How we love our pets. I don’t know if it was the expression on my face or the tears welling up in my eyes that tipped off the total stranger sitting in the waiting room with her dog. I just know that as I was leaving the vet’s office after dropping off my cat Beau for surgery, she leaped up to give me a hug, and soon I was crying on her shoulder sobbing, “It’s just so hard to leave him here.”
Beau had a gross looking sore on one of his hind feet. The vet wisely decided the best plan of action was to amputate his toe and send the whole mess to the lab for evaluation. The test came back positive for a low grade cancer, so taking the toe was the right decision and gives him a good chance at survival. Still, as I dropped him off that morning you would have thought I was the one having an amputation.
My concern for Beau started me thinking about all the pets I have loved in my lifetime. I remember each one so clearly because each one still occupies a place in my heart. You, too?
The first dog I can remember was a brown and white spotted, mid-sized mutt named Sally. She had the brightest brown eyes, the pinkest tongue, and the curliest tail you’ll ever see—and I loved her so much. Sally was just one more of the playmates my sisters and I had when we played hopscotch or jumped rope. She was always with us and always up for a romp. Over the years we also had a collie named Prince, a cocker named Prissy, and a cat named Cocomo. How I remember each one.
As a newlywed in the sixties my first “baby” was a miniature dachshund named Sebastian. This is the dog I dressed up in baby clothes while awaiting the birth of my first son because he weighed seven pounds and I thought I could practice on him! He’s also the dog that was so jealous once the baby came that he lifted his leg all around the bottom of the changing-table skirt I had painstakingly made. In so many ways Sebastian was just too smart to be a dog, but he was funny and affectionate and my heart still leaps whenever I see a mini-dachshund.
Two more dogs followed. Gorgeous light golden retrievers named Lady and Lad. Lad was Lady’s puppy. She gave birth to 11 puppies, but I was on the phone with the vet after 10 had been born and he told me to bring her in for a check-up. I called her and she obeyed, dropping puppy number eleven out on his head. I have a feeling that was Lad, because as one vet said, “He’s about as bright as a billiard ball!” Lady was brighter, however, and both dogs were loyal and lovable. They were my jogging partners during a difficult time in my life. After Lady and Lad, I haven’t had the heart to get another dog. The holes they left just seem too large to fill.
Naively, I thought cats might be less of an emotional investment. Wrong. My son Tim convinced me to adopt a calico cat we named Callie. Next we adopted two kittens I named Kate and Allie after my favorite TV sitcom at the time. After a trip to the vet, we had to change Allie’s name to Al because she was a he! When Kate escaped one night and didn’t make it home, she was replaced by Betsy—a calico barn cat whose meow was stuck in her throat. We had Al and Betsy for 14 years and losing them was heartbreaking.
So it took almost a year before we adopted Molly, a sweet grayish cat we’ve had for 12 years now. I read an article that said a single cat might become depressed, so a few months later we adopted Beau. That’s when Molly really became depressed! Unlike Al and Betsy who curled up together daily, these two cats barely tolerate one another, but both are wonderful companions.
I think we grieve the loss of our pets so deeply when they go because they are so much a part of our daily lives. They need us, and we need them. In fact, I can’t imagine my life without a clever, comforting, entertaining cat in it. One adage reads, “Every life has nine cats.” Husband beware. It looks like I’m only up to seven. Two more to go to secure my crazy cat lady status!
I give myself permission to love my pets as I do because they, too, are God’s creatures given to us to care for and enjoy. Psalm 36:6 says, O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. Psalm 150:6 reads, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Our pets have breath. Dare we believe they also have souls and will greet us in heaven? Theologians may disagree, but I’ll just wait and see. Meanwhile, I’ll just love on the two I have. Or do they have me?