Why our dog was a close family member

By Nguyen Quang Thieu   November 26, 2018 | 10:59 pm PT
Before he died, our family dog, Lu, showed us how intertwined dogs’ lives are with ours, how they are family to us.
Nguyen Quang Thieu, a Vietnamese poet

Nguyen Quang Thieu, poet

My father died of lung cancer in 2008.

In his twilight years, he was confined to a cushioned chair, as he could not breathe while lying on a bed. Since he was living in the countryside, my siblings and I could only take care of him during the weekends, as we all had jobs in faraway places.

During the time that I spent with him, I started to notice more carefully the behavior of our family dog, Lu, who my Dad had raised since he was young.

Lu often walked outside the porch or around the neighborhood during the day. But ever since my Dad became bedridden, he stayed with him the whole time, lying next to his chair. I think Lu hasn’t slept at all during that time.

Dad’s terminal cancer forced him to take painkillers once every two or three hours. Every time he moaned in pain or wanted to get up, Lu immediately stood up and sat by his side. 

I often timed my phone alarm to wake my Dad up once every 1.5 hours to help him take his medications or go to the bathroom. But on days when fatigue hit hard and the alarms failed to wake me up, Lu was always there, attentive and vigilant. He tried to nudge me awake whenever my Dad was in pain or needed help, sometimes by barking, sometimes by looking at me then at my Dad repeatedly. He couldn’t speak, of course, but I knew what he was trying to say. Only after the pain died down and my Dad was in deep sleep did Lu decide to rest as well.

I was always secretly thankful for Lu, for he was by Dad’s side when we children couldn’t. He never failed to help him, in ways only a dog knew how.

The day Dad died, Lu didn’t get near him. He stood afar, looking at people crying and wailing around Dad’s bed. But I saw him cry. Actual teardrops, clear and unclouded, like rain on a dusty pane, trickling down his face in beads. Throughout the funeral, Lu never left a corner of our garden, refusing to eat or drink anything we gave him. As night fell, I saw him sit on our porch like he used to. But once in a while, he would go inside Dad’s old room and just stand still in the dark. He was missing Dad.

Lu never barked again. He became lethargic and depressed, refusing any of our attempts to feed or help him. 49 days after my Dad died, Lu followed him.

Whenever I go back to my hometown, I sit on our family’s porch from sunset until midnight. I think of my father, and with him, of Lu. To me, Lu is simply another family member, with deep love and empathy in his heart. It’s just that he was born a dog instead.

This world is a small one. But more often than not, it seems to stretch far beyond the horizons as we stumble our way through it. It is these inherently lonely journeys that make us feel small in a world so immense. But dogs have always been there for us, since the earliest days. Maybe that is why people love dogs so much, almost universally, for our histories and theirs are intertwined so deeply and closely for such a long time.

A dog walks along a Vietnamese street. Photo by Shutterstock/Andrey Tau

A dog walks along a Vietnamese street. Photo by Shutterstock/Andrey Tau

I see glimpses of Lu inside each and every dog I pass these days. And each time, I would ask myself: How can dogs love us humans so much, despite being from a different species? How can they love us even more than we love each other?

The answer is simple, of course. If we treat them with love, they respond with love that is many times stronger, forging a bond that can outlast the tough trials of time.

*Nguyen Quang Thieu is a Vietnamese poet. The opinions expressed are his own.

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