweet, loving destruction.

Harley was the best dog I ever had. She was a gentle giant and stood by me through the growing pains that got me here. Her love was constant and unflinching, even when it should not have been.

She made me a better man. She taught me responsibility when I thought I already knew it. She taught me that it was almost always better to forgive than to fight. She calmed me when I was angry and soothed me when I was sad. I am a man of many edges and she kept me from growing too sharp.

She cared for my sons like some fictional dog from a storybook. She showed them patience when I had none. She was both their protector and their pillow. My boys have never known a day without her.

She was sixteen. She couldn’t run or whirl or destroy anything more than the carpet beneath her. She was too frail to protect and too tender to rest a head upon. She was tired.

Despite the loss of muscle and the growing amount of lumps upon her chest she never showed signs of pain, only sighs of frustration at a body that quit before she did.

Yesterday she whimpered non-stop.

Neighbors stopped by to check on her. Dogs stood at the gate and gazed upon her. I sent the boys out to play and I sat with my old dog. Her breathing grew labored, her eyes distant. She died in my arms, no longer young or strong, but old and tired and leaving a life well-lived. A life well-loved.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Her legacy is a tribute to her. Everyone that met her left a little happier than they came. My sadness is tempered in this solace. My loneliness finds comfort there.

Today I will stand beneath a grove of trees surrounded by friends and neighbors. I will place my dog in a hole in the ground – one that she would be proud of, and I will say goodbye. She will rest there forever, beneath falling leaves and drops of rain, and the occasional tear when memories lead me there.

Rest well, Harley Anne.

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