Sleepy but panting, Gunshy’s brindle head was in my lap when my dad was handed his lab report on Sunday. He didn’t say anything while reading it, but his face flushed red and tears rushed down his cheeks. And that was that. A few days earlier, Gunshy had been chasing squirrels in the backyard. Now, his liver had shut down, and his kidneys were on their way out too.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a veterinarian who is emotionally invested in their dog’s life, but perhaps fewer are lucky enough to have a creature in their life so committed to making life easier on everyone. From the swift finality of his last illness – with
no extended suffering or difficult decisions to make – to his deep love of following the rules, Gunshy lived simply, even as the world around him was steeped in complexity.
Really though, the world around him was only as complicated as the humans in Gunshy’s life made it. We’re often told that life just is complicated; that love is bound to strife, great careers require sacrifice, and ideals eventually crumble. We use these ideas to justify why relationships are unsatisfying, why we settled for the road more travelled, or why we’re just not happy that often. Because life is complicated.
Gunshy spent nine years quietly confounding that notion. He wanted to play when someone else wanted to play; he was happy to nap the rest of the time. He didn’t really need a leash, because where else would he want to be but with his pack? He could scare off potential intruders, but smiled at everyone who walked in the door. Gunshy was never in the other room eating a tennis ball (which is actually what Lois is doing right now), and he never chewed up a single human belonging.
Gunshy was so well-behaved, that even when he started to become incontinent in the days before his death, we hardly would have known had we not caught him desperately trying to clean up after himself. He never wanted to be bad; he was gentle and smiley and always polite. He was just a good dog.
For me, Gunshy was a touchstone with simplicity and happiness during a decade in which I nearly lost myself in unnecessary complexity. I made poor decisions, I took wrong turns. Gunshy was there for all of them, making the fallout easier, being my bright side, always reminding me that I was doing at least one thing right.
If only he’d been more demanding, less unassuming in his ways, maybe I would have learned to take a cue from Gunshy earlier. But being the sweet boy he was, he let me learn on my own. Last week, had I thought to do so, I could have looked around my wonderfully simple life – at my job, which is what I always dreamed
it could be; at my husband, who makes love easy and joyful – and said to Gunshy, “Seriously buddy, you were right all along. Life is really better like this.”
Gunshy loved his mom, eating grass, and peeing on flowers. He especially loved licking things. Oh, how Gunshy loved licking things. He was deeply afraid of cords and large cardboard boxes, and had a complex relationship with the smell of Sharpies. He had but one enemy, the vacuum. Though he never technically won a battle with the vacuum, I was also never eaten by the vacuum – which was his main concern, after all – so I think we can call it a draw.
The most simple thing about Gunshy is how everyone simply loved him. Everyone. If there is one way we can keep the memory of my little old man alive forever, it’s by remembering how easy he was to love, and making the world an easier place to be for those we love too.