It was obvious someone loved the stray mutt because when I found her in the front yard of my Los Angeles home, back in 1997, she still had a collar with a leash attached. It took me a good three hours to coax her to me; she’d get to within 5 feet, her tail nervously sweeping the air before fear got the better of her and she’d scoot off to hide behind a parked car.
It took several treats and a whole lot of cooing and sweet-talking before she finally trusted me to edge close enough to sniff my offered hand. The second I picked up her leash it was as though I was dealing with a different dog. She trotted alongside me like we had been best buddies for years, playfully leaping at my hand, her tail wagging back and forth fifteen to the dozen.
I decided to name her Floella.
Flo (as I inevitably wound up calling her) was a yellow Labrador. She was around nine or ten years old at the time she wandered into my life and, despite our best efforts to find her owner, no one ever claimed her. So with us she stayed.
If you’ve read my earlier blog (available here), you’ll know that in 2003 my family’s fortunes took a turn for the worst. We lost everything and faced abandoning our animals (we had another dog and four cats at the time) so we could stay in LA or taking a chance and moving to Nevada where we could at least rent a place that would let us keep our pets. We chose Nevada.
In 2005 Flo suddenly stopped eating. She had a thing for potato chips and I’d occasionally reward her with one. When she refused even that treat, my wife and I knew something was wrong. The next day, a veterinarian friend of ours took her into Las Vegas for a check-up. The news wasn’t good; Flo had colon cancer and we should come in to the clinic and pick her up.
It’s about 60 miles from where I live to Las Vegas. The trip involves traveling over the Mount Charleston mountain range, the peak at Mountain Springs is approximately halfway to Vegas and it was here that completely out of the blue I sensed Flo’s presence in the car with me. Since the first day I found her, she had a habit of expressing her love by gently head-butting me in the chest like a cat, encouraging me to scratch up and down her back. As we reached Mountain Springs, with Las Vegas laid out in the distance, I felt Flo’s familiar gentle bump against my chest, sensed her head leaning against me. I saw her looking up at me with her beautiful sad eyes … and then she was gone.
An intense sense of loss immediately reduced me to tears (yeah, I know, I’m a big softy). I turned to my wife and said, “Flo’s gone.”
“What do you mean she’s gone?”
I repeated that I knew Flo had died because she had just paid me a visit… in a Dodge Durango … at the top of a mountain range … doing 70 MPH. Trust me, I know how ridiculous it sounds but I realized that I had just witnessed something totally outside the normal realms of experience: my dog had just said goodbye to me.
I have a wonderful wife who puts up with my many quirks and eccentricities. Humoring me, she called our vet friend who confirmed the worst; Flo had just died peacefully and without pain, her systems had simply shut down and she was gone.
This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced an event this strange and emotionally moving. A few years earlier my wife and I had helped our same vet friend with a particularly sad case involving a sick puppy. This young St. Bernard (who must have weighed 80 pounds) was so sick that he couldn’t even stand and needed to be carried everywhere, far too heavy for our vet friend to be able to move on her own. His illness was terminal and it was time for my veterinarian friend to ease his passing. He was a beautiful dog and as the vet, her husband, my wife and I carried him on a blanket and placed him on the floor, I looked into his pained eyes and immediately felt a connection. For the next few minutes, his eyes never left my own. He gently licked my hand as the vet prepared and administered the shot that would end his suffering and put him gently to sleep.
As the life left the pup’s eyes and he exhaled his final breath, I experienced something so incredibly moving that I still have a problem categorizing it within my own world view today. I felt a sudden electric rush of energy pass through me; a swell of ecstatic vitality so fantastic and powerful it rocked me off my haunches as though I had been physically struck. Imagine the joy of a dog that had spent its entire life chained up in a back yard suddenly let loose in an open meadow, that’s as close as I can come to describing the incredible sense of freedom that passed through me.
I was stunned. I’m not a religious man or prone to over sentimentality, but I can only describe this event as a spiritual experience. I was left with a definite feeling that this dog had just passed onto somewhere very different from our own little world and that he was thankful for the release.
I know what you’re thinking: he’s delusional; his memory is faulty; his emotions got in the way of his rationale. If you are thinking any of those things, you’re quite simply wrong. Of course, there could be some sensible explanation for both of these events but those who know me would tell you that I am more prone to err on the side of science than the metaphysical — I have this annoying habit of questioning everything.
So, why am I sharing these two events with you?
If you’ve read any of my work you’ll notice a recurring theme running through every story and book: this universe is a far stranger place than any of us can ever claim to comprehend. Religion and science both tell us they hold the answers and both compete for our attention to the exclusion of the other. In spite of what both schools of thought would have you believe, there is still mystery in this world, and as an author I believe it’s my job to remind you that “The Truth” is not a wholly owned subsidiary of religion or science. We are all adventurers on a journey, and all equally likely to witness the strange and inexplicable vastness that surrounds us.
Hamlet pretty much sums up my thoughts when talking with his trusted friend: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.
I’m going to do my best to keep reminding you of that.