My dog died the day after Christmas in 2016, his last full day of life on Earth. He was 17, a "Westie-Something-Something," cotton-white and very fluffy, kind of like a small walking cloud but well-groomed.
His name was Homer: after not the great blind poet from antiquity but the incompetent nuclear power plant manager from The Simpsons.
The name fit his goofy personality. Despite his modest size, Homer always seemed under the impression he was much bigger. He'd bark at strangers, but then run in the other direction the moment they moved closer to him. He had all the makings of a great guard dog, except he was not actually useful. Homer also loved to insert himself into conversations. And any time he saw a group of three or more people in a bunch, he'd make himself a part of the group, squeezing in between a couple of people's legs, as if he had something essential to hear and to contribute as well.
Since Dec. 26, 2016, memories like this flash through my head constantly. That morning, my mom woke me up and told me blankly, "Homer is dying." Her eyes were watery and a little red. I felt my pulse rocket upward as I followed her out. Homer was half-conscious, still trying to shake off what looked like a morning seizure.
For the first 30 minutes, I was in denial. I told my mom that I'd seen him shake from time to time before, and this was nothing more than that. But denial gave way to reality. Homer's eyes wouldn't open much, no matter how much we gently poked at him. And human tears have a way of telling you the truth about what you really know but don't want to acknowledge. They started flowing, and I knew Homer was really dying.
Why do I - and so many dog and pet owners like me - grieve over the Homers of the world the way we do? Why do we see them as our best friends, as family members, as "people" whom we love as much and no less than our closest human companions? It's a question that's confounded the pens of Jane Goodall, E.B. White, John Steinbeck and so many others who have meditated on the pet-human relationship.
My own modest contribution to all this? For me, "there's more serious stuff going on," or "they're not human," are precisely the reasons we grieve so much. Our bonds with our pets are our mental sanctuaries.
Homer was my refuge: my reminder that however much pettiness, betrayal or bad faith that I - or people around me - might exhibit from time to time, there is such a thing as basic goodness. It emanated from him in episodes like all those silly moments that raced through my head in his final hour.
That's how I accept the depth of my feelings for my deceased dog. He was just always there. He spent so much time looking after me - without even knowing it - that I returned the favour, even after he passed.