Losing pet like losing member of family

Published 1:50 am Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The first time I saw my Daddy cry I think I was about 13. Of course, I was sobbing, too, and seeing his tears only made me cry harder.

That was a dark day that stands out in my memory and the feelings of loss are there even after all these years. Those memories and feelings rushed back this weekend when I got a message from my youngest son.

The text said, “She didn’t make it.”

Reading those words, I felt such heaviness, so much sadness. That’s when I remembered another day, another goodbye.

Rusty, a German Shepherd/collie mix, was a part of my life from the day I came home from the hospital wrapped in a blanket in my mother’s arms. Daddy told the story about Rusty’s reaction the first time he heard me cry. At six months old, he was barely more than a puppy. Until my arrival, he was my parents’ only baby and he wasn’t sure what to make of the tiny human who made funny noises.

However, he adjusted quickly to my presence and Mother said he became my protector. He also adjusted well to the other kids who became part of his family over the years.

Rusty was a fixture in my life, as much a part of the group as my brothers and sisters. He was there with us when neighborhood kids filled the yard for a kickball game or when we played hide-n-seek under the stars.

If Daddy was outside, Rusty was at his heels or resting on the ground beside his chair. When Mother hung out clothes, he trotted along behind her and watched as she pinned each piece to the clothesline.

I never gave much thought to the fact dogs don’t live as long as humans. Unfortunately, it is a fact and when Rusty passed 10 years, he developed health problems, probably the worse one a skin condition that kept him itching in agony. He also started losing his eyesight and his hearing.

Finally, he was so sick Daddy knew his time was running out. The veterinarian did all he could, but there was nothing left to help Rusty get better. And, that is when that sad day I remembered arrived, the day we said good-bye to Rusty. The day I saw my Daddy cry for the first time.

This weekend my son, Tim, and his wife, Meredith, said farewell to their first baby, Lola Belle. The white Pomeranian puppy was a gift from husband to wife on their first wedding anniversary.

While she was a gift for Meredith, she seemed to claim Tim as her own and when they came to visit, you’d often find her in his lap. In fact, among pictures from last year’s Christmas gathering is one of Tim on the couch with Lola perched in his lap.

Last week, Tim messaged me asking for prayers for Lola because she was at the vet’s office not doing well. Since she was much more to our family than simply a pet, I called Tim to tell him we were thinking about them.

Friday they thought she was improving, and hoped to bring her home Monday. Then came the message Saturday.

I can’t explain this to folks who haven’t experienced how an animal becomes part of your family, but it felt like I lost a furry grandchild. And my husband, who was always sneaking treats to the dog when they visited, felt the same.

When I called Tim, I heard his voice catch when he told me they were going to pick up Lola’s things later that day. I wanted so much to give him and Meredith a hug to show them how sad we felt for their loss.

As hung up, I remembered my Daddy’s tears, and I thought what a gift it is to love animals, to share your life with them.

Lola Belle was such a gift and we’ll miss her presence in our family. Rest in peace sweet girl.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.