Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From My Dog

Only a long, straight country road flanked by fields could tear us apart. And when it did, it tore everything apart.

Sammy on the farm in Effingham, Ontario. Christian Cotroneo

Sammy on the farm in Effingham, Ontario. | Christian Cotroneo

As a solitary 7-year-old kid on a farm, I had a lot tied up in Sammy the beagle.

We explored every corner of our 15-acre property in southern Ontario together. Every day, we charted fresh paths through the corn field, named grassy knolls after each other and sent garbage bag boats sailing down briny rivers.

We chased geese, got chased by geese, chased my dad, got chased by my dad.

The two of us hid out together in some patch of grass only we knew about. We were the cool kids on the farm. The only kids. Except for my sister, but ... girl. Yuck.

Every now and then, we walked down that long, straight country road to the general store. Our kingdom was built upon candy and milk bones.

During one of our many adventures, Sammy was criss-crossing that lonely road, playing with another dog who came out of nowhere. In the country, animals always come out of nowhere.

So do the cars. On that day, one roared into sight and I heard Sammy yelp. He walked slowly toward me. His tail wagged stiffly as I wrapped him up in my arms.

He's okay. He's okay. He's okay.

There was a hole in his head.

The man who ran over my dog got out of his car. He managed to say a few words that I didn't hear before heaving Sammy's lifeless body into a ditch. I couldn't stop crying.

From that moment on, the farm was dead to me.

These eyes have seen a lot of love.Erin Kobayashi

These eyes have seen a lot of love. | Erin Kobayashi

It's been decades since Sammy's death. And even now, writing this story, I'm feeling it all over again.

How can that feeling of loss still be so potent after so many years?

It's a question we ask ourselves whenever we lose a dog. Their short lives allow us to participate in every moment - lives bookended, respectively, by the spectacular joy of falling in love and the utter desolation of losing that love.

My father was never a dog person and held to the opinion they belonged outside every day. But Sammy's death opened his eyes, I think, to the very profound connection little boys can have with other living beings. Especially ones they call their own.

His little boy was crying every day.

So, my dad made deals with neighbors to help me heal, even exchanging eggs for new puppies. At first, these little consolations seemed like vague, shadowy approximations of Sammy. One new pup, Benji, was overly sweet. He kept knocking me over with his crazy love. Lucky kept eating our hens.

A family portrait. Christian Cotroneo

A family portrait. | Christian Cotroneo

Eventually, they all went to other homes. My dad, sadly, had assumed all animals could be traded in and out, thought to be replacements for lost or outdated models. But there was no replacing Sammy.

One of the many dogs I've loved.Christian Cotroneo

One of the many dogs I've loved. | Christian Cotroneo

Eventually, my family exchanged the farm for the city, and I came to know so many more dogs, from the joyous calamity that was Pilot, to the love battery that was Lola.

Over time, we lost them both to various causes. When my mom called, sobbing, to tell me she had taken Pilot for his last walk, she reminded me so much of that 7-year-old farm boy on the country road.

Man's best friends.Christian Cotroneo

Man's best friends. | Christian Cotroneo

My feelings for everything from girlfriends to comic books to hockey teams have waxed and waned. But my love for dogs was ever steady.

Today, I'm better equipped to share this love with those dogs who have since come into my life.

This is Luna.

A portrait of the artist as a young puppy.Erin Kobayashi

A portrait of the artist as a young puppy. | Erin Kobayashi

She's only 2 years old. But she's the fruit of everything I have ever learned about love from each dog that came before her. That's why, before she leaves me, she will have had an infinite amount of joy packed into her polka-dot heart.

That's the trick, you see. Not to tell your friends who have just lost a dog that they will find love again.

But to hold onto that love and let it inform your next one. When you get another dog, love her like there's no tomorrow. Every dog teaches you how to better love the next one.

Luna and her other best friend, Athena.Erin Kobayashi

Luna and her other best friend, Athena. | Erin Kobayashi

So have courage, lovers of dogs and those who have lost. Your ability to love will double with every new life. You'll see.

Sammy is still with me. The love he kindled in me as a young boy has informed my relationship with every living creature since.

Erin Kobayashi

Erin Kobayashi

So this one goes out to Sammy and all the dogs we've loved before. And all those we'll love in the future.