Saying goodbye to Mattingly

“Life is a series of dogs,” George Carlin said once. Another way to think of it is that a dog is a bridge — somehow, by being constant, they seem to help you get from where you are when they arrive in your life to where you are at the end.

I know Amber feels that way about Mattingly. For 10 years he’s always been under her feet or sleeping on top of them, butting his head into her calves, howling along with fire engine sirens, squeezing himself between the living room table and couch, and thrilled just to sit near her while she works or cooks. When Amber was getting ready to officiate the wedding of our friends Jesse and Johanna, she practiced by “marrying” Matty and our yellow lab Leeloo until she could get through the ceremony without crying.

I like most dogs and I’ve known some really good ones. Matty is special. I’ve never seen a dog so gregarious, so happy to be in the mix at parties, so sweet with children, so gentle while snacking. His unusual look and his funny walk and his waggle make people smile.

If you didn’t know this already I’m sure you can tell where it’s headed. But he’ll be gone in a few hours. He’ll go to that evergreen place in our memories where the best-loved dogs go.

We’re very sad over here, and we will be for a long while. My heart will break all over again the first time I come home and he’s not there to greet me with a dance. (Amber called it “Who’s so fat,” after Chris Farley’s “fat guy in a little coat” maneuver.) He’s declined very fast, which has been shocking and sad. There are many great parts — he’s lived a long life with good health and many friends. He remained surprisingly energetic past the age of 13 and hasn’t had to suffer for too long. On Christmas he joyfully bounced around while Amber handed out special dog treats. I listened to the scene from under the covers, and I’m grateful she shot video. He felt poorly on New Years’, but when the party got rowdy after midnight he dragged himself out of bed to join everyone, and people’s faces lit up. Our panda bear was in his element.

Yesterday about 10 people came to the apartment to say goodbye — and while that’s mostly about Amber and our great friends, it speaks for Matty, too. He loved everybody, even a drunk kid who broke into the apartment years ago, so a lot of people felt like he was their dog, too.

When it looked like we were going to lose him on New Years’, the thing I mourned the most was my hope that Matty, old and gray and sleepy, would get to meet our first child one day. It would’ve been a great photo. It wasn’t to be, so I’m putting that out of my mind. Instead I’m trying to appreciate his friendship and the role he played in my life as I was getting to know Amber.

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