Fall 2008 Newsletter

Casa Canine



Heart Dog

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

Among dog people, there is acknowledgment of certain special dogs with whom a person bonds more completely than with other canine companions. The dog is referred to as one's "heart dog." It is not that the others are loved less. They are loved and cherished to the fullest extent. What makes the relationship with a heart dog so special is that it is fully recognized by the dog as well as the person, an equal relationship of mutual admiration, respect and affection above all others.

Beautiful and beguiling Jasper is my heart dog. He recently lost his battle with kidney disease. As I wrote to my friends about Jasper's death and spoke of him as my heart dog, I received many responses with stories of their heart dogs and even one heart cat, among them - Einstein, Scrapper, Fifi, Nigel, Ernie, Bert, Holly and Zeke. "Yes," my friends wrote. "I know exactly what you mean."

How do we find our heart dogs or rather how do they find us? Why does it happen with some dogs and not others? What fosters this unique connection? I suspect that there are many different ways that we establish such relationships. For me, I believe it goes back to the first day of Jasper's life. Jasper was born at the greyhound rescue I have worked with for well over a decade. His sweet young mother was brought to the rescue pregnant at 18 months of age shortly before her puppies were due. Still a pup herself she was frightened and wary, her petite body round and swollen with life. Two weeks later, she delivered five healthy puppies, one of whom was Jasper. I was there that first day of his life. Jasper was so tiny! His white and brown puppy self fit on the palm of my hand. I touched his soft baby fur and felt the connection. So began an amazing eleven and a half year adventure.

Fourteen wonderful dogs have shared my life so far. As with parents and children, there are no favorites. I rejoice with each new dog that enters our family, and grieve when each departs from this life. But Jasper is my one true heart dog. He chose to bond with me above all others; the connection was mutual, reciprocal. It is a unique meshing across species of two personalities, two souls and two minds.

Jasper's death was more difficult for me than previous losses. I hadn't anticipated this until the end was imminent. He was very ill and let me know that he was weary of the struggle and ready to be relieved of his pain. Though I understood and helped him to a peaceful end, I could not imagine life without him. The hours waiting for the veterinarian to arrive that day were among the most painful of my life. Perhaps the depth of my grief is a consequence of our "heart" bond. His absence is palpable. I miss him terribly. He is gone and he took a part of my heart with him. But I know I will eventually recover. I treasure the years I had with Jasper. No matter how hard the pain is right now, I would do it again a thousand times over. In due course, another greyhound will join our family and we will start a new journey together - a fitting tribute to my beloved heart dog.

This column is dedicated to Jasper,
in celebration of heart dogs (and cats) everywhere.


Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator. She shares her home in Cerrillos with her husband, dogs and horses.

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