One of the hardest things for a pet owner to do is to say goodbye. This is something I know intimately. I’ve had to say the final farewell a few times over the years. It’s heartbreaking. Gut wrenching. Agonizing. But also, it is inevitable. And it’s the inevitability that’s the hardest part. It’s the looming specter that haunts our relationship. From adorable new arrival to grey-muzzled senior.
Impossible to let go.
But I do. I must. It’s part of our life together. The closing of the circle. This final honoring of the brief time we shared here on earth, during a particular season in the history of my life, and an integral part of the telling of our full family story. The different stages are marked by the pets that occupied our home, and most importantly, our hearts. For the large part dogs, but there have been a menagerie over the years. Cats, birds, gerbils, fish, hamsters, and all the wild creatures that I’ve loved from afar.
But dogs are my spirit animals. I relate best to them.
Dogs have taught me so much over the years. Unconditional love being the predominant theme but there are all the other virtues as well. Loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, dependability, trustworthiness, dedication, good humor, playfulness, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, perseverance, appreciation, gratitude, being of service, and doggone doggedness.
The most important lesson I learned from a lifetime of loving dogs has been to live in the moment. It’s been a hard lesson and I’m still not entirely certain that I have mastered it. If you’re going to love a creature with a life expectancy between ten and twenty years it’s best to come to terms with the fleeting nature of the relationship. One minute you’re cradling a playful pup with enormous soulful eyes and the next your resting your head beside a tired elder who is on the cusp of drifting away into the great hereafter. It’s that fast. A blink of your eye. A wag of his tail.
Every time I’ve brought a new puppy home I effortlessly slip into those rosy early stages of falling helplessly and hopelessly, head over heels in love. Denial is my default state of mind in the blissful beginning. It’s so easy to tell myself that it will always be like this. Forever best friends. We’ll spend our entire lives together. It’s easy because in the beginning, the end seems so far away.
But even then, deep down I know the truth. We won’t. It won’t last. In some ways, it’s the absolute worst kind of love affair. But it’s also the best. The purest. That’s why I continue to pursue it.
Somewhere in the middle years of your dog’s life you start to see the signs. The little “tells” that their puppy years are long gone. So are their hyper teens and the energetic robust years. Their pace is slowing a bit on your daily walks, their jump is a little closer to the ground, they don’t retrieve the ball as quickly, their back may even take on an arthritic sway. There are lots of little signs that things are starting to change. That’s when I’m sucker-punched with my first dose of reality. My puppy is on his way to being a senior. There is no time to squander. No more basking in the sea of denial. Every second with them must be savored. Cherished. Breathed in and held.
I must live in the moment.
This is the big life lesson each and every dog has whispered in my ear. Be here in “the now.” Appreciate this time. Stay focused. Remain in the present. This is all that truly matters. All we have. All any of us have, truthfully.
Don’t wander off. Don’t head on down the road of sadness before it’s time. Stay put. Stay, girl. Stay.