But then Woodley arrived in all his goofiness. He personified the undimmed enthusiasm of a toddler, mixed with the unsophisticated, not-quite-in-full-control-of-my-body gait of a teenager. All bundled together in 95 pounds of Golden Retriever.
He died suddenly early one morning a week ago, leaving a lonely and much-chewed cuddly in his usual spot, and a gaping hole in our hearts. In his four years with us, between shedding enough hair to start a wig store and drooling enough slobber to float a battleship, he taught me some things for which I will always be grateful.
• I learned to be more appreciative. Maybe it was because he arrived as a six-year-old rescue pup, but he was never very demanding. Food, exercise, and lots of love, and he was good to go: not a bad baseline for life.
• I learned that it’s important to consider someone’s motives. Marcia and I had to develop the habit of looking down carefully before standing up or turning around in the kitchen, because chances are Woodley was going to be lying right there for us to fall over.
He wasn’t trying to get in the way, he just wanted to be close, worming his way under tables and chairs so he could be touching. We buried him in the back of our property, so he can fittingly always be under our feet.
• I learned more about non-verbal communication. Coming and bumping the book or magazine that was in my hands out of the way so he could lay his head on my lap was fairly direct, but he could be subtle too. I swear he had the most expressive eyebrows I have ever seen, often arching one as if to say, “Really?” and reminding me that a face can speak without the lips moving.
• I learned to find excitement in small things. Every time we opened the rear door of the car, Woodley would apparently think, “Road Trip!” and lunge to get in. He didn’t care where we were going as long as he got to come along. New smells, new people, new sights; what’s not to love?
• I learned to be more outgoing. Woodley embodied the philosophy that a stranger was just a buddy he hadn’t yet met. Among the friends he made was the UPS driver, who would give him a biscuit and a pat when he brought a delivery.
Many deliverymen and women dispense treats to dogs on their route, of course; it’s a trick of the trade. But I think there was more to the stop at our house: when we’d get home having missed the arrival of a package, it would be set on the porch outside our front door—with a dog biscuit on top.
Yes, Woodley was “only” an animal. But I believe that in the four short years we had him, he helped make me, and some of those he met, a little more human.