By Janice Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen, June 4 2011

Every now and then, that tiny microcosm that is our personal space in this world stops dead in its tracks. And everything else -politics, world events, even rip-roaring Stanley Cup finals -fades for a bit. So it was for me this week in the loss of my pal Molly, the sweet yellow Lab who was less dog than cherished family member for the last 13-plus years. She died on Monday, as gently and peacefully as we could have hoped, thanks to the professionalism of a skilled and sensitive young vet. And while Molly’s departure means nothing to the larger world, it means the world to my family and me. Which testifies to the beauty and disturbingly deep grace of pets in human lives. Some people should stop reading right here.

This column -the first without my “secretary” Molly stretched out behind me on the floor of my home office, waiting for me to reach back and give her one of her hundred daily ruffles -is really for pet people. Non-pet people, who will find it clichéd, cannot know the truth pet people have always known: that teary farewells to beloved animals are unapologetic-ally clichéd -because love is clichéd. And we do love our pets. We love them so much that we even do the hardest thing of all, releasing them from the hurt that has finally become too much, the last months of increasingly crippling arthritis, the pain that no longer responds to medication.

When we had to do this for our previous dog, our vet suggested that it was a gift to be able to end beloved animals’ suffering, easing them gently into a final sleep. And it’s true. But it doesn’t feel much like a gift. It feels like loss and guilt and great emptiness. The house is unnaturally quiet now, devoid of that life that was always there, always waiting whenever we walked through the door. As one involved in the material and emotional mechanisms of dog ownership for nearly four decades, minus a few gaps between pooches, I’m finding a dog-less house an empty place indeed.

Molly’s sudden absence is so huge it’s palpable, measured on a scale of negatives. No more warm and constant companion in whatever room I’m in. No need to have that small piece of cheese waiting at lunchtime, those three tiny squares of toast in the morning, those little treats of dinnertime meat lovingly put aside. Molly no longer walks by my side in the nearby field she loved, searching for her dogie pals. No longer do we have to worry about her stealing socks and napkins, or poking around in visitors’ purses (“Labrador retriever” being a euphemism for “kleptomaniac”), looking to score breath mints, grocery lists or, if she was lucky, used Kleenex.

That old lady’s “oof” she made when she plopped down beside me is no longer a household sound. No longer can I expect that beautiful face to peek around some corner, checking my whereabouts. The absence of her face is the hardest thing. It still looked youthful – aged white fur masked by her natural blond-and-white – a perky looking face at odds with the cruel realities of her body’s advanced age. That made her leaving especially tough, as did her softness, her sweetness. She didn’t lack spirit – she was full of fun and mischief, especially in her youth – but there was never any malice in her, any meanness. There was simply an intensity of devoted love.

This is not something easily explained to those who have never lived with dogs, who doubt that animals behave in any way other than the generically instinctive. But here is the true (and instinctive) knowledge of dog owners: their pets’ devotion is a gloriously real thing, the gift of a Creator who was smiling the day he made dogs. Molly would have thrown herself in front of a truck for us or fought off the fiercest intruder. (OK, maybe not that, since she didn’t actually know what an intruder was. Everyone who came to our home, from visitors to furnace guys, was a potential new friend.) She had, yes, a generous heart. She had a big personality. For that, I owe my wonderful Molly more than the love that was so easy. I owe her memory respect, for what she was and what she brought to the world around her, never mind how small. People who have never shared their lives with pets will not comprehend this. I don’t expect them to understand the compelling spiritual validity of tributes to non-human creatures who have added to the world’s measure of joy. If those people have read this far, I suspect they are saying: “Oh come on, already. Get a grip. She was just a dog.” But she wasn’t.

Janice Kennedy writes here Saturdays. E-mail: 4janicekennedy@gmail. com © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com