Pet ownership does all the marvelous things you would expect, for your kids. They learn responsibility, kindness, and compassion all while having fun. They learn you can’t just play when you feel like it and let things go when you don’t. It teaches them balance between the want-tos and the have-tos in life. I have four kids, who are now grown with their own pets. But when they were young and still in my nest, we had any number fish (yes, they count as pets), hamsters, hermit crabs, cats, and dogs. And I am not counting the injured bunnies and birds we found in the wild that didn’t survive our attempts to revive them.
Several of the animals we considered to be our pets were strays who apparently picked our household. Many were rescues where we picked them. Our dogs have mostly been girls to help me and Hannah balance out the testosterone in the household with a little more estrogen. Over the years, we have had multiple visits to the doggie ER (though not as many as to the people ER with four kids) due to the antics of having dogs who live in the country and eat all manner of things, from fish hooks to poisonous frogs. We have never found a good way to remove skunk smell from fur, though we have tried them all. We never kept a reptile, because this Mommy felt snakes and turtles should be free creatures. 😉
Pets have been a wonderful addition to our family. So much so, that we have developed a pattern. When an older pet dies, we get a new younger one to fill the void left behind.
Our first angel dog was a golden retriever named Jessie. Louise gave her to Hannah as a birthday gift when she turned 10. Then we rescued a dachshund mix at one of the boy’s soccer games. His name was Rusty. Jessie raised Rusty from a pup. When Jessie died, Rusty was sad. I wanted another Golden Retriever, but the boys wanted a Husky. We finally agreed on a Husky, but only if it was a girl. We brought our little fluff ball Bella home on Valentine’s Day. Rusty didn’t like her from day one, but he adjusted and attempted to raise her as best he could. He was no Jessie and he had very little patience. Once Bella was bigger than him, they came to a not-so-mutual understanding that Bella would be in charge. In fact, we all came to a not-so-mutual understanding that she would actually run the whole house.
Let me just say, she was a beautiful dog. White with gray markings, one blue eye and one brown. I always said her eyes showed you both sides of her personality. The sweet and tender brown one, and the wild got-to-get-free blue one. We quickly decided Houdini would have been a better name for her, as she escaped over and over no matter how we tried to deter her. She liked to play a game called make-your-owners-chase-you-all-over-the-neighborhood-until-they-give-up. It was her favorite. Followed only by roll-in-the-mud-in-the-creek-until-you-are-a-different-color. It was her special way of disguising herself so no one would recognize her.
Her goal in life was to run the Iditarod, which she attempted to get to every time it snowed. She really came alive in the snow, running, jumping, rolling, digging and smiling all day long. I wrote a few comedic blogs about her snow adventures. Snow Dog, Snow Dog Part 2, Snow Day with Snow Dog
The kids made her into a sled dog and she ran faster than they could go down the hill, then pulled the sled back up. She loved to play with them, she thought they were her siblings. Every walk we took she drew all the attention for her beauty. But she was shy around people. I always said she was a cat in a dog’s body. She was not interested in coming to you on your terms…only when she deemed you worthy would she let you pet her…and even then, only for a moment. Leaving you wanting more. A true diva in every sense.
Her fur was so much softer than you would think. I think that is because every last piece replaced itself at least twice a year. Fur tumbleweeds floated across my floors and built up in corners. We had enough Bella fur to weave a sweater for every member of the family if we had wanted. Despite the all the chasing and mud-rolling and fur, she has been a good dog. In her own way, she made her mark on our family.
Once Rusty was gone, she was depressed, which shocked us all. We thought she’d be thrilled to have a one pet household all to herself. Not so. Her tender side needed another member of a pack. She adopted Gracie. I say she did, because though we picked her out at the shelter, Bella had to approve her before we could bring her home. Within 5 minutes they were running and playing, and Bella was smiling again.
Over the almost 15 years we had Bella she became a part of this family, with her independent ways and her I-could-careless attitude. We all knew that attitude was just a cover for her tender heart underneath. Lately, she had been suffering. Not able to get up and down stairs anymore, not able to lay down without falling to the floor, not able to walk without falling down, not able to control her bodily functions, she was constantly pacing so she didn’t have to bend her legs. She had stopped eating. We had tried medicines and all manner of things to ease her suffering, but she was in decline. I had so hoped for a rally, but it did not come. We finally came to the hard decision every pet owner dreads. Today she went to doggie heaven. My heart is broken. My tears are flowing. Her passing was filled with treats and lots sweet talk and rubs. It was peaceful as she went to sleep for the last time. I am not okay, but I will be. I will be glad to have had so much time with her.
Pet ownership comes with a large amount of grief. Losing a pet hurts your heart. Watching my boys, who grew up with her, come to say their goodbyes this past weekend made my heart hurt even more. Yet, the benefits of having loved this dog, this animal, have far outweighed the hurt of this moment. She will always have a special place in our family. We will cry. We will miss her but we do not plan to find another dog. We are a senior dog home and with that comes everything dealing with seniors entails, doctors’ appointments, dietary needs, medicines, and lifestyle changes. We are still a two-dog household at the moment, though Peanut has been showing his age lately as well. It is the circle of life, from puppies to senior dogs.
The love of a pet is something that has benefited my kids for years. They have learned compassion, responsibility, and yes, grief. All the lessons life teaches. All the soft skills not taught in classrooms, but in backyards, homes, and along trails by the animals we love.
Thank you goes to Clermont Veterinary Services for their excellent care for Bella over the years, including making sure her last moments were peaceful ones.