My friend Hilary had to say goodbye to her beloved friend, Star.
Star, a Bernese Mountain Dog, was a purebred canine supermodel: She had perfect hair with a face that launched a thousand barks. A dog with exquisite features but, as with many beautiful creatures, was still pretty human.
She wasn't easy. Star guarded Hil's property powered by protective instincts and a hearty dose of anxiety. It was hard to tell what Star was thinking. She loved Hil. She tolerated guests. Kind of. She was, as Jackson Browne wrote, "alone into her distance, she was deep into her well."
As I thought about her passing, I considered pets like Star. The dogs who aren't perfect. Who confound owners. The dogs who are so hard to understand, often because their pasts were unknown. And even if we were privy to knowing their secrets, we might not know how to manage the trauma.
Sometimes it's impossible to find the key to their comfort.
We love our perfect dogs. The ones who bark to go out, who sit and stay, who nearly intuit what we want from them. We love when they're an integral part of the family. Kind of like children, it's easy to love the ones who reflect us back in such a positive light.
But, oh Star just wasn't that easy.
As Hil said her goodbyes and helped Star move into the next world, I thought about our relationship with our canine companions, and how -- maybe -- can broaden our expectations. Yes, yes, consult the trainers. They train us too.
I guess I'm asking everybody to make room in your heart for the less perfect poochies. The dogs who've bounced from home to home. The dogs who bark at UPS trucks for no apparent reason (ahem). The dogs with reputations because of their breed (looking at you, pitbulls). The dogs who don't know what we want from them and who, maybe, never figure it out because they perceive the world as unsafe.
Years ago, one summer afternoon, I drove to Hilary's house. Star bounded across the yard to greet my car, a canine Baywatch character in slow-motion grace. Hil came outside the front door and instructed me, "don't look at her." So I chattered away, gazing in the distance, telling Star she was a good girl while waiting for her to... I don't know what. She came closer, barking fiercely while I yammered away. Then, to my surprise, Star leaned in to my legs, still barking, allowing me to give her a small back scratch.
And that is how I remember her.
Star -- the Cindy Crawford of dogs -- lived a good life. She was loved. She had admirers. She lived on several acres of land, and when you arrived, she gave you a load of shit. And then she'd lean into you, welcoming a scratch, a kind word.
She was a mystery.
Let us remember and celebrate the Star dogs, the ones who teach us about tolerance, patience, and love.
They aren't for everybody, but they have a place here. May they find their place in the sun.