Saturday, January 21, 2012

THE RACE: Pets Hold Our Hearts In Their Paws

Throughout most of my childhood, we had the most amazing and smartest dog named Muffin.  She was part poodle and part "whatever got into the fenced yard."  She would grab her own leash when she wanted to go for a walk, bark at you when you walked in the door and then proceed to untie your shoe laces, and sit up and say please with her paws.  On car rides along the flat Nebraska farmland, if you said "Muffin, see the cows?" she'd jump up in the window of the back seat and go absolutely bonkers as she shoved her nose as far into the corner of the windshield as she could to smell the cows. And she loved, loved, loved M&M's (this was before the days when we really knew that chocolate was bad for dogs.  Plus, I grew up in Nebraska where you fed your dogs pretty much anything).  At Easter, we'd hide Easter eggs for her to find and she would push and paw them around until she broke them open and got the M&M's out.  

My childhood dog, Muffin...Yes, she went to Olan Mills with me to get our pictures taken...
One of the things I am most grateful for in my life is not having a date for my junior prom so that I happened to be home the night that Muffin died....

Now, with my 15-year-old dog, Bailey, I'm keenly focused on the fact that he won't be around for much longer.  In the past year, he's slowed down and aged considerably. He's not suffering, but he certainly has his slow days like we all do.  And there are a lot of changes that you need to make to accommodate an aging dog...changes that are hard and that test your patience.  Mopping up piddles on the floor - several times a day - is just part of my day now, and it's a rush to wrap him in a towel and carry him downstairs in the morning without peeing all over me.  Our walks are slow and some days he wants to go farther than he should.  But he eats like crazy, loves to get back rubs, still plays with his tennis ball, and gets uber excited when I fix him chicken.  (Yes, I'm a vegan, but my dog loves chicken like it's crack and he's 105 years old, so I think I can compromise).  I cherish every day that I have with him and his aging has taught me a lot about life, taught me to be more patient, and made me realize that at some point, we're all gonna pee on ourselves...   

My best buddy, Bailey...
When the time comes for Bailey to go, I pray that I'm with him.  As painful as it is to think of having to be the one to decide that it's time for him to go, I'd rather be there with him, giving him a back rub, as I send him off, than having him die alone in the house some day while I'm at work....He's been with me for over 14 years, through every good and bad moment I've had, so I want to be there for him in his last moments...

The loss of our pets can rip out our hearts.  While they're here on earth with us, we give them our whole hearts.  They love us, through thick and thin, good days and bad. They love us even when we may yell at them for messing on the rug or barking, or for scratching up the couch.  They are loyal to us, sometimes to a fault.  They never care what we look like, how fat or thin we are, or whether we make a lot of money...all they care about is getting some lovin' when we come through the door, some quality time with balls or toys, some good food and treats, and a warm bed.  Our pets show the truest form of unconditional love that there is.  So when they leave us, it can be as painful as the loss of any other loved one.  If you don't believe that, then maybe you've never loved a pet the way they should be loved....

In the past year, several of my friends have lost their beloved dogs or cats.  Their grief was as real and painful as I've seen when anyone goes through any other loss...and it's important to allow yourself to go through that process of grieving the loss.  As a psychology major, I remember that there are five stages of grieving - DABDA:  

D:  Denial
A:  Anger
B:  Bargaining
D:  Depression
A:  Acceptance

With any loss, including that of a pet, it's important to allow yourself to go through all of these stages, in whatever order they come, and however long it takes.  The fact that you've lost a pet instead of a human, doesn't mean that the DABDA process is any less important.  The Humane Society also has some tips for dealing with the loss of your pet.   And if you doubt the power that pets can hold over us, think of all the strong, macho men who wouldn't cry if their grandma got hit by a car, but would weep like a baby if that happened to their dog....Pets are our achilles.  In fact, some of the few times that I've ever seen my dad cry was over the loss of his hunting dogs....

In the past year, several of my friends have lost their beloved cats or dogs.  I've seen their hearts break, and my heart broke for them.  So here's a tribute to those wonderful animals I've known in the past year who held a special place in their humans' hearts:  

Ali (cat):  You never came out to visit much, but we always knew you were there and your mommy loved you so much.  I'm sorry that Bailey would freak you out!  I hope you're getting all the shrimp you can eat now!
Monkey (cat):  You were my friend's first baby.  You could calm her with your purring, so I hope that once in awhile you can purr in her ear to send her some love.  
Kaya (Husky):  You were my boyfriend's first girl - and I didn't mind.  His heart broke into a million pieces when you were gone and he misses you every day.  
Odin (Bull Mastiff):  You were the neighborhood's biggest boy and everyone loved you. I'm so glad that you went out in style with lots of cheese and your mommy by your side. I miss seeing you lumbering down the sidewalk with that goofy grin on your face...
Winston (cat):  If your mommy could have made a pedestal to put you on, she would have.  You really were the cat's meow, king of the house, and your mommy's loving baby.

The Pet's 10 Commandments

1. My life is likely to last 10-15 years. Any separation from you is likely to be painful.
2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
3. Place your trust in me. It is crucial for my well-being.
4. Don’t be angry with me for long and don’t lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your friends, your entertainment, but I have only you.
5. Talk to me. Even if I don’t understand your words, I do understand your voice when speaking to me.
6. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget it.
7. Before you hit me, before you strike me, remember that I could hurt you, and yet I choose not to bite you.
8. Before you scold me for being lazy or uncooperative, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I’m not getting the right food, I have been in the sun too long, or my heart might be getting old or weak.
9. Please take care of me when I grow old. You too, will grow old.
10. On the ultimate difficult journey, go with me, please. Never say you can’t bear to watch. Don’t make me face this alone. Everything is easier for me if you are there because I love you so.
Is there a companion animal to whom you'd like to pay tribute?  Please do so here...


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