We bring them into our home with hope. We feed them and groom them. We worry about their welfare and clothe them. We are taking them to daycare, signing them up for activity classes, and ensuring they are having poignant play dates with their peers to be more sociable so that they may have a rewarding, balanced existence. We buy them large carpeted structures to play and sleep in. We protect and pamper them. For this, they love us back unconditionally and faithfully. They never reject us or use us until something or someone better comes along. They will end the most inconvenient living situations in the hope that you will walk through that door and be with them again. As a professional petsitter and dog walker, I know for a fact that they patiently wait hours and days for your return home from work or vacation. To top it off-they have more confidence in you than you have in yourself! “They” are OUR fur-family.
Americans spend 58 billion dollars on 397 million pets in 2020. This allocation of income indicates that we are changing as a society. We are now co-existing more intricately with the animals we choose to share our lives with on a daily basis. We are giving them higher status and placement in our family hierarchy. Our canines and felines weave themselves seamlessly into our daily activities now, like going to the grocery store, taking a walk on the beach, lounging by the fire together. We shop for a home layout with them in mind. We cook and sleep together as a pack. And yet, we are not always prepared for the end of life issues when our pet has reached the end of their life journey. Much like saying goodbye to a human, it is just as hard, if not harder sometimes, with a fur-family member. I know clients who have stronger and longer bonds with their fur-family than with their own geographically scattered human family.
I recently had a client, I will call him Robert, who lost his 6 year old “little brown dog” as he referred to him, to an aggressive blood cancer. It was so unexpected given his dogs age and activity level, that we were all shocked and in shock. I did not see his dog too often. Only when Robert had to go out of town for a few days at a time. But, in a span of 5 days, his everyday canine, home buddy, and faithful 'friend' who provided hours of silly antics, was gone. Robert's house was coldly empty and creepy-quiet. Death had claimed his dog before he even had a chance to process letting his pet go, let alone saying goodbye. It was too final and too soon for Robert to understand why the love he had for his adorable brown dog had to end like this. Hey Universe: Why can not we have this friendship last for always?
My husband and I took Robert out to eat. He had not ate well in 5 days and had lost 15 pounds in the time his dog was in the intensive care. As I looked at Robert sitting in our car looking hopeless, just hours after having to put his dog down, I watched his tears streaming silently down, one after another, in two fast moving liquid pathways on either side of his face. I studied the path of his tears as they dropped off the bottom of his chin, onto his shirt, bounce off the shirt and drop into his empty lap. Once the tears fell onto his jeans they were immediately absorbed by the material, as if they never existed at all.
His was the lap that his dog used to jump into with a crashing, goofy force. He would never again watch his dog religiously circle the kitchen three times in a silly swirl before beginning eating his kibble-to the amazement of guests. My client and friend looked lost and alone at that particular moment in time. Robert always let his dog jump into his lap and onto his leather couches and chairs. As a pet nanny with pack training, this indulgence always made me cringe a bit, but I know the reasons for this kind of spoiling. His dog would sit or lie on the top of any pillow he choose to claim-at any time. Now, only falling tears could replace the memory of the dog who he let have complete and total run of his house!
As I watched Robert's tears run away with his grief, I remembered my deep and dark grief when I lost my dog, SadieMay. I grieved far too long, but SadieMay was my dream dog and my family member-she was my world. I remembered seeing other client's tears fall into puddles over their pets passing away. The collective feeling of grief of all the pets and clients came rushing back to me in that car while I watched Robert process this emotion and I knew his pain-right there, the pain of loving a pet is palpable when they are gone.
A current helicopter pilot, a former sheriff, Robert was now a human being stripped of all bravado and melting into the reality of grieving the loss of his dear canine friend. I looked at him and realized that our pets help us to understand the journey we take when we love another life, sometimes even more than we love ourselves. Pets are so innocent and simple, honest and faithful, that our love for them is so pure and untainted. When they are gone from our life, the reality of a harsh world comes flooding back into our empty laps again and we feel less human. Robert texted me a few days later and said, “It's a much less world without my little brown dog.” Yes, I understand the journey of loving a pet. When you love a pet, your soul will unfold like a flower and bloom for humanity.
The consequence of having loved an animal deeply, is that you become a better, more compassionate, human being. My world looks better if I look at it through the lens of a pet. This bond we have with canines, felines, rabbits, hamsters, rats, birds and many other animals often grows without the formal use of language. I have always felt my canines, specifically, had the IQ of a 2-3 year old in terms of understanding and communication capability. We have certainly never discussed the Middle East crisis, how to solve world strife, or how to cook an amazing complicated meal. But, inexplicably, I still feel a deep connection to my animals without any literal dialogue exchange.
Another client of mine had to say goodbye to their kitty of 16 years. Another treasured fur-family member, their kitty was so dear to them that enduring life without their fur-kid with them on a daily basis felt somewhat unbearable. Their kitty was a part of a pair of kitties that had built their 'home' and life around. Even though their kitty-boy was ill for sometime and had been throughoing vet care to maintain a quality of life and kept comfortable, his passing was still too quick and too final in the end. More tears and more empty laps. More hearts trying to cope with loss and letting go of wanting a life form to live forever. Accepting and allowing transformation is challenging. Adding to that concept is also trying to negotiate with the reality that we are all on a journey and must all leave each other later.
At raw moments in life when our arms are empty and are hearts are hurting, we shun this reality about life. We shun death and what it means for us and what the rest of our days might be like without our furry loved ones sharing it with us in the sunshine moments of our existence.
Humans and animals are on a journey together for only a brief time. We may find ourselves on the same pathway for a bit and then we have to let go and allow life to take one of us one way and allow death to take another life form to another realm. I firmly believe I will see my all pets and my client's pets again at Rainbow Bridge when I pass away from this life journey. I hope to see my SadieMay again in the clouds and play with her ears and never let her go … I hope.
After all of my hope for intellectually understanding this life / death dynamic, the reality is we will outlive our pets. So, I strive to enjoy each and every precious moment with all my client's pets and mine, too. I try to never take their unconditional love and faith in me for granted. We love the puppy and the kitten, the expectations of growth and the future adventures together. However, simply speaking, we are not ever prepared to say goodbye when they have come to the end of their journey here. Our life expectancy compares to the heads is so drastically different it is almost a foregone conclusion that you will have another canine / feline in your lifetime every twelve years, give or take.
There will be that magical moment which will arrive in one's heart and soul again. The moment when the heart is less raw and more ready. Although, it might be a year or two or five before one can even fathom getting another pet after grieving over the loss of the fur-family member, there will come a time when the human is ready to embrace the risk again. When the human is ready to step out and love another life form by taking another fur-family member into their home to begin the journey all over again. It is the hope of all rescued animals that this journey, which you choose to take with them, will be the one which will bring more unconventional love and joyful happiness into their forever home and straight into your heart.
“When you love a pet, your soul will unfold like a flower and bloom for humanity”
Written by: Mary Ott
March 27, 2020