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Pet Love and Loss

I’ve written in the past about loss, but it was of the inanimate kind. Today I’m writing about the kind of loss we always dread—the living kind.

I expected to not leave my house today. I had three goals for the day: 1. Do laundry. 2. Complete the IRS paperwork for one of my volunteer organizations. 3. Count the money from the school’s Harvest Festival. Simple, right? Of course not.

At 7:37 this morning my phone rang. It was mom. Her cat—a 22 year old evil thing who loved NO ONE except my mom—had been failing for a few weeks. This morning she actually smelled as though she’d already died, but was just walking around anyway. It was like a scene from Stephen King’s Pet Semetary. We’d discussed putting her down for some time, but my mom firmly believed that she was still eating, sleeping, drinking, peeing, so other than the fact that she was ancient and looked like hell, she wasn’t suffering. This morning was different. She’d seemed as though she was on the verge for days, but for some reason couldn’t quite go over to the other side. It was time to help her out. I called Friendship Heights Animal Hospital and we took Prissy over. They did the rest.

In a person’s lifetime, if you are a pet person, you are likely to experience this loss quite a few times. It makes one wonder why we do it. Our animals have a lifespan that is a fraction of our own. The fact that Prissy lived for 22 years was shocking. A tribute to the quality care my mom gave her I’m sure—as is the fact that they still have an American Boxer dog (average lifespan of 8 – 10 years) who is 13. I’ve had three cats and three dogs who lived and died with our family in my 34 years. That’s a good amount of loss. And yet, today I am celebrating the 2nd birthday of two of my cats, and have two others (10 and 11 years old) laying by the fireplace as I write this.

I know all too well—especially today—that I will experience their deaths long before I’m close to my own (knock on wood). Yet, I also know that I wouldn’t trade them for the world, and in fact am likely to bring more animals into my home at some point. But the question remains why? Why do we get so attached to these animals, knowing that they cannot live with us for more than a short period of time? Why do we allow them to become such integral parts of our lives and families in the first place? There are plenty of people who are not “animal” people and never get attached to them. What makes me different?

The answer actually came to me yesterday before I even thought of writing this. I had planned to largely spend yesterday at home too, but had to go down to my office first to shut down some equipment then again a few hours later to turn it back on (building maintenance). Both trips, when I came home, all four of my cats were sitting in the front hall waiting for me. This morning, when I woke (before that phone call) all four of them were asleep on my bed curled around me. Why am I hooked on my animals? The answer is simply love.

I have not a doubt in my mind that those animals love me unconditionally. All they ask in return is food and for me to love them back just a little. I have friends who don’t like cats, say they’re sneaky and can’t be trusted. I know differently. I know that they are vicious bug hunters and awesome foot warmers. I know that they will actually listen to you talk as though they understand. They feel when you hurt and will sit and just be with you when you need it. The same can be said of dogs. Bowser—my mom’s Boxer—knows when I’m at their door and when I’m ready to leave he insists on walking me home, checking my house for intruders, and then going back to my mom. His whole face lights up when I just look in his direction. When his time comes, it’s going to hurt like hell. But I will take the pain because before it have been YEARS of that unconditional love.

Love is the most basic of emotions that we ALL crave. We seek it in each other, and if we’re lucky we find a human partner in life who can share it with us for the long term. But our pets can provide an unconditional love to us that is never questioned, never wavering, always available.

So for those of you who don’t get the whole animal thing, I would encourage you to give it a try. Personally, I find cats to be a bit easier than dogs, but just visit a shelter—the Washington Animal Rescue League is a great one in DC. Visit with the animals. See what it feels like to be loved just because you’re there. Trust me, you’ll get hooked on the feeling too.

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