Family Pets Teach Life Lessons

“What you’re doing is the ultimate act of love.”

The doctor’s words filled the small room. My wife, daughter, and I, emotions racing, looked downward towards the labored breathing of an important member of our family.

“Dogs only feel the now,” he said. “Once the moment has passed, they no longer recall it. If they are in constant pain, that is all they know.”

Looking back down, the small bundle of fur that gave us a never-ending fountain of unconditional love for over a dozen years, lay motionless.

The doctor placed his hand on the small of the chest, listening to the breathing with his stethoscope. When finished, he gently brushed his palm across the length of our dog’s body as to reassure him he was loved. The breathing, although weak, struggled on.

While I cannot speak to other pets, dogs hold special place in both my life and heart. And this one, I almost feel disrespectful in using such a generic term. Particularly one who bonded and served our children as they grew up. To look back at old photos or recall memories is to see our world intertwined with his. It is simply impossible to separate our lives.

“Would you like me to give you a few more moments alone?”

The words were more of a statement than an actual question. Excusing himself and slipping outside the door, the three of us came together, arms around each other, tears welling up.

I guess that is one of the lessons a family pet takes on – to become inseparable in both the living and memories. The chewed toys, the scratches on the front door, the small jar on the counter filled with treats.

But beyond the thee-dimensional come the invisible emotions buried deep inside our souls. And from those, come the real value, the real lessons, the real love we discover together.

A knock comes from the door.

I think about the day we met, me laying of the floor of a small house watching him and a handful of others in his litter running around the room, jumping on each other, nipping at anything they could get their tiny teeth into. From my vantage point, my head nearly resting on the carpet, he seemed different. While others continued racing around, he cautiously approached. With unsteady steps, he seemed curious about what the world outside awaited.

Pulling open a single drawer, the doctor slowly explained the process to us.

“The sedation has taken over. He does not feel any pain.”

During house training him, a big winter snow came along – forcing us to shovel a pathway outside so he could make it to the grass. But no matter, he wanted to please us and did his duty like a trooper.

Finishing the procedure, the doctor returned his hands to our dog’s chest, listening.

Pets are, in many ways, a child’s first real exposure to life and death. The love the feel is voluntary, but deep, real. The memories are fused with moments of pain, joy, and comfort. Children see them come into the family; they see them leave. The cycle of life, although abbreviated, is as real as any other member of the family

“He’s no longer in pain,” said the doctor, lifting his stereoscope.

A room never felt so quiet.

As the three of us held each other, we shared in one final gift from him – the emotional completion of a beautiful life that never stopped loving us.

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