People who have never had pets, will never have pets, simply don’t understand.
To them, animals are merely home accessories, like hutches, ottomans and umbrella stands.
They see them as nice to have, attractive additions to the modern household, just as long as they don’t get in the way.
And when they pass, they think, they are to be given no more consideration than a dishwasher or television that had given up the ghost.
They don’t know the pain inherent in being caretaker to a furry family member.
And they are a pain, make no mistake about it. From the day you bring them home there is the scratching, the chewing, the shedding, the peeing, the barking, the meowing, the pooping and the upchucking in the middle of the living room carpet.
Inevitably you find yourself asking, why did I ever agree to this misery? You doubtlessly will ask this of yourself as you pick dog hair off your sleeve or clean a hairball off the new area rug.
Your answer will come when your new companion lays his head on your lap and looks up at you with big, limpid brown eyes or rubs against your leg, purring all the while.
It is in those moments when your heart melts and good old common sense flies out the window that you know you are hopelessly and inexorably hooked.
Suddenly your family has expanded to include whatever animal, bird or fish that has chosen you to include it in your retinue.
My pets as a child were of the piscine or reptilian variety, since I was judged to have too many allergies to risk bringing a puppy or kitten into the household. The fact my mother smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day in our home and our car was never taken into consideration by my parents or doctors.
At any rate I grew up with fish and those little turtles you could buy at the 5 and 10 cent store. I named them, I cared for them, I flushed them down the toilet at the end of their short little lives. All but one, her name — or his name, I don’t think we ever knew for sure — was Goldie. Goldie was, as you can probably guess, a goldfish.
Goldie was with us for five years. We took her on driving vacations with us from Michigan to Minnesota. She made it just fine, all except for the last time. She died on the family farm in southern Minnesota and is buried at the base of a tree on the property.
Finally my parents conceded and we got a dog, a toy poodle named Taffy. Taffy was definitely a girl. I was over the moon. She was going to be my dog from then until forever.
A week later she was dead, the victim of distemper and the greed of an unscrupulous puppy mill owner.
Since then I have been a cat person. They better fit my personality — standoffish, suspicious of strangers, quick to anger and quicker to shed.
But canines have entered my life a time or two since my lone week as a dog owner.
Some friends adopted a stray named Annie. She was some kind of medium-sized, semi-long-haired mutt who fell hopelessly in love with me. When I was around she couldn’t leave me alone. I would go to their house wearing tan pants and leave sporting trousers trimmed in black fur. When I was visiting she would never leave my side. It was a sad day when she passed.
More recently our neighbor had a big golden retriever named Reese. The day she brought Reese home he ran over to greet us, flopped onto his back to have his belly rubbed and began peeing all over the place. After that, Reese was our pal.
A friend came over one evening bringing food to take to another friend in need and Reese was outside. He let loose with a blood-curdling bark that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck until I spoke his name and he stopped barking and began wagging not only his tail but his whole back end.
My bride came home from the store once and had her hands full when Reese came across the yard, looking for some attention. When she didn’t pet him right away he began to bark, stopping only when she put down the groceries and gave him the attention he craved.
It was a funny sight when his owner took him for a walk, as all she did was walk beside him while he carried his own leash in his mouth.
On a recent Friday evening he passed, suddenly. He had been listless and his owner sought emergency treatment, but there was nothing to be done. As he died she lay on the veterinary clinic floor with him, weeping.
Many people consider their pets to be their children. They are not. Parents have a reasonable expectation that their children will long out-live them. Such is not the case with animals. Their lives are considerably shorter than ours, so we know from the day they come into our homes that one day we will lose them.
It is, sadly, the cost of loving an animal. It is a high cost, to be sure, but in truth a small price to pay for the years of love and companionship our pets give us.
That doesn’t make saying goodbye to them any less painful, however. And to those who would dismiss the loss of someone else’s beloved pet by saying “It is just a …” dog, cat, bird, fish, or what have you, you have no idea what you are talking about.
So love the animals in your life, savor ever minute, every chewing, pooping, barking, barfing, shedding moment you have with them, for the time will pass far too quickly.