The Power of the Dog
By Isabel Klee
When I was five, I pretended to be a dog.
I’m talking drinking out of bowls, walking on all fours, and barking like a lunatic. And this wasn’t just for a few hours, or even for a day – this went on day after day, week after week, until my preschool teacher called my parents. “Please, just get this girl a dog,” she pleaded. My plan worked. A few weeks later, we got Ruby – a perfect, beautiful, immaculate, pristine Golden Retriever puppy. She was eight-weeks-old and easily the best thing that had ever happened in my five years of life.
Ruby was my protector. My babysitter. My gentle guardian. My best friend. She had an energy about her, something otherworldly, something you could never quite put your finger on. She was powerful but humble, gentle but strong. We’d let her outside without a leash and without a gate, free to roam and experience the world on her own. Sometimes she’d walk into town, or up Floods Hill, or into the neighbor’s house around the corner. We’d get calls from people all the time. “Just wanted you to know that Ruby’s over again,” they’d say. She was known by all. She was respected by all. But, more than anything, Ruby just knew.
Every Sunday my grandmother would come to dinner at our house.
And she knew not to leave her side, not even for a minute. She also knew when that same grandmother passed away, down to the very second, when she barked to be let outside in the middle of the night to howl at the moon. She knew when her best friend, Sophie, another Golden Retriever, also passed away, running from our house in the valley to their house on the other side of town, desperate to say goodbye.
"But, thankfully, accidentally, she had also shown me the power of The Dog."
Ruby herself passed away when she was 12. She had grown older, her dark red fur decorated with white, and so had I.
I was 17 and going through teenager stuff – boy problems, school, the unfamiliar terrain of my own body – and certainly didn’t give her the attention that I used to.
But sometimes I’d come home from school to see her laying on our blue-shag carpet in the living room. Her tail would thump but she wouldn’t get up – her joints ached and her hips were creaky – so I’d drop my bag to crawl down to her, rubbing my face in her sweet, soft fur. We’d hold each other, just like that, and I knew she understood.
The night she died was like every other night – my parents and I ate dinner while Ruby played with her toys in the other room. It was almost like she did it to entertain us, throwing her toys in the air with glee, and it made us laugh and laugh and laugh. Then, when she was done, she went to lay down in the doorway right between the dining room and the kitchen. The spot that was the most inconvenient for us, that we’d cursed at her 100 times for choosing that exact spot. And yet, it was her spot.
The perfect spot to say goodbye.
Her breathing grew heavy, her lungs rising and collapsing in big gulps. We looked at each other and gathered around her without saying a word. We all knew. I held her, face to face, like we’d done so many times before, and let tears silently fall onto the floor. I told her I loved her. I kissed her forehead. I scratched her behind her ears. I couldn’t watch any longer than that. I sat on the stairs and cried as my parents coaxed her through her final moments.
It was then that I realized – losing Ruby would be the first of many great heartbreaks in my life. But, thankfully, accidentally, she had also shown me the power of The Dog. Of unconditional love, of blind optimism. Of living and loving and losing and having it all be worth it.
I was in college when I first came across The Dogist. It was in the midst of my biannual end-of-semester panic attack, and, like a godsend, my friend told me to look at this instagram page. “You’re going to love it,” he said. “Trust me.” And, man, was he right.
I spent the next several hours going through every post, awww-ing at every dog, until my stress had finally subsided. I was hooked. I was enamored. I was a full-blown fan-girl. This love continued day after day for the next few months – my friends slowly grew tired of me asking if they’d seen the dog on The Dogist that day, but I didn’t care. I was nearing the end of my college career and felt completely and utterly lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, who I wanted to be. And this was the one thing that made my days just a little bit easier to handle.
Then, I saw the Instagram post that changed everything.
The Dogist is hiring! If you love dogs and want to help The Dogist chase them down, apply at… I was already running for my computer. I attached my resume to the email and sloppily typed up a cover letter right then and there. I made a decision at that moment: this was the only job I was going to apply for. I needed the stakes to be high. I needed this to be my only option.
A few weeks later, I made it past the first round. Then, I made it past the second round. After I made it past the interview round, it started to feel real. Then came the final test: Elias invited me to come shoot with him for a day. It was pouring rain and especially cold for a March morning, yet I had never been so excited for anything in my life. The very first dog we stopped was a Bernese Mountain Dog in a bright yellow raincoat named Memphis. I was in love.
Elias and I continued to walk around and talk. For someone so accomplished he was surprisingly down to earth, never giving away a hint of arrogance or entitlement. He was just a guy that genuinely loved dogs, and loved to take pictures of them. And, as I was quickly learning, those dogs genuinely loved him back.
But there was a single, solidifying moment that connected the two of us. He told me that he always had dogs growing up, but there was one dog that was special to him. That always stood out. That had a special place in his heart.
Her name was Ruby.
A few days later I got a call from Elias in the middle of class. Without explaining myself, I ran out into the hallway. He told me I had gotten the job. He also told me that I had beaten out over 700 people for the position. I couldn’t handle my excitement as I walked back into class. “I just got my dream job!” I yelled, and my professor squealed and hugged me.
I’ve worked at The Dogist for over two years now. People ask me all the time if I have the best job in the world, and the answer is yes. Ruby showed me first hand the power of the dog – now, I am shown that power most days of the week.
Every person we meet has a story. Every dog we meet has a story. We are just the lucky ones that get to hear them.
We’ve met guide dogs for the blind, service dogs for veterans, dogs being raised in prisons, dogs that have been saved and rehabilitated from dog fighting, therapy dogs for cancer patients, rescue dogs from puppy mills, sheep herding dogs, Puerto Rican street dogs, police dogs – every kind of dog you can think of. Each story more profound than the next. Whenever anybody tells us that they have the best dog, we laugh.
“Everyone thinks they have the best dog,” Elias says. “And they’re all right.”
No day is the same at this job. And yet, just when we think we’ve seen it all, we meet a new dog that blows us away. That makes us stand back and say, yeah. This is why we do this. And that, quite simply, is the power of the dog. The power of Ruby and every dog that came before and after her.
The power that I am so happy to spread every single day. The power of this job.
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