a dog’s life

I used to think so-called “pet people” were a bit on the nutsy side. You know the ones: They bequeath their fortunes to their pets, feed them better than their own children, take them everywhere, and give them things people in third world countries (and many in our very own) could only dream of having.  I thought these kinds of people, and even the ones a little less extravagant, were-off-their-rockers-looney-tunes-get-them-admitted-to-the-psych-ward crazy. Then I lost my beloved, only dog, and those people I’d once describe as crazed lunatics are beginning to make a whole lot of sense to me. They love their pets and care for them as they see fit. And I get that.

My dog, Sammy, was a mutt. There’s no doubt about it. His dad was from Mexico–a stray born of strays who, I swear to you, was part coyote. He was owned by my mother-in-law and one day, when no one was watching, into the yard strolled a little reddish, part-Pomeranian female. The one-night stand turned into a litter of triplets, one of whom–the only boy–became our Sammy. A strawberry-blond dog that was as sweet as his red-haired mom, but had the boundless energy of his daddy.

He was a cutie. And as sweet as ever. We kept him in the yard most of the day and he would jump in delight when anyone approached the screen door to come out to play. He loved to be brushed, hated taking medicine, and loved American cheese, hotdogs, and anything that may have, uh-hem, accidentally fallen off the side of the barbecue grill. He was a boy’s best friend, a good walking companion, and an excellent guard dog (just ask our next-door neighbor’s pool guy who used to get an earful every Thursday). He enjoyed life and lived a good long one.

As with some breeds of small dogs, Sammy had a collapsing trachea condition that caused him to have outrageous coughs at times. Usually they went on for weeks, then went away. Except for this last one, which stuck. Four different types of medicine didn’t help. Rest didn’t help. He started having more and more trouble breathing and he lost his appetite to the tune of losing more than a third of his already low body weight in just three weeks.

Putting him down was one of the most difficult, gut-wrenching things I have ever had to do. I’d much rather go through unmedicated labor again–a couple times–than have to go through the heart-wrenching torment of seeing my Sammy take his last breath.

My third child was just two when we took Sam in and the two of them grew up together, going from puppies to grown men. My youngest had always had Sammy in his life. And my girls had the experience of watching him grow up and grow into an adult, just as they had.

Now, every time I look out my back windows I glance at the places he’d love to be–the planter box on the opposite side of the pool, the yard, the cushioned settee, where he’d spend a lot of his time as he aged. I could go on and on about what that dog meant to me. He looked to me, especially, for guidance, protection, food, a walk. And I feel as though I let him down. This might sound bizarre, but losing a beloved pet is similar to losing a child in that they are both helpless beings that look to you to satisfy their every need. That may sound like a bold statement to some, but I’d say it again. Call me crazy. I’ll take it as a compliment.

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