Goodbye too soon

Our companion pets are something that we are blessed to share our lives with. Unquestioning love and devotion, without judgement, without limit. But far too often we are struck by tragedy in our lives. Living with companion animals means that the joys they bring come eventually at the cost of sadness. Saying good-bye to a loyal companion is the hardest part of the human/pet experience.

For me, I prefer to focus on the joy part, and remember the years of happiness shared with a pet. The days of coming home from a stressful day at work, to find a bouncing ball of happy fur who doesn’t care how bad the rest of my day was, but is just there to make the rest of it as best as they can, without judgement or question (so long as I make sure the food bowl gets filled first).

Nothing strikes at the heart more than that first day you come home to a quiet entrance. Our bodies get accustomed to the rhythm that happens after years of conditioning, and the absence cuts deep.

Point in case, Stitch. You’ve read references to our French Bulldog, and her various adventures. Last summer, she had a spinal injury, which x-rays of her lower back revealed was due to malformed vertebrae, something that apparently is common in flat faced dogs, which we did not know. Rest, pain meds and time allowed it to heal, and we installed a ramp for her, and carpets to reduce chances of her slipping and re-injuring herself.

Last week, she was suddenly struck by excruciating pain in her neck area. An emergency visit to the vet revealed a suspected problem with her neck disks, but to properly x-ray that area requires sedation. We went home with more pain meds and anti-inflammatories, and awaited our x-ray appointment. These x-rays showed significant issues with her entire spine. The immediate issue with a few of the disks may have been correctable with surgery in Saskatoon, but the long-term prognosis was not favourable. Even with the surgery, she was looking at a life of pain, and/or pain meds, and recurring issues that could require multiple additional surgeries. She did not deserve that fate.

It is easy to let the grief take over, but I really think that our companion would hate it if they knew we were sad, and that their passing made us so. It would break their hearts, because they did not mean to fail us, it wasn’t their fault they had to go. It is our job, our responsibility, to not let that happen. I know, it is impossible for any feeling human not to experience emptiness in losing a friend, but we cannot fail them by putting them through pain purely for our peace of mind. We must make that impossibly hard decision for them, in their best interest.

Whenever we think of their absence, we need to remember a joyous moment they shared with us. The first time they “shook a paw” (Jackie taught Stitch to shake, but whenever I tried, she would raise her paw and then growl like she wanted to bite my hand), her first “zoomies” in the backyard, the way she would play with a steel bowl… little memories that were special to that one relationship.

We can’t ever replace an animal companion, and each one has a special place in our hearts. We are lucky our hearts are big enough for them all to share space with each other. Rather than trying to replace them, we can invite another one into our lives. We assuredly will, knowing full well that it is most likely that they too, will pass before we do. Yet we willingly enter into that arrangement, because we know both our lives will be fuller for it, and any sorrow that may come at the end is more than paid for in the joy that will be shared together.