You know who you are. You learn the dog’s name before you remember your neighbor’s name. You go to a party and spend more time petting the dog than chatting with strangers. There’s a TV show called Unlikely Animal Friends that features relationships between different species that we think are strange. Well, humans and dogs are different species, but we bring these furry animals into our homes. We feed them, cuddle them for comfort, take them to the doctor. Dogs protect you and are so excited when you get home. We often spend more time with our dogs than our relatives. So how do you keep from falling apart when you lose them? Why do some people not understand the pain of losing a dog? I remember every dog I’ve had and how hard it was when they were gone. I can’t be sad right now though because it’s time to feed the dogs. We keep getting more because we’re Dog People.
I’ve always had a dog, and they’ve been a member of the family, not just a pet. Life is a rollercoaster at times but when you come home and are greeted by a happy wagging tail and excited dog kisses, regardless of how long you were away, it just makes you smile. Dogs don’t care if you had a crappy day, what the weather is or if you won the lottery; they just can’t wait to greet you.
I got Domino, a border collie, when she was about ten weeks old. I wanted a more active dog than others I’ve had, but the first two weeks I had her, all she did was lay on the floor. I would pick her up and move her from place to place like a stuffed animal. It was so strange that I called the guy I got her from to ask what was wrong. The guy laughed and said, “don’t worry, she’ll come alive soon.” That was an understatement. It wasn’t long before she was constantly bringing me a ball, a frisbee or her favorite squeaky toy to throw for her. She was a bundle of energy and loved playing soccer but throwing most any toy would work, or she would resort to nipping at my daughters’ heels and herding them around the back yard.
When I started dating my wife, I kept her miniature pinscher, Spinner, while she was at work. I had a big yard so the dogs could run around. Spinner got along with Domino, except when he would chew the squeakers out of her toys. I guess he didn’t like the constant noise, but otherwise, they were buddies. Spinner was older than Domino by five years. As they got older, Spinner lost his vision, his hearing got bad and he had a really hard time getting around. As hard as it was to think about, we expected Domino would be around after Spinner was gone. That’s probably why it was such a shock when Domino suddenly stopped eating and lost her ever present energy. We were stunned to learn she had cancer. I had just lost my dad to cancer and then gone through it myself, but I wasn’t ready for my dog to be diagnosed.
There was a vet specialist in the area that had seen this before in dogs, but cancer is cancer. It hits you deep in the gut, and there was no way to explain to Domino what was going on. She had surgery, and the doctors were optimistic that they had gotten everything. She was eating better for a while, but on a follow-up appointment, we learned that the cancer was back. I took Domino back to have a second surgery. When we got out of the car, she looked at the vet building, stopped, looked at me briefly and then tried to go back to the car. As much as I wanted to do anything possible for her, I knew this would be the last effort. She was done, and I couldn’t force this on her. It reminded me of when we decided to stop treatment on my dad’s brain cancer. Sometimes you have to let go and accept the road that’s ahead.
Domino held on for a couple more months. We laid on the floor with her, held her and tried to hand feed her, but too soon, we knew this had to end. She was suffering, and it was time to stop. Domino was only ten years old.
I think it was the cancer aspect of losing Domino that made it harder. The same way when people take the loss of a loved one that was 95 years old with a different acceptance than the loss of a teenager. Both are painful, but one feels more unfair. People cope with loss differently, the way introverts and extroverts deal with issues differently. Some people keep it locked up, and others only want to hear people say they’re sorry. Neither way is right or wrong, just different. It’s only worse when you encounter those people that like to hear themselves talk, and they start out saying how sorry they are only to move on to how their own loss is so much worse than yours. I’d rather be ignored.
I can’t remember how long we waited to get another dog for some companionship for Spinner, but it wasn’t long. We’ve always adopted a different breed or mix of dog after losing one. Some people like to get the same breed that may even look like their previous dog, but for me, it helps to move forward if it’s a visible change, and the dogs have different personalities. Later, when we lost Spinner, we took Lucy to the Humane Society and let her pick out a dog, Reesie. In another story too long for now, we ended up with ten week old Daisy for a three dog pack. People ask what kind of dogs we have, and the answer is a black one, a brown one and a white one. The dogs pretty much have free run of the house but are well behaved and very well loved. The current pack doesn’t make the past losses go away, and we will always miss Domino and Spinner. We never get over missing dogs we’ve lost; we just move our love to the next one. Love them while they’re here because one day you’ll wish you could hold them just one more time.