we said goodbye to our sweet boone on one of the hottest days of the summer so far. the car read 93 and we drove to the vet’s office with the ac blasting and all four windows down. in the backseat, kb stroked boone’s velveteen ears and he laid with his head on her lap, too tired to even pant. cancer found him suddenly and took him aggressively. in less than a month from his first vet’s visit, scheduled immediately when we saw his appetite dip, lymphoma spread to his whole body. his lungs began to fill with fluid and his breath grew labored. he would have stayed with us as long as he could have. in the end, we held him between us on the floor of the vet’s office. he wagged his tail once before falling asleep.
those of us who have known unconditional love from our friends or our families might not understand how life sustaining the love of a pet can be. i came to love boone through my partner. kathleen (kb) is estranged from her biological family, and in the process of estrangement, lost most of her closest friends. shortly after moving to baltimore to be with me, she suffered a traumatic brain injury from which it took years to recover. the impact of her injury, move, and estrangement meant that kb did not engage very much with the world for a few years. she underwent seismic changes in her life and daily landscape. the one constant in her life, her most reliable friend, her chosen and beloved family, was boone.
boone loved kathleen with an enthusiasm and ferocity i have rarely seen paralleled in humans. he loved her sick, he loved her well, he loved her attentive, he loved her depressed. he loved her when she suffered, and just the same when she celebrated. he never tired of being with her, and could happily spend hours resting on her chest, gazing into her brown eyes. when her own biological family made light of her injury and abandoned her over and over again, boone saved her life with his presence and constancy. when kathleen came home from her accident, boone never left her side. an energetic dog, he understood her need for gentle affection; he sat with her carefully, never jostling her, never whining. he never pushed for activity until he sensed her become stronger.
his behavior after the accident is just one example of the kind of love some of us are fortunate to know in humans. i have had this kind of unconditional love from members of my biological family, and members of my chosen family. but for kathleen, and for many queer people who have suffered profound emotional and physical traumas at the hands of other humans, boone’s love was a revelation. here was someone whose fealty and affection never wavered, never hinged on her usefulness, her sociability, her capacity to “get over it.” boone didn’t care if kathleen was in a dark mood, or if her sadness filled the room. he didn’t mind that she was often shy in new social situations, or that her own history gave her short patience for superficial interactions, or inconsistent and inconsiderate people. he took her as is, always. with no stipulation for change, no hoops. he loved her wholly.
boone loved her (and me) in ways that were profound and simple. when i would leave town, which i do often and for great stretches of time, either for work or to tend to my own ailing family member, kb and i were both comforted by the presence of boone. he took care of her. she took care of him. together, neither was truly alone. when i would come home, he’d squeal with excitement and bring me his favorite toy. he came to love me because she loved me. and he took care of our family in so many ways. he was the dog in charge when kb and i left the house. he made it possible for us to sleep when our home was targeted by a neighborhood menace who’d break the windows and vandalize the house. we trusted him to tell us if something was wrong, or if someone had grown brazen enough to threaten our home’s interior as he did the exterior. boone restored our capacity to walk around the neighborhood after someone attempted arson on our car. boone became our meter of safety, our first line of comfort.
boone was also amazing with other animals. he moved into my and kb’s first shared home shortly after my cat, finn, became sick. the first night boone lived with us, finn projectile vomited onto boone’s head. boone did nothing. he just looked at kb, as if to say “this is what we’re doing now?” and waited for us to clean him up. after finn died, boone worked hard to gain my other cat’s trust. lolita, a spaz at the best of times, was terrified of such a big animal. she hid when he was around. but he never chased her, never pestered her. often he would be sleeping and she would come to sniff him. he would lay there, even as he woke up, to let her get her bearings. when we introduced kb’s cats to the house after finn died, they were less tolerant of lolita’s boundaries. they chased her around the house, cornered her, even after years of separation and attempted acclimation. boone took her side. when they would get too close, or he would sense her starting to panic, he would give a stressed little yelp to tell us Something Was About to Go Down. in time, lolita trusted him more than the other cats, or us. when he was dying, she would follow him from room to room, sleep nearby. he was the only other animal in the house with whom she would share a bed. sometimes we would walk boone and other dogs would invade his space, nip his bottom, and generally be very annoying and potentially unsafe. boone never retaliated, never got agitated. he would look at us for guidance, and we’d all walk away unscathed. at a recent vet visit, a very enthusiastic dog slobbered all over him, and he just got up and moved to the other side of my chair.
i could go on for days like this, telling stories about my exceptional dog (as i expect many pet owners could). instead here is a list of some of boone’s happiest things: kathleen, pizza, tennis balls and big parks, smells, walks, lake michigan, camping, sticks of all sizes, hot dogs, raw eggs, soft plush toys with tails, rope toys, yogurt, peanut butter, the tv show “i love new york,” the film “muppet christmas carol,” cat food, cat poop, sleeping on the bed, sleeping on the couch, sleeping on kathleen, chest rubs, belly rubs, hiking, apples, lolita, me. he did not like: being left, people touching his paws, the atlantic.
today the house feels empty without him. he is everywhere and nowhere. i spend the morning collecting his things and putting them into storage. i cry every time i find something else i forgot on the first pass. it is easy to put away the bottles of medication, the subcutaneous fluid drip. it is harder to wash his bed, gather his toys. i know what we should do with all this food but i can’t do it yet. i sweep the floors and collect piles of his fur. the blond strands weave into every fabric available. my mind cycles through the images of this life we shared. boone chomping at lake michigan, perking his ears up for pizza, nestling between me and kb on the bed, folding his front paws over one another, looking very dignified with his victorian jowl collar, looking very undignified covered in backyard dirt, puffing his cheeks in confusion. the time we tried to get him to use a kiddie pool on a hot summer day. the times i shoved my feet under his butt in winter. when he was *over* car trips and climbed into the front seat while we used the rest stop. when he would sneak unattended food. when he thought he was sneaking and moved like a villain in a pink panther cartoon. all these portraits of love, crystal clear and heartbreaking.
beyond all this, all that’s left to say is: yesterday we said goodbye to our dog. he loved us, and he was beloved. i am grateful for everything he gave me and for all the joy he brought to our family. i am grateful that he was my family, and that he cared for kathleen so well for so long. i miss him already. i hope i can carry these memories and his love with me for always.