I once had a veterinarian who sent me a sympathy card with a sentiment that has stayed with me through the ups and downs of having animals: As painful as it is to us, pet owners can do something for our loved ones we can never do for our human companions. We can give them a dignified, pain-free departure.
This week I found out that my canine baby Laney has cancer and that my beautiful niece had to put down her beloved dog. Why does it always seem like these things happen in bunches? Is it to ensure we devote a chunk of time delving into the issues, crying out our eyes, coming to grips with how we really feel about dying or taking care of pets or making decisions that weigh resources against the reality of a few more months granted to us (usually not to them) to deal with what we know is coming?
I don’t need that chunk of time; I’ve been through this enough to know how I feel, and it’s this: every pet is unique; every situation different. And all of death sucks majorly. But it’s been worth it to me to suffer the pain of loss. If I could count up every time I’ve walked through a door to be greeted by an animal anxious to see me, every time a cat or dog has made me laugh because they’ve done something ridiculous that somehow makes sense; every expression I’ve tried to “interpret” and every picture I’ve taken and gone “aw” and shoved in someone else’s face to admire, I’d be a miracle worker; no one can (or should) keep track. Taking care of animals is about learning to live in the moment—both the moments when we are amazed and the moments when we are challenged.
It’s not easy cleaning up dog poo or kitty spray or vomit especially since pets just love to leave you little “gifts” most often first thing in the morning. It’s not hard creating running commentary for your pet when they crash into something, then try to act like they intended to be such a klutz. (“I was just testing that coffee table to see how tough it is, Mom. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.”)
It’s just plain bliss to be stroking a dog or cat, not even concentrating on what you’re doing, then suddenly feel a tongue on your skin.
That tongue and that expression and that bark at the door is the thank you that people who never have pets can’t understand. It’s a language I’ve enjoyed learning and one that has continued to evolve over the years. It will get me through the next few hard months with Laney, and I intend to make it part of the rest of my life.
Genilee Swope Parente