The little “Valentines Litter” has left and my house and now it seems way too quiet. I have an extra half-hour in the morning and at bedtime; no more cleaning up puppy pads, mopping floors, feeding eight excited little mouths, or any of the other responsibilities that come with raising puppies. When you’re a foster parent, letting go can be tough. But when you see the joy of the families who are bringing home their new little bundles of fur, it makes it all worthwhile.
The timing of hosting this litter at my house was perfect, because in the midst of all the hubbub of raising them, we had to let go of one our own. For those of you who read this column regularly, I’m sure I don’t have tell you how traumatic it can be to lose a pet. It was devastating, and quite frankly I was thankful to have the joy and distraction of those beautiful puppies to help ease the pain.
Late on Christmas Eve, we returned home from a family gathering and our 170-pound, 10-year -old Leonberger, in his excitement to greet us, slipped and fell on the tile. Leonbergers are a giant breed of dog with a typical life span of about 8 years. King was well past his prime and had been struggling with a weak back end for a couple of years. When he slipped and went down, his back legs splayed out at an unnatural angle and we knew right away that he was in trouble. A midnight drive to an emergency veterinary hospital in Delaware ended in our worst fears; he had nerve damage to his back left leg, and recovery for a dog his size and age was pretty much impossible. The vet recommended euthanasia, and at 3 a.m. on Christmas Day we had to put down our big guy.
He was a wonderful family dog who, in spite of his size, was an incredibly big baby. He was gentle, loving and totally spoiled. The absence of a 170-pound creature in your house leaves a very big void; the loss in your heart leaves an even bigger void.
After the pups left and the full brunt of the loss of King was settling in, I was asked if I had the choice to have my animals live for 30 years rather than their normal lifespan, would I choose that?
Would you? Would you prefer to have just one or two pets in the course of your life and perhaps avoid the pain of losing them every 10 or 12 or 14 years?
I found that question virtually impossible to answer. As a true animal lover, I have had many wonderful pets in my life. Thinking back about them, it occurred to me that if cats and dogs lived viable lives of 30 years, I would have only experienced maybe two or three of my previous pets. I feel like I have had special relationships with all my pets. They all had different personalities, they all had special meaning in the different phases of my life, and I have learned many different things from experiencing the unique joys and challenges that each one gave me. So which ones would I have given up if I could only have had a few?
This is the first time I’ve really been able to talk about losing King. Weeks after his loss, I still find that I brace myself for the gargantuan and enthusiastic greeting that he gave me whenever I came home. Would I have passed up the chance to love and be loved by this big guy rather than still have a dog that I had gotten when I was in my 20s?
I don’t know the answer to this question and I’m glad I don’t have to make a choice. I share this with you mainly to give you pause should you ever you find yourself hesitating to get another pet after the loss of one that you’ve dearly loved. Don’t deprive yourself of finding a new four-legged companion who will typically bring you a little frustration in the beginning, a whole lot of joy for many years in between and, yes, ultimately sadness in the end. That’s life; share it with a shelter animal – that’s a life well lived.