I had five dogs. Had. As in past-tense. That number dropped to four a few months ago, and then to three last night. See, the problem with pets is that they give you unconditional love, companionship, and cuddles for years and years and then they force you to make some of the toughest decisions you could ever have to make and, ultimately, leave you with a tiny piece of your heart missing. I realize it may be hard to understand for someone who has never loved a pet, but for anyone who has, I don’t care if it’s a dog, cat, rabbit, hamster, mouse, parakeet, potbelly pig, aardvark, whatever, it’s a crushing loss.
When I was a kid, I was terrified of dogs, yet I always wanted one. I figured if it was mine, I wouldn’t be afraid. But my parents were not dog people (again, note the past-tense), having never had dogs of their own growing up, so, instead, I had some goldfish and a hamster I refused to touch and hated from the moment I got it home. In college, I dated a man (and I use that term loosely) who had the sweetest baby of a pitbull (this dog literally spooned me when I cried) which rendered me completely unable to survive without a dog. Side note: My love of dogs is the single positive thing I got out of that relationship. When I moved back home after college, I begged my parents to let me get a dog. They agreed I could get a small dog, and I adopted a five year-old chihuahua who I named Nacho (His name in the shelter was Chi Chi. Why do shelter dogs always have the dumbest names? But, I digress). The first night I brought Nacho home, he completely won my parents over by pawing at their hands any time they stopped petting him. My parents hadn’t realized the wealth of intelligence and personality dogs possess and were instantly smitten. Nacho was a total lovebug and I still wish I had more time with him. Our story, however, did not have a happy ending. I won’t get into the tragic details here, but I needed to talk about Nacho because he was my first dog and will always have a piece of my heart. If I didn’t mention him, it would be like I’ve forgotten about him, or he was insignificant, and neither of those things is true.
Fast forward to my adult life… I had three dogs for a long time, Eva, Zoe, and Marley. Eva has always been my heart. I swear that dog just got me. When she was my only dog, and even for a while after, I took her everywhere with me: friends’ houses, camping, even on a plane to San Francisco. Zoe was always my goofy little loner, and Marley, well… he was a little stressful at first but he’s a sweetheart and a mama’s boy. My husband has two dogs, Rohan and Tuffy, so when we got together, we became [almost] the Brady Bunch of dogs with five between us. I am grateful to have fallen for a man who shares my love of dogs, especially small ones. I find comfort in knowing he’s secure enough in his masculinity to be seen walking down the street with a chihuahua wearing a pink and purple puffy winter coat. The chihuahua would be wearing that, I mean, not my husband. Just to clarify.
I lost Eva a few months ago at just about 14 years-old in the most horrific way. Long story short, she was attacked by a dog I agreed to foster. We tried to keep them separated, to be safe, but the dog pulled her through the bars of a baby gate with no provocation or apparent reason, and after a week of surgeries and care at the emergency veterinary hospital, we ultimately had to let her go. This was, and still is, devastating to me on so many levels, so many guilt-ridden levels. But I’ll save that PTSD story for another day. Zoe was 15 years-old (possibly older; she ended up at the shelter as a stray, so we never knew for sure), with Lyme Disease and some sort of neurological issue. So, while not shocking, she did take a drastic turn for the worse suddenly and you can just never truly prepare yourself. Last night, I made the decision to let her go, as well.
Anyway, all of this to say that I came to have a dog family I’d never imagined. I often thought about how strange it was, if you really think about it, that I had all of these little animals who lived in my house, slept on my furniture, and relied on me for literally everything. But dogs give so much in return. Things that money can’t buy. Things that a perfect job, a perfect body, amazing friendships, even a fantastic marriage can’t replace. But the fact of the matter is, we will most likely outlive them. There will come a time when we have to decide whether their quality of life is sufficient enough to keep them with us, or whether it’s time to put own desire to hold on to them forever aside and let them go. No matter how big or how small, how young or how old, they will always be our babies, which only makes that decision and the subsequent loss that much harder to swallow. In the end, we can only try to focus on the gifts we gave each other, the lasting memories made, and the fact that for however long we were together, we took good care of them, gave them food, shelter, love and affection (and, in my case, Snuggies and Michael Jackson costumes), and cherish the paw prints left on our hearts.
This is dedicated to my precious girls, Eva Tiffany and Zoe Sophia (Yes, they have middle names. When I was pregnant and all hopped up on hormones, I thought it would be hilarious to give all of our dogs middle names. And it was.) I will love you forever. I hope you’ve found each other on the other side of the rainbow bridge.