Loving a pet changes us because animals have a nobility of spirit that draws out the best in us. They allow us into their lives, and ask only for love and respect. The bonds of devotion that form between pets and humans can be as profound and as deep as any relationship. And when our pets die, we grieve.
Nicole wrote recently about the death of her beloved dog Dora. She had lost Daisy, another dog, not long before, as well as a brother and an elderly cat. Her words are below. They are powerful and come from a heart that has been broken by death yet held up and enlarged by love.
When my wife Evelyn died, Nicole was the transplant coordinator who handled Ev’s organ donations. Nicole’s compassion was evident then, and she was one of the core people who helped me find my way through grief. Over the years, I have grown in admiration and awe of her love for all creatures, especially those who are suffering. Living a life of compassion is not easy on the heart. Dora was a rescue dog who had been mistreated, but she blossomed under the care of Nicole and Jeremy.
On her last full day on earth, Dora and I sat under a tree the whole day, talking, watching the chickens, eating Fritos and other tasty things. I tried to explain (because she was really smart, like a small child) that in the morning, we would go see Dr. Enz. She would get very sleepy and when she woke up, she'd be at a new farm, with a young dog's body and nothing would ever hurt again. There would be no 1 greenie a day, or 2 bones per week limit there!! And she would never need any medicine again, especially the eye drops, which she really hated but dutifully lifted her sweet little face for twice a day when dad asked. I reminded her to look for a small white dog named Daisy, who would show her the ropes. She had her paw on top of my hand for most of it. I had the feeling she was trying to console me; she knew I was sad, and didn't like it. She slept a lot too, and I kept watch over her.
I sat outside with her until late at night. I didn't want the day to end, and I really didn't want the morning to come. We crunched ice together. Dora always did her best "good sit" for ice out of my cup so she could crunch it like Mama did.
I miss her. Immensely. Painfully. Ice just isn't the same anymore.
She had a role in every activity, or just followed us around. She loved Eli [Nicole’s grandson], and if he was out, she was next to him. I know she understood he was a "puppy" because she'd been a mother many times. She didn't like any other animals getting too close to him, and routinely chased Bobbie or the chickens off, which they hated, because Eli dropped a lot of food on the ground and all the animals knew that.
Things didn't start out all peaches and cream. I wasn't looking for a dog; in fact, I was laser focused on taking care of the little old man that Daisy had left in my care (Danny). I almost said no, but something stopped me, and I thought, "what's the harm in seeing if she's a good fit?" I mean, we were literally her last stop. Older large breed dogs are really hard to re-home.
She arrived with no tag and no records. How can a dog be 7 years old with no vet care and NO TAG?? In the beginning, her attitude was politely aloof. She sat off by herself most of the time, occasionally coming around me but really avoiding Jeremy, which was weird, because her previous owner was male. We learned that she was deathly afraid of the water hose, and began to piece together that she hadn't been treated very well or shown much love. Her hips were bad, and her eyes were cloudy, with a sticky discharge. We took her to our vet and she started on medicines for her hips and eyes. (As it turned out, she had an autoimmune disorder that caused the film over her eyes, but eye drops cleared that up pretty quickly.) As her hips felt better, she moved around more, and within a month was RUNNING all over. It was an amazing transformation. I'm sure her improved vision didn't hurt either. I got her a tag with her name and all of our info, because she mattered. She was important. And she was loved.
I know I'm supposed to be grateful for the gift of Dora, that she found us, that we had 11 months together. But I'm stuck - stuck in sad with a side of mad.
I took this picture of her that day, and you'd never know anything was wrong by looking at her. That was Dora, always with a smile, greeting friends and family alike; she even liked the Fed Ex guy, who took a while to trust her. I get it, she was a big dog with a big mouth.
That night I tried to make her "stay" when I went to bring in the goats and sheep, but she just couldn't not go. So, she hobbled along, made it halfway, then plopped down in an exhausted heap, with a loud groan. At least she could watch from there. It was enough. She still got her handful of sweet cob when I returned, because she was the Goodest Girl, with the Pretty Sit.
Dora loved sweet cob, but sometimes she'd get a whole chicken egg after I made my rounds, and that was THE BEST. Her mouth was so big and scary at first to me, but she took everything from my hand so carefully and gently, with a polite lick at the end as a thank you.
She was considerate and kind. She very politely designated a far corner away from everything as her bathroom. Loving and forgiving. Clumsy as hell - she had no idea how big she was. If she was anxious or lonely, she came over and leaned against my legs, Dora's version of a hug. I learned right away to brace myself for it, lol. When I came home from a trip to town, she always met me at my door. SO HAPPY YOU'RE HOME, MOM!!! And then she'd sniff the car to see if I'd brought her Chick-fil-A.
The farm is quiet again, desolate, lonely, cheerless - like it was after Daisy passed. I don't know how many times I can do this, honestly. But I'm beginning to realize that animals find me, and there will be another one, sooner or later. Until then, Danny and Bobbie and I will love each other through this, as we did when we lost Daisy, and then Miss Olivia.
So, you know now, because I over share, is that I'm hurting; what you really need to know is that Jeremy, who is the opposite of an over-sharer - is devastated without his dog. As much as I loved her, Dora belonged to Jeremy, which is the real testament to the incredible being she was. She came all the way back from not trusting - to loving 100%. I'm obviously still processing all that Dora meant, and all that she was, and why she came to us specifically (and why didn't we get more time?! Seriously, wtf??)
I needed to write this down mainly for me; but also because there needs to be a record, an official entry into the universal log book, of Dora Hixson, Herder of Goats and Sheep, Guarder of Eli, Tender of Cats and Older Gentleman Dogs, and the Goodest Girl with the Prettiest Sit.
Grieving Our Pets - https://widowersgrief.blogspot.com/2018/10/grieving-our-pets.html
Pets and Grief - https://widowersgrief.blogspot.com/2016/01/pets-and-grief.html