Learning about unconditional love

Published 11:41 pm Saturday, November 22, 2008

My heart is broken. I lost a good friend this week. We’d known each other for about eight years. He had just celebrated his ninth birthday — a time of year that meant many other anniversaries for the both of us.

The first time I saw Mac — short for Mackenzie — he was a couple of days old, the first-born male of a litter of seven pups. They all squirmed and wiggled around their mamma’s belly, sniffing and pushing for some sustenance from Maddie.

Maddie was a good mom. She nursed them all until she was so tired she’d drag herself away for a few minutes of a scratch behind the ears, a treat, a walk outside in the coolish Louisiana night air. Mac was the only one of the babies we kept. I barely remember the names of the others, each sent to a home after the adoptive parents were carefully vetted by Maddie’s owner.

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In those early days, Mac and his brother and sisters would crawl over me as I stretched out in the den floor just to see what they would do. They yelped a little bit in rusty puppy voices, not hearty enough to carry enough volume to wake the neighbors.

His black coat grew shaggy. He plopped in the bathtub for a bath and tried to scramble his way out. The water scared him. Sometimes, it took two of us to hold and coax him into becoming a pretty boy. The hair dryer proved even more daunting for Mac, who just didn’t like loud noises.

More than anything, Mackie Mac, as we took to calling him, loved to come up, rest his terrier looking head on a knee and turn those soulful brown eyes up at a human face.

Many times we rewarded the Mac look with a scratch behind the ears or a couple of pops on the chest, meaning he could rest his paws higher and even dare a kiss.

Mac was never really intrusive, except during thunderstorms, which terrified him. At the initial drop in barometric pressure, he’d begin to whine a little. If he was in his kennel, the whines grew louder. Once the kennel latch opened, Mac would make a mad dash for under the bed — or under the covers on top of the bed, if our sinuses allowed.

There were days when the newspaper stories grew intense or the days at work ran long and I groused about having a dog that couldn’t walk himself or feed himself or get water out of the toilet. He seemed not to mind my irritation. He’d curl up in a corner and turn up the charm with a doggie grin and a thump of the tail.

The last time I saw him, he rested his head on my knee and I scratched his head. He panted. I smiled and talked to him about taking the ball out in a pasture before long and tossing it to him. When Mac ran, he ran like a horse, cutting corners and zig-zagging back and forth. He looked like poetry in motion.

No more. Some motorist took that from him, from us last week. Mac escaped for a romp with Maddie. She came back. He didn’t.

Mac rests in a friend’s back yard.

I’ll likely never have a dog again. I can’t give them enough attention with the hours worked and the busy lifestyle.

But I’ll never forget my Mackie Mac — the unconditional love. My heart is broken, but I’ll smile right through it. Mac taught me that.