My mother vowed several years ago that she would never own another pet. "They just break your heart when they die and I can't take it anymore."
I agree with her. It's something I can't help thinking about each time we get a new pet, but so far the promise of joy and pure love a pet gives helps me ignore the heartbreak I know will come.
My dear friend Darla lost her sweet yellow lab Abby yesterday. She knew the day was imminent - Abby had been declining for months - but knowing doesn't protect your heart.
I first experienced that heartbreak in high school when I came home from school and Sheila, my eight-year-old beagle, had died. I had taken her to the vet the day before and he told me she was fine.
I never went back to him, that's for sure. When I heard she was gone, I jumped back in my car and just drove and drove, crying the whole time. I had lost other pets before, but Sheila had been mine, so she was my responsibility and my heartbreak.
A couple of years later, my dad and I had to make the decision to put our Siamese cat, Char, to sleep. She had feline leukemia - the vaccination wasn't yet available.
Mama was at work. We didn't consult her first, and I think it took great effort for her to forgive us for not giving her a few last moments with her, a chance to say goodbye.
Char had become her cat - well, it went beyond pet and owner for those two. When my sister first brought Char home, she had to promise to find another home for her soon: Mama didn't like cats. But Char melted her heart.
I can still picture Char sitting on the kitchen table, nuzzling nose to nose with Mama, while Mama croons "Char and I don't like cats, do we?"
Tom and I lost three pets within a few months of each other soon after moving to Lago Vista.
First, my Siamese cat, Char, died in my arms (she was named after the first one because she was so wild and independent.) She was seventeen and suffering from kidney failure. She was my first baby, only begrudgingly sharing me with Tom, the kids and the dogs, Jake, and Maggie.
A few months later, Tom found the body of fourteen-year-old Jake, a coal black lab mix, in the back yard. He had died in his favorite spot, gazing out into the woods beyond the fence.
We had just adopted two brother puppies, Charly and Chewy, and they kept Maggie company until her death just a few months later. Hers was the hardest for me even though she was an old lady of thirteen, because it was an accident, and I feel I could have, should have, saved her, if I had only checked on her earlier. Somehow her hind legs had slipped off the back deck, under the chicken wire fencing. Her hips were weak, and she couldn't pull herself up. And that's how I found her, just hanging there. In that moment, I understood what it meant to wail in anguish, all of the frustration, sorrow, and anger swelling inside your heart until it gushes out.
Soon after we moved into the new house, I felt that anguish again. Chewy and Charly got into a fight, christening the back deck with their blood and my tears. Tom wasn't home, but a neighbor heard my screams. With his help, we managed to separate them. Chewy had to be put to sleep. I held him, gazing into his glazed eyes, telling him I loved him, as the vet administered the shot.
We were nervous when the German Shepherd puppy wandered up to our property the next year, not sure how Charly would react to him. But Charly adopted him and now, even though Max is twice Charly's size, Charly still treats him like his baby. And Max lets him.
Now Charly is showing signs of his age - slow to get up, stiff when he does. We know he has congestive heart failure, but the other day he took off like a rocket, running with Max. I wouldn't have been surprised if his heart gave out in midstride, but it didn't. I'm thinking that would be the best for him - to be gone in a second in the middle of a run with Max, out on our dirt road, chasing a rabbit.
To everyone who has felt the heartbreak of losing a pet, here's a poem that our vet sent us after Jake's death. It has helped me over the years, with every new heartbreak, so I want to share it...
nor speak of me with tears,
But laugh and talk of me
as if I were beside you...
I loved you so -
'twas Heaven here with you.
(by Isla Paschal Richardson)