In 2007, when I was 10 years old, my grandmother decided to get herself a Labrador. She named him Gabriel, after the archangel. He was the best dog in the world.
My grandparents had been living with my mom and I in Anacoco, Louisiana, since I was five. It looked like they were finally financially stable enough to get their own place, and Nana wanted a dog of her own to help her feel safe and keep her company while Pawpaw was working out of state.
Then Pawpaw filed for divorce.
He moved out soon after and Nana stayed with us. It was a rough time for our family, but in the midst of this darkness, Gabe brought us incredible joy.
I’ll never forget the night Gabe first met our other dog, Buddy. Buddy, a mutt, was about two years older, and Gabe was still a pup. Buddy is very territorial, and we were concerned they wouldn’t get along. As soon as Gabe saw Buddy, he leapt for him, ready to play. Buddy didn’t mind. They quickly became best friends.
Both young and full of energy, Gabe and I made quite the pair, too. We raised him as an inside dog, and all that energy had to go somewhere. Gabe would chase me anywhere I went, and sometimes I would take off running as fast as I could from one end of our single-wide trailer to the other. Then I’d jump on the couch and chant his name, “Gabe! Gabe! Gabe!” He’d take off and morph into a golden blur, all for my amusement.
Another thing Gabe and I had in common was our shared adoration for all things food—which made us adversaries when he’d try to be sneaky and eye the food on my plate. One morning, I was getting ready for school, and I left a toaster strudel on my plate on the island in the kitchen when I walked out of the room. When I came back, it was gone. I knew who the culprit was.
But it wasn’t all about the food with Gabe. He would follow any of us anywhere whether we had a treat to give him or not. He was just happy to be where we were.
It may be odd to look to a canine as a role model, but I’ve never met anyone, human or animal, who loved the way he loved. He loved freely. He was protective, but once he realized you weren’t a threat to the family, he loved you, too.
He was the happiest dog there ever was. He was content with little, another quality we humans ought to pursue. Two seconds of petting him on the head and he’d be grinning from ear. (You wouldn’t want to pet him too long, though, before he turned over wanting you to rub his belly and then you’d be there awhile.)
Gabe grew to be a big ol’ boy, but if he knew it, he didn’t show it. He never grew tired of climbing up in Nana’s lap on her recliner and cuddling with her. Personality-wise, he never seemed to age past the day we got him. He was forever a pup.
On Monday, Sept. 24, Gabe passed away. He was 11 years old. Three strokes from the previous weekend rendered him unable to walk; we had to carry him down the steps out back just so he could use the bathroom. Due to this and other health problems, we had to take him to the vet to be put down.
The worst part about it is despite his sickness and disability, he was still as happy as ever. As Nana, Mom and I bawled our eyes out in that office waiting on the veterinarian to show up, petting him and knowing this would be our last moment with him, he was still wagging his tail and grinning from ear to ear. He was just happy to be where we were.
It’s going to be jarring going back to Anacoco and him not waiting at the door for me, welcoming me back home. I’m going to go to the fridge for a class of water, and he won’t rush up to my side expecting to be fed ice—a favorite of his.
No, unfortunately, the lifespans of dogs and humans don’t match up too well.
But in the 11 years I had him by my side, this Labrador taught me a lot about the kind of human I want to be. I will make it a point to live as he lived: always cheerful, always loving and always hungry.