Many moons ago – like the late 80’s – before I worked in television, I worked for an advertising agency that handled all of the promotion and publicity in the Midwest for many of the big film studios like Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM and others. One of the films I was charged with promoting was Touchstone’s (Disney) Turner & Hootch, a Tom Hanks so-called comedy with a big damned adorable dog named Hooch. Spoiler alert, the dog dies. During the first screening of the film – in a full house of a large movie theater filled with children and parents – I sobbed so loudly and for so long that the six-year-old boy sitting next to me asked his mom what was wrong with me. Hooch just took a bullet for Tom Hanks and I can’t handle it, kid! That’s what’s wrong with me you cold-hearted kindergartner. And we didn’t even get to leave with Hooch’s paw print or any memorial service whatsoever.
Before Turner & Hooch wrecked me, I did promotion for the Universal Film Harry and the Hendersons. If you’ve seen it, you can imagine how well I managed this one. During the screening when John Lithgow yells and hits Harry the Sasquatch screaming that he doesn’t love him, I had to leave the theater not to return. Sure, John Lithgow was trying to save Harry – he was clearly pained at the goodbye, but Harry’s heart and thereby mine was broken. I spent the rest of the movie in the lobby blubbering while my husband and all of the families and children stayed to enjoy the movie. I still don’t know how it ended.
ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN
Then came MGM’s All Dogs Go to Heaven. At least with this one, the title disclosed what happens and I’m ok with dogs romping around in heaven -- it’s white, fluffy, and angelic, kind of like a sleeping Westie. Of course, I have to emotionally prepare myself the bad things that are going to happen on earth and that dogs are going to pass over the rainbow bridge, as they say, but since I know that the bridge leads to the pearly gates, I’m a bit more stable for this screening. (There was, of course, the requisite orphan who would plead for my tears, but I know heaven awaits the good dogs and that the orphan will be adopted, so I could give this movie two thumbs up for not making me lose my shit in the movie theater.)
PEACE IN THE PASSING
Since those days, the notion of all dogs going to heaven has given me much peace as I’ve had to say goodbye to my best friends, my dogs. Last year our sweet 15-year-old cattle dog, Lizzie Belly, died at home when John and I were out of town doing an art festival. The existential pain just sucks and not having been with her in the end makes it even worse. But I choose to imagine that my dogs are all chasing balls in the clouds like Bailey, our rambunctious black lab and first dog (therefore, child) as a married couple. We loved him more than life; Hankie the rescue pitbull-chow-mutt who no one wanted (except me!). Hankie became my soulmate dog; Lucille the terrified Rottweiler that another woman, a kind homeless dude and I rescued from eight lanes of traffic on the 110 freeway in Los Angeles; the same Rottie that John freaked out about and said there is NO WAY I was allowed to bring her home let alone keep her because our other dog was a pitbull-chow and that wasn't gonna happen; the same Rottie who became John’s soulmate and ultimately slept with Hankie, John and me on the bed. And now Lizzie, the quiet rescue puppy who was placed in my arms while on a TV shoot in a Mojave desert by a producer and friend who knew we had just lost Lucille; she asked for nothing but face rubs often with her nose buried deep within our respective crotches. Each of these magnificent, unique beasts all deserved First Class tickets to the biggest dog park in the clouds.
If you’ve ever lost a pet, you get it. It’s a unique grief reserved only for animals; the depth of their loyalty and innocence far exceeds anything we humans can comprehend. They are pure and precious. Which brings me to....
In my grief over losing Lizzie, I drew a GOOD DOG tree as a memorial for her and posted it on social – a weeping tree with a Good Dog headstone flanked by wings and a set of paw prints. The responses made me cry. Then one of my friends saw it and had the idea that I should draw a new tree with a headstone that left enough room for me to personalize it by hand for my customers. She knew it would be the perfect memorial for anyone who has lost their pup and she was right.
Now as I handwrite the dog's names that have already come into my magical tree forest – Luna, Juno, Amos, Bill, Shoonig, Nicole, Winston, Kasi, Hambone, Petunia – I say a little prayer for those pups. Each has traveled on the wings of angels to the heavens where all good dogs go. They deserve nothing less.
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