I swore I would never get another pet after I had to have my cat put down. I cried for several days and kept apologizing for my tears. I would say, “She was just a cat”, because I felt embarrassed. Most animal lovers were very sympathetic but others weren’t as understanding. Then I had kids and my boys started talking about a dog.
My youngest son Chase didn’t have much to say at that point in his life but one thing you could get him to talk about was a dog. As a result it didn’t take long for his speech therapist and pediatrician to get on board with him in the campaign for a dog. After explaining what they saw as the therapeutic benefits I decided I was brave enough to give it a go and started my research about what kind of dog would be best for us. All Chase cared about was the color. He was adamant he wanted an all black dog and he was going to name him Buddy.
It didn’t take long and we found the puppy for us – an all black miniature schnauzer. We knew he was the one for us when I picked him up and he snuggled right into my arms. We were all smitten at once. He wasn’t a perfect dog but he was ours and had such a fantastic personality that even when he would drive us crazy we couldn’t help but love him.
For a dog that was as full of life as Buddy it was hard to believe that he had any health problems but he did. Our purebred dog turned out to be inbred and had a whole host of health concerns. When he got sick and was down for the count we always wondered if he’d be able to bounce back. With the fighting spirit he had and the great care we gave him Buddy always did. Sadly last week that wasn’t the case. Buddy’s years of chronic problems caught up with him and he had to be put down. To say it was heartbreaking for me is an understatement. If Chase hadn’t handled it as bravely as he did I don’t think I’d be able to stop crying.
When I had to call my oldest son Luke to tell him the news it was all I could do to maintain my composure. He doesn’t see his beloved Buddy everyday like he used to and so he had a list of questions about what was wrong with Buddy and how much he suffered and where he would be buried. At one point in the conversation I said to him, “Well sweetie all dogs go to heaven so we’ll see Buddy again.”
Then Luke, who doesn’t miss a thing, told me that he’d heard animals don’t go to heaven. We talked about this a bit and I told him I really wasn’t sure but that the only thing that offered me any comfort at the moment was to think that I would see our beloved Buddy again. We kept talking and encouraging one another and then hung up.
After we talked I did my research and discovered that the Bible is not clear about an afterlife for animals. Man was clearly given dominion over the animals and lots of references are made to the relationship between man and animals but the Bible just doesn’t say one way or another. We’re told that when Christ returns to redeem the earth the lion will lay down with the lamb but does this mean we will be reunited with our lost pets? Nobody can say – although lots of debate has taken place about this subject.
As I was reading and trying to find some solace for this loss that has left a whole in my heart what helped me the most was realizing that animals are so much more to us than we know. To subdue the loss of a beloved pet is to devalue the experience of having them. I’ve come to think that any man that says, “It was just an animal” is a fool who could never experience the joy an animal can bring to life.
Humans and dog have benefitted from mutual protection and companionship for centuries. There is something deep in our nature that loves this special relationship. To give and receive love and to nurture someone or something brings us great joy. Because dogs are not human we get to share our true self without needing to defend our actions or feelings. We express our love toward a pet without worrying about being judged or rejected. The devotion a dog can show us is often unmatched by any other relationships we have. We find with a dog a haven of unqualified love and acceptance in a demanding and critical world.
It’s no wonder that for some of us the loss of a beloved pet brings so many tears. While I keep trying to find my way through the sadness I’m reminded that Buddy has meant the world to me because he gave my two autistic kiddos something “normal” to talk about. He also took the place of having a third child because it certainly didn’t seem wise to have more when you had two special needs kids to begin with. As our family changed Buddy somehow knew that he had a role to play in helping us through that. He took turns making sure each one of us felt loved and protected by him. Buddy filled a void in each one of our lives and he did it with more personality than any dog I’ve known. He had an infectious enthusiasm for life and I will truly miss that.
I can’t help but think that the greatest lesson I need to learn from Buddy is found as much in his life as it is in how I’ve responded to his death. Buddy loved me for the simplest reasons. I fed him and cared for him and he responded in turn by feeding me with joy. It wasn’t complicated. There’s such a beauty in that because in this world no matter how hard we might try to keep it simple we just can’t.
I recognize that the life of a man has many more facets then the life of a dog but much of that complexity is generated by our constant focus on the past or the future rather than living in the present. People just can’t take things for face value like a dog can. We have to examine everything through every possible perspective we can think of and subsequently miss life right in front of us. We over complicate everything.
Perhaps the proverbial, “dog’s life” is one we all need to take a lesson from. Living well in every moment with the simplest expectations for ourselves and others instead of barking up all the wrong trees would probably add years to our lives. With this in mind I have to let go of wondering whether I will see Buddy again or not. Getting lost in that debate is contrary to what I was supposed to learn from him which is to quietly sit next to the folks who care about me and be loved through my joys and sorrows. That’s a good life and every smart dog knows it!