By Allison White, ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D
I faced the fear that many pet lovers experience ? that my beloved pet was getting old. I was watching for any indication of declining health. When my 14-year-old dog suddenly became ill, and the malady wasn?t subsiding, I wondered whether to visit the veterinarian. Many times I?ve waited hours in the emergency room only to be told everything was fine. But do I risk my dog?s health? No. So we dashed to the urgent care facility.
After what seemed hours, the veterinarian entered the room smiling as she announced ? once again ? that everything appeared normal. I could have hugged her! I had more time with my beloved dog.
As I nursed my dog back to health, I reflected on the short time we have with our pets: Have I given him a good life filled with love and joy? He looked so peaceful as he slept; I guessed the answer is yes.
On his 14th birthday, I gave him an overly stuffed dog bed, which I placed at his favorite spot by my chair. He sniffed it, turned away and jumped onto my chair instead. So, I moved the new bed on top of my chair. What?s wrong with this picture? Nothing. It?s the least I can do for a dog who loves me unconditionally and asks so little. It?s what we do for our furry kids.
Sharing our lives with pets can be hard, because we lose them far too quickly. But it?s still worth the time they spent with us. They have so much to share. Dr. Temple Grandin stated in her book ?Animals Make Us Human? that pets have a keen awareness of their surroundings and practice mindfulness skills by living in the here and now, which I am reminded of when my golden retriever stops to watch a butterfly. How many times have I missed such amazing gifts of nature?
In Dr. Marty Becker?s book ?The Healing Power of Pets,? he talks of how our pets share life lessons if we would only pay attention. It took my dog?s illness to clarify both my fear of losing him and the joy he continues to bring every day. Our pets teach us not to be judgmental, but to be compassionate, joyful and appreciative of the love we receive. Pets help us become children again, letting us play, laugh and enjoy the silliness of the simplest experiences. Our pets remind us of what?s important in our lives ? the bonds, the special connections we share. Those are what truly make us human.
As our pets age, it?s human to fear the impending loss. We are never ready. We?re losing a friend, family member, someone who has loved us no matter what. When this time comes, don?t struggle alone. Reach out to someone who will listen empathetically. Acknowledge your feelings. Don?t deny the impact your pet?s loss is having on your life. Take care of yourself! Get enough sleep, eat and take extra time just for yourself. Many people feel that they must ?get over it? quickly without facing the true depth of the grieving process. Our situations are unique; there is no standard time frame for grief.
The human-animal connection is powerful. The joy, love, companionship, fear, loss ? the whole emotional connection ? add another dimension to life that?s difficult to replicate. Our pets teach us lessons if we take time to pay attention. As we honor their lives, we also honor their memories. When it comes time to say goodbye, we will have received the greatest gift ? the deep love and affection of a faithful companion. Those memories will stay with us forever.
ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D, CHC