Last week tragedy struck my little dog training community.  My good friend Kassey lost her four year old miniature wirehaired dachshund, rather suddenly, to causes still unknown.  His name was Strauss, and his short life will forever be a reminder to all of us that there is no such thing as “just a dog.”

I can’t imagine the death of a human being causing deeper heartache for Kassey.  The idea that losing a dog is as profound a loss as any is perhaps not popular in the “real world” but in the “dog world” we know it to be true.  Another concept that the dog world is exclusively familiar with is that of “heart dogs.”  Strauss was Kassey’s heart dog.  Kelso is mine. These are the dogs that burrow themselves so deeply into our hearts that they become a part of us; our soul realized in a physical being.

We still love our other dogs.  I am crazy-in-love with both of my dogs, as is Kassey.  But the heart dog is something different, something more.  It seems to be an old connection, one that was always there but was finally tangible the day the dog arrived, one that remains (painfully) once they are gone from the physical world.

Why would we sign up for this?  Susan Clothier said it best, in my favorite book, Bones Would Rain from the Sky, “There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals.  It is a cycle unlike any other.  To those who have never lived through its turnings or walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible; our grief, no matter how powerful it may be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given.”

Our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken.

For me, that sums up why the relationship between people and dogs is so incredible.  It is courageous to love a dog with one’s whole heart.  I will do it again and again, and I hope for Kassey that she will too.

Two heart dogs, out for a stroll in the fall leaves.