Our four-legged friends can bring so much happiness into our sometimes mundane lives. Our beloved pets are non-judgmental of our numerous faults and imperfections – so long as they’re fed regularly and we show them some attention and affection once in awhile. They tend to worship us and remain loyal until the end. The hardest part of pet ownership is knowing when to put down a furry family member. In a perfect world our four-legged friends would never suffer: they’d simply settle into a peaceful nap and not wake up when it was their time. However, that preferable scenario most-likely will not be the case for many, and I imagine most of us aren’t even thinking that far ahead when we first become pet owners.
My wife and I adopted an adorable mutt from our local animal shelter just a few months after we got married. I guess the honeymoon stage of our marriage must’ve been over for us to have even be considering expanding our family so shortly after tying the knot. (In actuality, I’m happy to say our honeymoon has never really ended.) Our new puppy was a Brittany Spaniel and Elkhound mix, so we cleverly named her Brittany. She was a short-haired breed, so in our naivety we assumed Brittany wouldn’t shed very much although we soon found out she’d leave behind a hairy mess wherever she ventured.
Brittany donned a coat of white fur with small brown and black spots scattered about. Her unique markings featured a solid black configuration resembling a headshot of Disney’s loveable Mickey Mouse character (famous ears include) which draped over her back like a horse’s saddle. I taught our indoor dog how to sit, shake, speak, lie down, and roll over. A year later my lovely wife and I decided to have a child since we had been pretty successful at raising a puppy. (What’s the difference?) After our son was born, but before mother and child were released from the hospital, I took one of our newborn’s caps home to Brittany so she could familiarize herself with our baby’s scent. We had heard somewhere that this would help ease any anxiety our dog might have adjusting to a different surrounding.
Brittany seemed enamored with our son and watched over him like an older sister would. They soon became good friends, but sometimes Brittany had to remind her human counterpart of their pecking order. I remember when our son was about four years old, and I was watching him and Brittany frolic in the leaves one crisp, autumn afternoon. Our little one had been continuously chasing around his playmate, within the confines of our fenced in backyard, when apparently Brittany had finally had enough. She came to a sudden halt, swiftly turned around, and knocked her “brother” to the ground. Our son quietly sat there for a bit, probably trying to decipher what just happened, until he must’ve determined it was all part of the game since he then got up and began pursuing his four-legged friend again. Each round Brittany would humor her annoying companion for a while before playfully knocking him back down.
When our son got a little older he’d tell me to “make a hole” whenever I’d lay down on the couch to watch television. His request meant for me to turn onto my right side and curl up my legs so there’d be a place for him to nestle into. Brittany would usually come lay next to the couch to be near us. I’d periodically reach down and pet her tummy or caress her velvet-like ears. I’m sure her favorite was when I’d gently take one ear, between my middle finger and thumb, and slowly rub as if attempting to snap my fingers. Brittany’s diet mainly consisted of dry dog food, but she certainly enjoyed munching on pizza crust during our family movie nights. She loved popcorn as well and could catch the puffy stuff from a considerable distance…until one day she couldn’t.
By the time Brittany had turned 16-years-old she had lost a good portion of her eyesight and her hearing. She no longer frolicked, and she had suffered a few mini-strokes during the last couple of years. We did not witness any of her episodes firsthand, but sadly we couldn’t help but notice the aftereffects. With each stroke it became a little more difficult for her to bounce back from than with the previous ones. We eventually decided it was time to put her down. I was with Brittany, caressing her velvety ear, as her loving spirit left this earth. That experience remains one of the toughest times of my entire life.
We had acquired a cat, Junior, when Brittany was just shy of 10-years-old. After Brittany’s passing Junior immediately stepped into the role of greeting us at the door whenever we’d come home. Maybe such actions taken by a feline aren’t unheard of, but surely it’s at least a bit unconventional. I am not a cat person by any stretch of the imagination. I do not fully appreciate their independent nature; I want a pet to come to me when I say, “Come.” I’m also easily irritated when hearing that faint, annoying sound they make throughout the day commonly known as, “meow.” However, our son wanted a cat for his 8th birthday, and it just so happened my younger sister who lived right next door was caring for a litter of kittens at the time, so being the wonderful parents we are we obliged our one and only.
Our son was absolutely thrilled with his birthday present. Our new addition was your basic black and white kitty; however, he did have a very pretty face. Junior got along well with Brittany (for the most part) and wasn’t that much trouble because our son was in charge of taking care of his four-legged friend. When our boy went off to college somehow I inherited the feeding and the dreaded cleaning of the litter box duties he left behind. Unfortunately, as much as my wife and son desired Junior’s attention, he ultimately chose me as his number one target when craving some affection. He preferred no other lap to mine. Sometimes I’d accommodate Junior and sometimes I wouldn’t. (I think it was my way of showing him my independence.)
Over the years, I grew to somewhat like Junior (excluding his annoying, “meow,” of course). Like Brittany, Junior eventually succumbed to that harsh, but unavoidable, reality we call old age. Our 18-year-old cat’s eyesight and hearing had significantly diminished, and he was experiencing other health related issues as well. His feeble frame had become a mere shell of what it once was. Last week we decided it was time to put Junior down. I was slightly comforted, after arriving at the animal clinic, when the veterinarian concurred that putting our kitty down seemed like the right thing to do. Junior’s faint breathing dwindled as his “chosen one” wept uncontrollably next to him. I continued softly stroking his scruffy fur, a few more times, after the doctor pronounced he was gone.
I foolishly thought it would be easier this time, but putting Junior down wasn’t any easier than when I watched Brittany take her last breath. I think the most difficult part of the life-ending process is the aftermath. Knowing I was ultimately the one who determined the fate of another is almost unbearable at times. Carrying around the guilt for “playing God” doesn’t ever completely go away. There’s also the guilt when recalling the times I could’ve been more attentive, more affectionate, and sometimes more patient with Brittany and with Junior. Oddly enough, I was recently thinking maybe I had finally gotten to the point where I could actually consider becoming a dog owner again, but after saying another tearful goodbye to a beloved pet I’m certain that will never happen. For me, the pleasure of owning a pet is not worth the pain that inevitably comes with having a four-legged friend.