For the next couple weeks, we’ll be leading up to Valentine’s Day with a series of love letters. Kicking off this theme is Kelly Conaboy, who is dedicating her love letter to her soulmate: her dog.
My Dearest Peter—
I’d like to get this out of the way first: I’m unwilling to make the assumption that dogs cannot read. I’ve observed you closely since adopting you six years ago, and what I’ve learned over and over again is that underestimating your cognitive and physical abilities will only leave me looking foolish when you, for example, train me to give you a treat every time you come in from a walk just by sitting patiently near the treats, as if a treat were always part of the deal; or when you jump over a couch four times your size, which it must be pointed out was again for food-related reasons. But you do strike me as wise enough to be the type of dog who avoids spending much time on the internet. Rest assured that I will print out this letter and place it next to your breakfast, to make sure you see it.
Peter, I love you. I know you know this. If there were transcripts available of everything I say to you in a day, I have no doubt that “I love you” would account for at least 60 percent of the text. I imagine this gets annoying, particularly when I attempt to get your attention (“Peter? Hello, Peter? Peter?”) just to say it once again (“I love you!”). But you have to take accountability for your actions, as well. You are far too loveable. It is impossible to exist in your presence and not express the feeling that one’s heart is about to burst due to excessive affection. This is on you.
Just look at what happens on walks. It is impossible to take you around town without being stopped by strangers — he’s so shiny! he’s so beautiful! he’s so charming! is he a Chihuahua? is he a puppy? I hope I don’t embarrass you by sharing the knowledge that you’re primarily a mix of Chihuahua and black lab, as people tend to note the humor in the implied image. But as a man of almost nine, you have to take pride in the puppy comments. You’re aging like Jennifer Lopez, Peter. Usually only Jennifer Lopez can say that.
Someone once asked me, somewhat incredulously, how I knew you were my soulmate. I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I don’t like being put on the spot, and I know you feel the same way. But I think it can be explained simply by the fact that when I’m with you I never feel alone. I think I could start a hundred new lives with you, in different cities, surrounded by different people, facing whatever challenges come along, and I would feel steady knowing you were there. I think if I knew you would be with me forever, I wouldn’t have much fear about my future.
Of course, I won’t have you forever. Not physically, at least. (Please haunt me as a dog ghost, if that becomes an option.) The idea of your death, and the likelihood that it will come before mine, comes to me so frequently that it feels intertwined with the idea of your life. While this usually leads to moments of unexpected sobbing, it has also allowed me to be “present”; something I’d only ever heard about on meditation apps. Today is a day I get to spend with Peter. I know that at some point in the future, I won’t be able to say that. But today I can.
No, I won’t have you forever, even though I desperately want to; even though I would donate years of my own life to make our timelines more even, if I could. But the one silver lining I can see in the discrepancy between human and dog life expectancies is that you will have me forever. And that is more important.
It is my hope as your guardian that I can make you feel a portion of the safety and comfort I feel just from looking at you; from the mere fact of your existence. I promise to never stop trying to do that. And, just as you’ve trained me, I’ll always give you a treat when we come in from a walk. It’s the least you deserve.
Kelly Conaboy is a writer living in New York. She has written for Gawker, The Cut and the Hairpin, among other publications. Her book — The Particulars of Peter — is all about her very special dog. (We loved it.)
P.S. A dog tattoo, and why you should rescue a dog.