Beloved Riser

We are mourning the loss of our dear, sweet pet of 14-1/2 years, Riser. If what is said about “dog” years is right, then he was 101-1/2 years old!

I’ve come to the conclusion that animals, particularly the ones we love as pets, enrich our lives much more than, perhaps, we enrich theirs. Pets make us better people. Now, as I wander around the house or the yard, I remember his presence in various spots, including some of his favorite spots, the way he would hold his head, or how he would come up and lay his slobbery muzzle on the knees of my pants if I was sitting down. How I long for that slobbery muzzle now so I could pet the top of his head and tell him how much I love him. I remember how when he knew it was time to eat,  he would stand at the door waiting for me to let him out, and if I took too long preparing his food, he would look back at me like, “What’s taking you so long?” I’d say to him, “I know, I know.  I’m slow.  I’m coming.” How I long for those little moments.

I was reading in the Bible recently, I can’t remember which book, where it talks about how God didn’t give the ostrich “understanding”.  And while I know that Riser didn’t really understand what I was saying, I think he certainly could understand the tone in my voice.  I think they can sense caring, too.  I don’t really know at what level, but I think he knew we cared for him, certainly his physical needs, but perhaps at a deeper level, too?  I don’t know.  The Bible also says God cares for the sparrow that falls.  How much more for a beloved pet?

Thankfully, he was relatively healthy his entire life and didn’t have to deal with the big things, like cancer.  Early in his life when we would go for walks he would pull constantly.  Then, about 7 years ago when arthritis started to affect my mobility, it was difficult for me to take him on walks because of the pulling. Then, as arthritis set in for Riser,  he started to slow down, and in the last few months, I was even walking ahead of him at times. We were buddies and we’d often “chat” lately about how it’s tough getting older.

No–and I even hesitate to say this–but he wasn’t perfect. He used to jump up on people all the time when he was younger, which was kind of cute when he was a puppy. But when he was 70 pounds and he outweighed many of my daughter’s friends when she was young, it wasn’t so cute.  We spent many years trying to teach him not to jump up, and eventually he got better about it. He used to eat everything, too. He ate entire loaves of sourdough bread, rolls of paper towels, paper plates, socks, along with more unsavory things, some of which made him sick, and which one time led to him having to have surgery to remove an obstruction from his stomach.

It is the journey, I think. The journey through life, if you’re lucky, with a beloved pet. My daughter says he was with her for 2/3rds of her life.  He was with us through the second half of our marriage, currently at 29 years, and about  1/4 of my life.  It’s not the numbers, though.  It’s the time we spent with him. And I spent a lot of time with him. There were the “mundane” things: feeding him, being outside with him, giving him his eye medicine, giving him treats, picking up after him so he wouldn’t eat, oh, you know, something he shouldn’t. But there was also watching tv with him and having him keep putting his head under one hand or the other so we’d continue petting him. His smile.  (Yes, he smiled!) Walking with him. Cooking dinner with him under my feet expectantly waiting for something to fall to the floor. How good he smelled after a bath.  How he would jump in the pool with us if we were in it.  How he didn’t like the rain or going outside in bad weather. How he only barked his deep, rich barrel-chested bark on rare occasions. How, when we were grieving over a loss, he was the unconditional listener. How “fetch” to Riser was getting the toy and then keeping it away from us. His favorite spots where he liked us to scratch him. How unique and distinctive the red tone to his fur was and how people would often remark about it. How he couldn’t get close enough to us and would lean on us like he was going to melt into us. There are a million other little moments and memories of Riser that I will treasure.

When we were at the vet’s office, I expressed the thought that I didn’t know if it was Biblical, but I wondered if we would see our pets in heaven. Riser’s veterinarian, who took care of him his entire life and who is a Christian, expressed that C.S. Lewis thought we would. I found comfort in that.  I looked up a few things online on the subject, and I saw a number of commentaries on it. The bottom line is there is nothing in the Bible that specifically speaks to it, but some theologians feel there are passages that can be cobbled together that would indicate that we will. One of the things that speaks to me is that God knows the longings in our hearts.  And yes, I long to see our Riser again. Of course, it goes without saying that I long to see the believers and family members who have passed before me, but yes, I also want to see Riser, give him a big bear hug and bury my head in his fur again.  And yes, see him smile.

I love you, Riser.  I will miss you terribly.

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