Truly one of the greatest joys I have experienced in my life is having animals to share it with. Conversely, one of the greatest heartbreaks I've experienced is when it's time to say goodbye. And as every animal companion knows who has lost a beloved pet, the hardest thing is knowing when it is time.
Recently, one of my dearest friends had to say goodbye to her dog. Harry, a Great Dane mix, was 12 years and three months old when he passed. This is phenomenal for a dog of his size and breed, and speaks greatly to my friend's dedication to Harry. Though he was part Great Dane and part Border Collie, Harry inherited only the Dane genes when it came to his size. He weighed about 130 lbs and was truly a strapping guy. His black and white coloring, white bib, and polka dot socks gave you the impression he was dressed in a tuxedo and ready for a black-tie affair. When he was younger, Harry would greet me by jumping up, and resting his giant paws on my shoulders -- eye to eye (and I'm five foot, six which gives you an indication of his height). Of course, that's if I was "lucky." Harry would also take me down upon my arrival and once I was helplessly on the ground, he'd stand over me, smilingÂ triumphantly -- a true sign of his playfulness and affection.
Harry wasn't my dog. To him, I was Mama Jude. But, truly Harry touched my life, and I'm sure that once you're an animal person, they don't have to be yours to develop relationships or forge bonds. Harry brought great joy to many, and needless to say, I was greatly affected by his passing.
No matter how big or small in stature, our animals cast an immeasurable glow on ours lives. Their indomitable spirit and very being about BEING in the moment and grasping it for all its worth is one of the greatest gifts they offer us on a daily basis. If we pay attention, they teach us to embrace life -- to love, to laugh, to play -- and with gusto, damnit! Maybe because their lives are so much shorter, they know intuitively that every moment counts.
Their lives are shorter -- way too short. No matter how many years we potentially add with good nutrition, a healthy diet and exercise, exemplary veterinary care, and lots of love, their life expectancies are limited. This is our heartbreak. My friend's cat Stanley lived to be 25. My family dog Coco lived to the ripe old age of 17. And I'm sure there are many people out there who could tell me about their pets who exceeded even these numbers.
I know there are people who just don't understand the bond and love some of us have with our animals. But, to them I say, they are missing out. For me, as so many others I know, they are just as much family as any human member. The joy and unconditional love they give us is something -- well, you just have to experience first-hand to understand.
As hard as it is to embrace, we need to understand that the best we can do as guardians, is give them a good life, to love them, and honor them when it's no longer easy for them to be here. When it's their time, they accept it (so the experts say) much more than we do. I think the vet who knew Harry from the time he was a puppy and who also was there at the end, put it best when one of my friends asked her how she does it -- how she's able to put an animal down, especially one she has come to have a personal relationship with. Her response was: "I think of it as the last gift I can give them." And that's how we must think of it, too.
So when is it the time? I believe every animal guardian who knows their pet will know. We don't want them to suffer and that should be the bottom line. Animals will try to hold on for us -- but we need to let them know it's okay to go when they're suffering. My sweet cat Arthur was 17 when her diabetes was outpacing her ability to live a quality life. When she was a kitten and through her early years, if I was upset she would try to console me by putting her paw on my face - well, petting me. Then she seemed to forget about this gesture when she got older and instead would just in her quiet way, sit near me. The day came when her illness had gotten the better of her and she could no longer get up. I lied down on the floor in front of her and told her how happy I was to have had her in my life. For the first time in years -- and for the very last time -- she lifted her paw and rested it on my face. However, she was so weak, it was only for a moment. But, I knew what she was saying. I knew it was time.
May we all enjoy many wonderful years with our animals. Now go give them a hug, and instead of doing the dishes or some other chore, go throw a ball, or take them for a walk, or just embrace this moment!
Until next time.....
Pictured above: Harry
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