My dog, Riley, is a great example.
Before The Fall, Riley was a strange boy. He was as loving and sweet to people he knew as any dog I've ever seen. Big and awkward--half Golden Retriever, half Great Pyr--he was this stumbling bundle of snuffling kisses and excited wagging you couldn't ignore no matter how much you tried. He had his flaws, of course, like his penchant for destroying everything in the house if you left him to run around alone. He also had food and toy aggression with other dogs, including our other dog, Bigby.
But overall he was a good boy. Right before the dead decided to rise up and eat the living, we bought him a gift: a little rubber piggy about the size of a football. When The Fall happened we all forgot about the piggy for a while. Riley spent a lot of time outdoors, guarding us from zombie attacks and even saving my life a few times.
My golden boy filled out. Fed on a steady protein-rich diet, he's a monster now. Easily a hundred and thirty pounds, Riley is capable of running much faster than me and taking down one of the undead in a single massive leap. I've watched some of the light leave him; he has had to learn to be vicious and predatory.
Haven't we all?
A few months after The Fall, we found the piggy again. When more people showed up here and larger safety measures like the wall were being implemented, Riley began to spend more time at home. Like all the dogs here in New Haven, he had to do rounds and go out with groups, but at least half of each day was spent here with us. His aggression kicked up several notches, he had to stay in a crate most of the time, and that was where he got reacquainted with his little rubber pal.
The sounds of that thing are burned into my memory for all time. Every time Riley would bite down on it, and that was often, it would make a little oinking sound. Cute as you could ask for unless you were hearing it for four hours straight. Which I was. Every day.
When we ran from New Haven, fleeing the Richmond soldiers and living on the run for what felt like forever, the piggy came with us. I didn't have any say in the matter; Riley snatched it from the crate on our way out. I couldn't let him have it all the time while we were gone, since the noise would have attracted unwanted attention at times. But when he could have it, he did. No matter how much it annoyed me, my dog loved that thing like it was his own puppy. He'd squeeze and play with it, then curl up around it when he got tired.
Whatever the piggy was made from, some type of rubber, was incredibly tough. I'm convinced that if the world had body armor made by that same company, The Fall wouldn't have happened. Because that little guy lasted for a long time under more abuse than you can imagine.
About a year ago, the piggy got its first hole. A little one at the time and, surprisingly, not one that Riley worried at. That by itself was shocking. Every other toy he's had has met a swift end following the first hole. His M.O. is to gnaw at the hole until destruction has been achieved, like a badge you get in a video game or something. Not so with the piggy. Riley noticed it, surely; he had that thing in his face all the damn time.
Slowly the hole grew. The sound of the piggy's oink changed and grew more faint as the bladder formed by its body became less efficient. Riley may have noticed, but if he did the changes never made him love that toy any less.
Yesterday, the last pitiful oink sounded. If I hadn't been in the living room I wouldn't have been able to hear it at all. I watched Riley gnaw on the piggy a few times, then look up at me with those soulful brown eyes, as if to ask, what happened?
It broke my heart. I cried. I have a weakness when it comes to animals, and I'm not ashamed of it.
I talked to Jess about it, and to Patrick. Will even stopped by at one point, and I told him the story. Jess was of course the only person who understood how much this bothered me, because she's the same way. I figured the rest of them just gave me a pat on the shoulder, a kind word, and rolled their eyes about it later.
So when I woke up this morning to find a box on my porch, I didn't think anything about it. Probably just more records to collate. Except, the box wasn't heavy enough for that. And whatever was inside rustled strangely.
I opened the box, which was about two feet on a side. Inside, packed to the brim, were identical little rubber piggies. I pushed my hand down into them, and a chorus of cute oinks greeted me. I looked up as I did it and saw Riley shoot to his feet, tail wagging.
I dumped the whole thing into the crate and watched my golden boy wallow around in them, tail humming like a bowstring and legs gesticulating in sheer, primal happiness. I didn't take the ruined old pig out of there; it still had shape enough to resemble the others, old and worn and dirty in contrast to how clean the new ones were. Whatever cache of supplies they were tucked away in, whoever went to the trouble to find them...well, I'm thankful, but right now that doesn't matter to me.
Seeing my dog, who is a friend and companion, whose life I have saved as he has saved mine, whose love and affection helped stave off the worst thoughts of my life, be happy? That is what matters to me right now. The rest will come later. A little flash of the puppy Riley was, the pure, unadulterated joy in him. God, that's beautiful.