From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at candida[AT]borderstan.com.
Borderstan, just this week a dear friend of mine lost her beloved pet, a dog she’d had for 14 years. Witnessing the grief and pain she’s been going through has made me reflect.
Pets are a wonderful thing to have in one’s life. The typical experience for most of us is that they become another full-fledged member of the family or household. We watch them grow, enjoy their affection, marvel at the many different expressions of their singular personalities and, yes, are occasionally irked by naughty behavior.
I am sure the reverse is true for them too; they learn to work around our preferences, time their biorhythms around our schedules, adapt to our personalities and carve out a life in our homes, with our families and friends, occasionally having to put up with a rowdy party, or a baby crying through the night.
In the case of dogs or pets we take outside the house, we may even make new acquaintances. How often have you heard people refer to neighbors as “So-and-so’s Mommy” or “XYZ’s walker,” etc. I’ve enjoyed occasionally dog-sitting for traveling friends, because I like the excuse to take longer exploratory walks, sometimes into areas I would feel more self-conscious just wandering around in aimlessly by myself.
With an animal on a leash, your presence is much less surprising, no matter where you end up. I also really enjoy observing what a dog picks up on or observes, in contrast to what I notice when we’re both in unfamiliar territory.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who can’t remember every single pet they’ve ever had. Even some of our friends’ and co-workers’ pets become memorable to us. They really do become a big part of our lives and our pasts, so it’s always sad to see them go. I still fondly recall the dog that used to accompany one of her owners on his evening shifts at my former bookstore. I remember the gentleman who, at times, walked around Corcoran Street and that vicinity with a parakeet on his shoulder (and bird droppings down the back of his shirt!).
Pets can sometimes even become a testing ground for our ethics or morals. If they get very ill, or are lingering in a terminal state, we have to face complex decisions about care, support, whether and when to terminate a life… They can teach and test us in ways we may not anticipate, spurring us to growth or added insight.
As I empathize with my friend’s fresh loss, I am reminded of the pets I had and the many friends who’ve been through this. The bookstore “guard dog” is no longer, but boy do we still love to reminisce about her; the parakeet owner posted desperately worded signs some years ago, after his bird was lost; we all share joy and grief as pets come into and eventually leave our lives. If we happily shared love and companionship with them while they were with us, hopefully that knowledge and those many good memories will do a little to help us get through those especially raw and difficult first days after they’re gone.