A few weeks ago I brought another dog into my house after several years of bark-free living. My daughter and I immediately bonded with the puppy and pretty shortly thereafter I started having bouts of sadness because she will eventually die.
The little dog I had previously came to my house as after being abandoned by his owners, a few months before my daughter was born. She and the puppy grew up together and he was obviously part of the family.
He lived a good long while, but eventually started having periodic seizures until he eventually had one that didn’t end. I was glad my daughter wasn’t home at the time because his final minutes were grueling. It crushed me. It crushed her too, but at least she didn’t have to see it.
After that experience I missed having a dog around the house, but there was no way I wanted to go through that ache again. Eventually a cat found its way into our household, and while interesting to watch, the feline is more of a tenant of the house than a family member. I’ll be sad when the cat eventually goes, but the people at work probably won’t be able to tell.
But dogs are something different. There is life in their eyes. They radiate affection. The hang of their mouth shows emotion. Most times, they truly love you more than you love yourself. And when they go, you really lose the one thing in your house is guaranteed to make a bad day better. There are times when your spouse or your children meet you at the door with problems or complaints that only add to the burden of your day. Your dog is just there with a tail wag, ready to do whatever you want to do.
But that ache when they are gone. The tightening in your chest when you walk through the door those first few times and no furball runs around the corner to greet you. You notice every dog food commercial and slow down to watch every dog being walked by its owner.
I can’t handle the loss. I’m apparently not equipped. When I see other people talking about their dogs who have died on social media, I delete the posts – because it pains me. I am fortunate that my last dog died at home, because I’m never had to make decision to have an animal put down. I don’t know that I could do it, if they had any light left in their eyes at all. If I ever have to make that call, I can’t imagine what it will do to me.
But life changes, tipping the scales in risk/reward situations of the past. When my last dog died, I made the decision not to get another because I still had my teenager at home. I could make the decision not to risk the heartache of another pet, because I had Grace in my house to breathe life into it.
But then she, too, got older and I was once again faced with the idea of losing a member of the household – this time to college.
I know some people advocate having two dogs in the house, of ages that are years apart. The idea being that as one ages and dies, you still have the other in the house to help ease the pain. I didn’t need a second dog, because I had my daughter to occupy my time and fill my house with life.
But she’s a few weeks from leaving for school and I was facing a completely empty house. And all of a sudden I found myself lingering over pet adoption ads a little longer as the walls protecting me from future heartache began to come down.
So when I saw a notice about a beagle-mix available for adoption through an animal hospital, I made a snap decision.
We opened our house up to a new member – and I opened my heart to a guaranteed ache down the road.
-Chad Williamson is the managing editor at the Journal-Tribune.
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