Being a Dog Parent is a Bitter Love Story

Molly

The old cliche, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have not loved,” is the most ridiculous assertion, clearly made by some sadomasochist. In the thick mist of grief after losing a love, I always think it would be easier to lock my heart away in a deep, dark dungeon then swallow the key. Throwing it away isn’t final enough to encapsulate the grief I feel today. It’s been twenty-four hours since the dreaded call. Twenty-four hours since I lost hope. Twenty-four hours since my heart that was only stuck together by sticky tape and some glitter glue was ripped apart again. I can’t find my hot glue gun to start piecing the broken bits back. I can’t locate all the pieces right now, even if I could find some tape to try and repair my broken heart. As I sobbed, I wondered why people keep doing this to themselves. I ugly cried and vowed never to open my heart again to another pet. As my heartbeat so hard I was sure it would explode, I swore no more pets. Now I understood why people refuse to open their hearts ever again. It’s like entering a marriage you know will end in 7 to 15 years. Any other relationship with those odds, and the same intensity, would be a bad gamble.

We always know when we get a dog, they are with us for a good time, not a long time. We know they are here for a brief moment in our lives. We understand that the world is too awful for their kindness. Molly is my most recent lost love. She was a tiny ball of King Charles Cavalier energy that bounded into our home and hearts. My husband had insisted after the loss of his last puppy love, he could not lose another. I insisted the kids needed a dog. I had such fond memories of my first love, Woofy. An Old English Sheep Dog who was my best friend throughout childhood. I still miss him, and it’s been over 20 years since we said goodbye.

There is no greater love than the unconditional love between a Dog Dad who says we aren’t getting another damn dog and the damn dog. She wiggled her way into all the crevices of his broken heart left by his beloved Eddie. Their bond was so strong that she cried real tears when he left for even an hour. Upon returning, she would launch into his arms like a rocket and cry, her wet eyes leaving his shirt soggy. Molly was diagnosed with a heart murmur a few years ago and put on medication. She did well until it progressed to a cough and fluid on her lungs. We were informed at that point, mere months ago, that the prognosis once a dog presented with these symptoms was approximately 18 months. I have been ripped off at least 15 months of that time. At the time we were given the prognosis 18 months, it seemed like such little time. Yet today, I would be happy with 18 months. It’s so funny how the meaning behind time can shift. What was initially viewed as a short time would have given us time to finalise her list of experiences. A day after her death, I can still hear her little cough following me through the house as I tidy up, do laundry, or prepare coffee.

After the vet visit that determined her time was finite, the mantra was that Molly would live her best life. When she felt well enough to jump on the table after dinner, licking up crumbs of chicken schnitzel, hot chips, and gravy, she was not roused on like usual. This was a great sign she was well enough to do the things she loved. Suddenly my Puppy Parenting technique changed, and I didn’t sweat the small stuff. Treats for dinner? Sure. Wanna sleep on my designer clothes? Go right ahead. Need the electric throw rug on all day? Let me turn that on for you since you do not possess an opposable thumb of your own! I went from wanting well-behaved dogs to focussing on having happy dogs. Living each day as the worn-out cliche goes, as if it was our last. Until it was the last day. My heart skipped a beat any time she did not come when I called. On a winter Saturday morning, she did not come after any amount of yelling. I found her laying on the back patio in a shady spot. She was a sun-loving lizard, and I knew she would not have stopped for a rest in the dark shade. A mad dash to the vet where her body temperature restored by a heater and thermal blanket. She looked happy when we saw her again, I knew she would have loved the warm air blowing. Molly always loved hunting down the nearest heat source: heater or electric blankets, she wasn’t fussy.

I’ve never understood pet owners who will have a dog until. Until they have a baby. Until someone in the household becomes allergic. Until they are bored. I think the dedication one has to their pets is symbolic of their integrity as a person. I once had a friend who got a rabbit…until the rabbit began being naughty (probably because it was bored and neglected), tried to have a big dog until it became too much. They then got a little dog, and I knew his days would be limited. I was not surprised when her friendships were just as transient. In its simplest form, loyalty can be given to a pet, and they offer unconditional love back. I’ve only ever bought a pet when I was prepared to see them through to their old age. In sickness and in health in all relationships. This should not only be the vow between wedded mates. It should be a moral code for all relationships.

Molly had a hilarious happy dance she did when someone came home or a tasty treat was on offer. In the past weeks, she had not had the energy to do a happy dance, though her tail still wagged and showed her never-ending happiness. I have had pets who I kept alive for too long. Rather than doing the right thing for them, I had done the right thing for me. Molly was always a sassy girl who did things on her terms. There is no regret of questioning did we do all we could? Did we wait too long? Did we do the right thing? The speed of the entire illness meant there was no time to second guess. In the end the best gift we could give to her was to do the right thing for her, rather than for ourselves. When we arrived at the vet clinic, the staff were visibly upset behind Covid19 masks. I wondered why they stayed in a job that was filled with such heartbreak. A job where they had sobbing family members as a daily occurrence. A job where death was as inevitable as picking up a Chinese lunch from the take away next door. However, as I walked out of the treatment room and saw an excited pet owner with a new puppy for vaccinations, the why was obvious. When I saw a happy family picking up their newly healed cat, the why was obvious. As I walked my heartbroken younger dog back to the car, the why was obvious. There is much life among the death.

And, that is why we keep wearing our hearts on our sleeves and inviting fur babies into our lives. Our lives are richer for having our fur babies in our lives. I will find my hot glue gun, repair my heart, and love again. There is currently a Molly shaped hole that will always be there, but there is plenty more heart to share. Love is not finite. There is no limit to how many times a heart can be put back together again.

Hello from Australia! I’m a wife, mum, animal lover and educator who does a lil’ writing on the side.

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