Blessing #12: Family Pets

I’m still raw from the loss of Sadie, our beloved Boxer of 9 years. In the midst of my heartache this past weekend, I wondered why we would ever torture ourselves with the inevitable pain of losing, essentially, a furry child.

The journey that I’ve been on the past six months, the one that made me count my blessings, so I could get up in the morning, helped me to look at my pain differently. Through the tears, I know having pets are not only worth the pain, but they are truly blessings in our lives, bringing unconditional love, responsibility, and pure joy with them.

Sadie was our third dog. At one point we had three Boxers running around the house: Jazz, a fawn Boxer; Sierra, a white Boxer; and Sadie, a brindle Boxer. It was quite a sight to see them together; I wish I had a picture of all them together. The last two years we only had Sadie and Chico, the odd-man-out Chihuahua. Our house has been full of love with these beautiful dogs.

We never think of the future heartache when we first bring the puppy home. We are consumed with potty training and loving on the sweet little face. I’m sure we had some rough moments potty training them, but I don’t remember.

The one thing I remember from those first weeks with our new puppy is that each of them cried all night in their crate. The only way to get some sleep was to bring each one in bed with me. I have vivid memories of them falling asleep on my chest, comforted by my heartbeat. Of course that set the stage for them sleeping in bed with us (or at least wanting to), but it also created a bond that couldn’t be broken. They were my babies and rarely left my side.

Our first dog Jazz surprised us at every turn. Jazzy was 6 months old when we left her alone for the first time. We gated off the kitchen and left her in there for a few hours. She had food and water, and if she had any accidents, no harm would be done on the linoleum floor. I never thought that she would get into my canisters on the low shelf of the microwave cart. When we got home, the flour canister was on its side with a pile of flour on the floor. Jazz’s paw prints were in the pile, which contributed to the white trail all over the floor. The sugar canister, however, was empty. Jazz, we discovered, had a sweet tooth. She had licked that thing dry, but the speed at which she ate the sugar and her over-active saliva created a sugar beard and mustache. She looked like Santa Claus.

Another time we were building a gardening table and needed soap to lubricate the screws. Jazz was outside with us the whole time watching us work. She was so loyal that we never had to put a leash on her; she stayed in our yard without an invisible fence. When we took a break for lunch, Jazz stayed outside. After lunch, I couldn’t find the soap and thought I had misplaced it. We soon found out that was not true. A half-hour later Jazz started farting bubbles. No one looked more surprised than Jazz did at what was coming out of her butt.

At the end of Jazz’s life she started having seizures, which left her blind and deaf. I found her standing with her face in a corner a few times because she didn’t know where she was or how to get out of there. After that she stopped eating and then stopped drinking. I didn’t want to face the truth, so I gave her water through a straw and lay down next to her to pet and kiss her sweet face. Dave brought her to the vet the next day to put her down. I’m sad that I wasn’t there for her last breath. It’s my only regret for the time I had with Jazz.

Sierra was a gift for my husband after my mother-in-law died. She helped Dave overcome the pain of losing his mother. Sierra knew her role instinctively and became his dog; she loved Dave. Sierra followed Dave around the house and always had to be in the room with him. He also trained her to jump into his arms; actually, there was no training involved. He said jump, and Sierra did it.

Sierra was a floppy-eared, tongue-wagging dog. Where Jazz took her role as family dog very seriously, Sierra just wanted to have fun. Her favorite game to play was tag; however, she never knew the right time to play. I’d be in the kitchen making dinner, and she would hit me in the back of the knee with her nose. My knee would give out, and I’d turn around to yell at her, only to find her with her front paws and head down, ready to dodge right or left depending on my next move.

Sierra comforted Jazz during Jazz’s last weeks; she also helped us raise Sadie after Jazz died. She understood her place in the hierarchy of our family. Sierra’s last months were brought on by throat Cancer. She fought a good fight, and in the end, she died in my arms at home. I was glad I was there for her.

Sadie was a gift for Carol Linn. Carol Linn struggled with changing schools a second time after the traumatic move away from our family and friends in New York. She cried—or screamed is more like it—for two weeks when we had to move again. The only way to comfort her was to get her Sadie. After the first few weeks, Sadie and Carol Linn were inseparable. Sadie slept with Carol Linn and became her best friend until Carol Linn became a teenager. With volleyball, friends, and school, Carol Linn had less and less time for Sadie. It was then that my bond with Sadie truly began.

Sadie had a tender heart that sensed the pain in others; it’s no wonder she also had a keen sense of smell. I remember before the tumor in Sierra’s throat began to show, Sadie was constantly sniffing Sierra. Sadie did the same thing to Ian. She sniffed Ian’s head constantly, and it drove Ian crazy. It wasn’t until later that we discovered some dogs can smell Cancer.

My fondest memory of Sadie is when Ian was going through Chemotherapy. Ian was bald and frail. He couldn’t play with other children because his immunity system was non-existent; any bacteria or infection could be deadly for Ian. Sadie was his only playmate. Ian’s favorite thing to do was drive his battery-operated four-wheeler on the sidewalk while Sadie raced with him. (I jogged behind them.) Sadie would run right next to Ian, giving him the false impression that he could beat Sadie in a race, which thrilled Ian to no end. Ian would try to block her path, and Sadie would dodge around him, making Ian giggle with delight. The fact that Ian never lost his laughter during that difficult period in his life is because of the joy Sadie brought him. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

These last six months with Sadie were difficult. With each test coming back inconclusive, Dave and I knew that the dog that could smell Cancer was probably slowly dying of it now. We tried everything we could to prolong her life, but the day she stopped eating and looked at me with sad eyes, I knew we couldn’t take the same path we took with Jazz or Sierra. Prolonging her death would be selfishness on our part; starvation would be a horrible way to die. As painful as it was, I held my sweet Sadie when the drug stopped her heart.

After having three female boxers, Chico has been an interesting addition to our family. Sadie was incredibly patient with his barking, jumping, and biting (I can’t say the same for other family members). He came to us from Nelson my father-in-law who felt bad for leaving Chico alone most of the day. Chico was almost a year old when he came to us, so I missed mothering him as a puppy; however, we have made up for lost time. Chico is always waiting patiently by my feet now for an opportunity to jump into my lap. Once there, he nuzzles into my chest and arms and will stay there for as long as I let him. He is also the only one of our dogs that plays fetch and, ironically, keep away at the same time. Truthfully, that is a little annoying. 🙂

Chico sleeps in his kennel in Ian’s bedroom; Ian loves the company. It’s been sad watching Chico mope around, looking for Sadie, but he’s starting to adjust. I’m looking forward to many wonderful years with Chico.

Our pets have been the perfect example of unconditional love. They love us and want to comfort us when we are in pain. Just being in our presence fills them with joy. We also give that love back to them by taking care of them. This responsibility has developed selfless love in my children throughout the years; having to take care of a creature that cannot take care of itself creates a relationship that is strengthened by giving, not taking. Pets bless us by forcing us to think of someone else besides ourselves. As parents, children do that for us; but there is no better way to develop compassion in our children.

The biggest blessing of having a family pet, ironically, is found in the heartache of losing one of them. Their deaths have reminded me that life goes on. Even when we are in the midst of pain and feel hopeless, we have to move forward with and through the pain and still function because life continues to move forward. As much as I wish my dogs could have stayed with me forever, that is not how life works. Learning to accept the pain and delight in the memories of their lives builds strength and perseverance; traits we will need to pursue our dreams. How could I ever regret that?

Thank you, my beautiful pets, for the many blessings you have brought into our lives.


2 thoughts on “Blessing #12: Family Pets

  1. Awesome! I have written quite a few posts about Charlie our female cocker spaniel. Yes, the day will come some time when she’s no longer here but I treasure her everyday for now. Last year at this time she was in doggie ICU recovering from a back operation for a herniated disc. She’s now back to normal and gives us much joy each day.

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