The Meat and Potatoes of Life
An ode to the dog that nurtured me
Special to Stars and Stripes March 31, 2023
Eight years ago, we brought him to our base house from a cranberry farm near New Bedford, Mass. He was eight weeks old — a mere baby — taken from a puddle of litter mates with loose skin and soft pink bellies. He was very white for a yellow lab, so we named him “Moby.”
The first two weeks, I slept on our bedroom floor beside Moby’s crate. I started with my arm inside cradling Moby when he whimpered for his siblings. Each night, I made progress, until the crate door was closed, I was in my bed and Moby was fully acclimated.
During the day, he followed me around, sitting on my feet while I cooked in the kitchen, chewing on weeds I pulled from my garden, turning his head adorably sideways when I spoke to him. He was impossibly cute, like the lab puppies one sees in an L.L.Bean catalogue.
Our base neighbors stopped by to catch a whiff of Moby’s sweet puppy breath. All the attention made him sleepy. He’d fall sound asleep on his back, the perfect opportunity to kiss his belly without suffering the wrath of his needle-sharp teeth.
To avoid separation anxiety, I took Moby with me to run errands at first. One day, he fell asleep in the back of my minivan beside an enormous bag of puppy chow, so I left him there while I ran into a store. I returned and found that he’d chewed a hole in the bag and gorged himself. He looked up at me pitifully, his belly round and tight. I soon learned that labs are seemingly bottomless pits, eating everything with a sense of starved urgency until it’s gone. Food rationing became absolutely necessary.
Another day, I put gates up in our kitchen and left Moby in the enclosure to run errands. Twenty minutes later, my neighbor called my cell. “What are you doing to that dog?!” he asked, explaining that he heard wailing.
I rushed home and found Moby exhausted and relieved to see me again. Then I noticed that he was smeared in stress-induced diarrhea. I spent the next two hours scrubbing and disinfecting the gates, bedding, toys, floors, cabinets and Moby. I don’t remember when he turned the corner, but he did soon enough. He became my beloved constant companion.
It’s taken me this long to be able to write about this, but two months ago, Moby died unexpectedly after failing to recover from emergency disk surgery. I was there when he took his last breaths. He looked straight into my eyes as I whispered his favorite words. “Ball, walk, beach, night night, apple, toy, treat.” I repeated the phrase I’d said for nearly eight years, believing it made Moby feel loved, “You’re the best dog that ever lived.”
All humans become attached to their pets, but pets also fill a special need for military spouses, who often cope with the loneliness, isolation and stress that comes with deployments and military moves. It’s easier to fight the blues when you’re adored unconditionally, every day, 24/7. This daily dose of positivity and ego-boosting affirmation is useful therapy for military spouses.
But in the weeks after Moby’s passing, I realized that he’d brought positivity to my life in another way. Moby made me a better person by requiring me to nurture him. Not just walks, feeding, petting and vet visits. Every day, pet owners offer their animals spoken and physical affection. When I told Moby he was a “handsome boy” or a “good dog,” and scratched his ears or sniffed his Frito paws, it lifted my spirits. I’d always thought I was nurturing Moby, but really, he was the one nurturing me.
When our kids come home for Easter, we’ll gather in a spot in our yard where Moby had loved to lay among the clover and watch me weed my vegetable garden. We’ll dig a hole and bury Moby’s ashes along with our letters, his leash, tennis balls, biscuits, and a few apples. I’ll mark the grave with a painted stone memorializing the positive daily affirmation that lifted me up for the past eight years: “Moby, You’re The Best Dog That Ever Lived.”
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org