—It seems like just yesterday, I looked into your sweet furry face for the last time when I said goodbye. You were scared, I know, but that changed. You relaxed and let me know that you were going to be okay. You would feel better. And then you were free.
We don’t just grow up and become parents of little people. Some of us are fortunate enough to become parents of furry four-legged pets too. Sometimes, we get to parent a pet before we have any little people. They teach us how to love unconditionally. They teach us how to have patience. They teach us how to be responsible. They teach us how to put caring for someone else ahead of ourselves. They teach us what it means to be loyal. They show us that we can still love something, even when they make mistakes. Even when they make messes. I am one of those lucky parents.
—Seeing you sick broke my heart. I hated to see you so sad. I knew you didn’t want to make messes or wake me in the night. Like a newborn baby, you were helpless. You depended on me. I couldn’t fix you. Or take away the pain. And loving you was not enough. I had to let you go.
Some people don’t understand what it means to take care of a pet. Some of those people can’t understand how much it hurts to lose one of those pets. But a loss is a loss nonetheless. Having a dog or cat by your side every day for many years becomes part of your world. You might have days when you are too busy to play or snuggle on the couch, but you are there. Much like taking care of a little person, you make sure they have what they need. That they are fed and that they know they are loved. They are as much of a part of your daily life as any other person in your home. Losing them means losing a piece of your heart.
—I still think about you all the time. Sometimes I still cry. I look for you where you used to sleep and listen for those loud snores and grumbles you would make. I wanted to see you today when I came home from work. And hear your loud silly barks and snarls that told the neighbors that your momma was home. I wanted to throw your favorite toy hippo across the room and watch you run after it.
When you become a parent of a little person, you get to share the love of a pet with that person. Your little person gets to grow up learning all of those things you learned from them too. How to be kind to someone else. How to play gently and share toys. How to take turns. How it feels to have a best friend.
—I remember so many funny things about you. I have more stories than I can tell. There was the way you stood beside me staring at the floor every time I ate a snack waiting for me to drop one of my potato chips for you. And the way you would rub your face all over the carpet and make those silly noises when you were excited. You were also scared of everything. You were afraid to go into PetSmart, so you would poop on the floor in the middle of the store every single time. And thunderstorms made you shiver and shake.
Our pets become part of the family. They might fuss and annoy us sometimes, but they have our backs. You can share your secrets with them and no one will know them. They are here to lift us up during bad times, like sickness. Or divorce. Or the stress of daily life. They console us when we are sad. Or mad. They have a way to help us through what is hurting us. They protect us and watch out for us. They try to keep us safe. And scare burglars away quickly if they enter your home. They even make sure we know when our pizza has arrived at the door.
—Remember when you figured out how to open your crate while no one was home with you? Not once, but TWICE, you escaped and ate a Star Wars Darth Maul figure. We had to put a padlock on your crate to keep you safe. And keep the kids’ toys safe too! And what about when we moved to a new apartment and it took you FOUR months before you were brave enough to walk on the laminate flooring. Oh how I miss the way you made all of us laugh.
One thing is different about parenting pets than parenting kids. Our kids grow up and learn to do things for themselves. They grow up and want to leave you to spend time with their friends. To move away and start lives of their own. Pets never leave you. They don’t talk back to argue or show disrespect. They don’t ask for things that are not necessary. They need you to take care of them forever. They don’t want to leave the nest and they trust you with their lives.
—I would have taken care of you forever if you wanted. But the look in your round black eyes told me otherwise. You tried to tell me something was different longer than I could admit. You were patient and you waited until I understood you. I wish you were still here, but not like that. I couldn’t watch you suffer any more than you already had. I hope my sadness will soon be replaced by all of the precious memories you gave me and my kids who have grown up with you. We will forever remember you. We will forever be grateful for all that you taught us.
So when someone says they lost a pet, please be kind when they are sad. Pets are family too.
—Oh how I wish I could throw a cookie into your crate for you when you would let me know that it was bedtime. Just one more time.
For Maggie. June 2006 – January 2019