Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Joyful Dog

This is Trixie, the special dog Dean Koontz wrote about in a big little life : A Memoir of a Joyful Dog. I rarely read fiction, and have never read this author's other work. But I love stories about special dogs, and this one was an angel, trained as a service dog for the disabled, and retired at age three due to an injury, and adopted by the author and his wife. I copied down some key passages for the dog lovers among us, beginning with Trixie's passing from this world :

So there on her favorite couch, on the covered terrace, where she could breathe in all the good rich smells of grass and trees and roses, we opened for her the unseen gate, so that she could walk again not on her now weak legs but on the still strong legs of her spirit, walk beyond that gate, an innocent into a realm of innocence, home forever.....and she fell asleep not forever but just for the moment between the death of her body and the awakening of her spirit in the radiance of grace where she belonged.

Love and loss are inextricably intertwined because we are mortal and can know love only under the condition that what we love inevitably will be lost. That afternoon on the terrace, Gerda and I felt hammered by our loss, broken.

.....We took comfort in the knowledge that God is never cruel, that there is a reason for all things. We must know the pain of loss, because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others....creatures of unalloyed self-interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one.

....Some will say "She was only a dog."

Yes, she was a dog, but not only a dog. I am a man, but not only a man. Sentiment is not sentimentality, common sense is not common ignorance, and intuition is not superstition. Living with a recognition of the spiritual dimension of the world not only ensures a happier life but also a more honest intellectual life than if we allow no room for wonder and refuse to acknowledge the mystery of existence.

...An acquaintance, offering condolences for our loss, admitted that she was embarrassed because she had grieved more for a dog of her own than for family and friends she lost to death. I told her she had nothing about which to be embarrassed. No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls makes us wish -- consciously or unconsciously -- that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.

...Three weeks to the minute after Trixie died, as we were walking the larger lawn, a brilliant golden butterfly swooped down from a pepper tree. This was no butterfly like any we had seen before; nor have we seen it since. Big, bigger than my hand when I spread my fingers, it was bright gold, not yellow. The butterfly flew around our heads three or four times, brushing our faces, our hair, as no butterfly had ever done before. Gerda...said at once, "Was that Trixie?" and without hesitation, I said, "Yeah. It was."

.....It danced about our heads at the very minute Trixie had died three weeks earlier. ....I will always believe our girl wanted us to know that the intensity of our grief wasn't appropriate, that she was safe and happy....that [her] spirit...lived on.

...This world is infinitely layered and mysterious. Every day of our lives, we see far more than we can comprehend, and because the failure to comprehend disquiets us, we lie to ourselves about what we see. We want a simple world, but we live in one that is magnificently complex. Rather than acknowledge the exquisite roundness of creation, we take it in thin slices, and we view each slice through tinted, distorting lenses that further diminish its beauty and obscure truths that await recognition. Complexity implies meaning, and we are afraid of meaning.

The life of a seamstress is no smaller than the life of a queen, the life of a child with Down syndrome no less filled with promise than the life of a philosopher, because the only significant measure of your life is the positive effect you have on others, either by conscious acts of will or by unconscious example. Every smallest act of kindness -- even just words of hope, when they are needed....has the potential to change the recipient's life.

If by the example of her joy and innocence, a dog can greatly change two lives [his and his wife's], then no life is little, and every life is big. The mystery of life is the source of its wonder, and the wonder of life is what makes it so worth living.

[One of the characters in his novel The Darkest Evening of the Year says:]

"Dogs' lives are too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price."


  1. I've read many of Koont'z books, which are amazing if you're in the mood for a good thriller, but I haven't read the one about Trixie yet. The above excerpts are just wonderful. Dogs truly are special creatures.

  2. this is so beautiful Sherry, thank you for introducing me to Dean Koontz's writing. And this is only something one who has truly loved a dog can understand.

  3. No matter how long they're with us, Sherry, they enrich our lives. They are our friends simply because they want to be our friends. That's cool. :-)

  4. Such a wonderful post, Sherry, a lovely tribute to a life companion. The last excerpt speaks for all of us who embrace sharing out lives with canine companions, along with all the joy and heartache it entails. Thank you for sharing that...


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