Many years ago, Brian and I were on our way to look at a German Shepherd puppy. Brian said something like “We’ll just look”…like we were shopping. I thought to myself, “What kind of conclusions does he think we’ll make: She’s too furry; she’s too small/big; she’s just not right.” I said to him “What will you use to judge if this dog is good enough for us to take home?” In other words, what could possibly be wrong with an 11 week old puppy? We both knew that we weren’t “shopping”. If we decided to look at her, it was a good as we weren’t leaving without her…or at least without a plan to come back and pick her up. And that’s what happened. The owner, who couldn’t keep her agreed to sell her to us for a song.
Michaela, named after Michaela Quinn, Medicine Woman (Brian’s doing) fit right in with our family. She put herself in charge of our 1-year-old Lab Tahoe right away, even though she was a fraction of his size. He submitted to her. And then one day, I realized that she wasn’t just our dog, she was a partner in running the household. She quietly knew how things worked, and she kept a close eye on all of us. I actually had no idea that this was going on until the day that Tahoe left through an open gate. Michaela barked up the stairs at me until I acknowledged her. When I finally figured out that she was trying to get my attention, I realized that Tahoe was gone. Michaela could have left too, but somehow she knew that leaving the fenced-in area wasn’t part of the house-hold plan. I found Tahoe in the neighbor’s front yard and guided him home by his collar. When I put him back into the fenced area, Michaela lunged at him and bit him on the head…TWICE! I was speechless. For the rest of time, I looked at her differently. She was truly an extension of me, of us humans. Protecting and guiding all of us, while monitoring and assisting with day-to-day operations.
So where does love grow? Did I love Michaela more because of her intelligence? I don’t think that was possible. I loved her and Tahoe equally, even though they were such different dogs. I’m not exactly sure where it grows, and it’s probably not important to know the answer to that question. The fact that it grows is what’s important. The thing we aren’t aware of is how horribly dangerous it can be.
Some close friends and a family member lost their beloved pets during these last few weeks. The tug at their hearts I know all too well. We lost our Tahoe and Michaela several years ago, and it felt like an unbearable and unfair happening. I see the loss and sadness in my friends’ eyes, in their actions, and their struggle to regain a sense of normalcy in their every-day lives.
Our culture promotes the idea that death is an unfair and unbelievable happening. I remember as a kid asking my mother if she missed her parents. I wanted to know how she went on not looking devastated that her parents were gone. I realized some years later that what I was really hoping to learn was how people cope with loss.
She told me that she didn’t miss them. I just couldn’t believe that. But as I look back on her answer, I think she was trying to protect and teach me by being a role model for loss. Showing me that life goes on even when we lose loved ones.
I can’t exactly say what my purpose for writing this is except maybe to sort out my own feelings about death and loss. For animals, we have the gift of euthanasia. I remembering thinking that exact thing when we brought Tahoe and Michaela to the Vet’s office for the last time. As much as I knew I would miss them and my life would change, it was slightly less important than the gift of being able to end their suffering.
Like coping with the loss of anything, keeping busy, exploring our many interests, keeping close with family and friends, and otherwise maintaining a meaningful life will get us through. Getting involved with organizations that help animals is also a worthy and priceless endeavor.
And, lifestyle permitting, getting another pet is probably the best medicine.
Check out Jon Katz’s Going Home video here. Kleenex recommended.