Loyal, honest, caring. A friend when you need one. With the continuing anthropmorphisation of cars that you see in many car advertisements, this could well be a slogan for the new Volvo XC60. It’s not though. It’s what my first dog was to me and what my current dogs are to me (well, one of them. The other one is just a lazy sod. Literally does nothing all day. It just expects to be stroked all the time, and I usually comply and stroke it until it is finally satisfied. And then when I’m done masturbating I go and pet the dog).
Even though it’s been five years since my first dog died, it’s still a bit upsetting to think about. It still has to potential to make my eyes watery. I hope this doesn’t make me come across as insensitive, but the grief following the death of my first dog was undoubtedly a lot worse than when my grandparents passed away. I think the reason why this is so is because I saw my grandparents maybe once a month, as opposed to my dog, who I interacted with every single day. Besides, my grandparents never jumped on my lap and licked my ears when I was upset and needed consoling. On the other hand, it is also true that I never had to pick up my grandparents’ shit (well, there was that one time…). Still, picking up chocolate hot dogs is a comparatively small price to pay considering the unique friendship you get. And once I’d had the ingenious idea of using a plastic bad instead of my bare hands, picking up my dog’s shit really wasn’t all that bad anymore.
The death of my first dog marks the moment in my life in which I started to become interested in grief. When someone close to you dies, particularly someone so close to you that you see your relationship with them almost as part of your own identity, then there is a set of questions that your mind demands to have answered. However, for most of these questions, no satisfying answer can be found. This, among other things, leaves us grieving. And what do we do with our grief? Where do we look for relief? Believe it or not but questions like these were very much of primary concern for the philosophers in Ancient Greece, most of whom believed that grief is something that we can at least vaguely control. The principal aim of Stoicism, for example, is to rid oneself of bad emotions so that only the good ones remain, thereby facilitating the achievement of tranquillity, a state of undisturbed calmness. At first glance, this may seem all well and good, but the simplicity of this philosophy and its underlying flaws are easily uncovered. Have you ever felt bittersweet about something? I have and I’m sure you have too. Would you qualify this as a good or a bad emotion? I would say there is no right answer to this question because bittersweet is by definition both good and bad, which paradoxically makes it neither.
What I’m trying to get at is that although, yet again, this may seem insensitive to some, I think there is a silver lining in the passing of a close friend, at least in the long term. It makes you appreciate how fucking lucky you were to have had him or her be part of your life in the first place. It becomes painfully obvious how meaningful someone has been to you. In the words of beloved South Park character Butters (talking about the incredible sadness following a breakup): “It makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. The only way I can feel this sad is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. I guess what I’m feeling is like a beautiful sadness.”
There is one shared moment in particular between me and my dog that I remember very fondly. It always crosses my mind when I think about her. I think it was the winter of 2002. Long story short, my family and I were sledging and I had a very minor accident. As soon as I had hit the bushes after losing control and falling out of my sledge (it was one of those race car looking plastic ones), my dog came sprinting down the hill towards me to check if I was all right and then licked my face. I was incredibly moved by this. It was such a uniquely beautiful moment in my life because for the first time I came to really understand that what I had with my dog was genuine friendship. She seemed to care for and about me like I cared for and about her.
As you can tell by the illustration accompanying this article, my first dog was a Dalmatian. Her name was Jessie. Well, Jessie is what we called her. Her actual, official pedigree name was Xanthippe. Intrigued by the name, I decided to google it and learned that Xanthippe was in fact the better half of Socrates. I must have been about seven years old when we got Jessie. And now here’s twenty-two-year-old me studying philosophy at university. Fate or coincidence? (Hint: Coincidence. The correct answer is coincidence.)
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