As I walked through the door of our local brew pub yesterday afternoon, I was immediately greeted by a 55 pound chocolate lab named Barley. The name is appropriate as he is owned by the brew master. Barley is still a pup. A big one, but a pup none the less. And like any kid growing into his body, he was as agile as a drunk at closing time. But his joy at receiving a new guest was unrequited, resulting in the attention of not only me, but virtually everyone in the pub.
I have been an animal lover my whole life. Our ‘kids’, both feline and canine over the years total 13, not counting the two that currently keep me sane every day. So I knew, I had encountered nirvana when he danced, twisted, turned, rolled over, and yes, peed on the floor just because I gave him some attention. I remembered how many of my pups loved attention and would scamper to find something to play with, be it a purchased toy or an old stick. It didn’t matter. It was a symbol of discovery.
For me, there is no greater purity of spirit then that of a dog. They love, trust, and without reservation, totally commit themselves to those who return their affection. Most of our dogs have been rescue dogs. Dogs of questionable lineage, but of unquestionable devotion to those that showed them a modicum of kindness. The joy I have known over the years has well eclipsed the effort and time required to care for them. It has been a labor of love and I am a better person for it. It has been the happy end of that stick.
I walked out of the veterinarians office with a broken heart a few years ago. It was not the first time, simply one of many, but it didn’t make a difference. The pain was palpable. Half an hour before, I had entered with a long time friend and faithful companion. He trusted me as we walked through the door. We had done it many times before and he saw it as an opportunity to charm the staff out of some treats. But, this time was different. He had been diagnosed with a severe case of diabetes and none of the options were positive. The vet said we could inject him with a medication every day to suppress the effects of the disease on his body, but it would not improve his condition. Or we could put him to rest. I am of an age where I do not want to stick around if my quality of life has diminished to the point where nothing is going to improve it. I knew that was where we were. With the only sound being that of my heart breaking, I nodded, accepting the ultimate alternative. He lay in my lap, lethargic but trusting me to take care of him. The first injection caused him to go to sleep. He looked at me with the brown eyes that had captured my heart so many years ago. Slowly they closed and I knew it was time. I patted him one last time, hugging the limp body while I died inside, and exited the room, mentally grasping the other end of the stick.
I know as does every pet owner, when we enter in the pact with our adopted ‘kids’ that my choice comes with consequences. I realize that the time will come that I will again be charged with the responsibility of ‘doing the right thing’ and with it, again expose myself to the heartbreak of loss. But I also know that to not have loved and been loved by a furry friend would be to deny myself one of the greatest experiences of my life.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”