A few weeks ago, my Golden Retriever died of cancer. Morgen and I had bumbled along together for nearly 12 years in Montana, Ohio, and mostly South Carolina. I had known for weeks that she was dying, but I wasn’t prepared for the pain which arrived with her pain, that terrible blind pain that sent us rushing after hours to the nearest veterinarian.
There is no explanation for this kind of grief. Until recent years, those of us who so loved and lost our pets kept it to ourselves, half-ashamed to be so affected when the loved one was “just a dog” or “just a cat.” We felt we had no right to mourn publicly among others who have lost parents, siblings, husbands, wives, and worst of all, children. Now we talk about it, when we can do it without crying. Psychologists write essays about it, but unless they have been similarly stricken, they don’t offer a lot of insight.
I wonder if my grief for my dear old dog doesn’t somehow include all those others. It partakes of the loss of my father and my mother, my sister, my husband, and long ago a young stepson, and maybe the loss of twelve years of my own life with all its mistakes and screw-ups, and work, and friendships. Perhaps our relationship with a special animal is the most honest and least selfish of any that we experience, and that loss hurts us in the worst possible way.
That is why it is a great mystery to me when pet owners dump their dogs and cats at the county shelter. I can meet and understand anyone who loves a dog. We have an immediate common bond whatever else our differences may be. I cannot understand the neglect, and final rejection that lands a dog at the shelter. Worse still are those who abandon their pets on back roads and in strange neighborhoods. It seems to me that these people have missed out on some quality, some understanding that might have made them fully human.
At the shelter right now, there are four Great Dane puppies who were dumped in pairs on county roads. These puppies, who have the same sweet temperament as all puppies, are also partially, to mostly, blind and deaf, totally helpless. They were bred by people who have no knowledge or concern about doubling and redoubling recessive genes, people so morally challenged they have no reluctance about discarding the affected puppies in this cruel and criminal way. And to make the case even clearer, these people, these quasi-humans, did the same thing last year. Someone knows who is doing this, and Newberry County Animal Control would like very much to hear about them.
So, how do we say goodbye? We volunteer at the shelter. Any comfort we give the dogs, no matter how brief, will help them. We adopt another dog, not a replacement certainly, but a new friend. We foster and train a dog to make it more adoptable for someone else. We foster old dogs that will never be adopted. We work to save stray cats in a trap/neuter/release program. We donate puppy and kitten food and treats. We transport dogs going into rescue. We report to animal control when we see abuse and neglect. We teach the children we know about kindness and patience with animals. And, late at night, with the photo album and a glass of wine, we smile and wipe away tears.
Jay Booth is a retired university professor and newspaper columnist. She is Vice President of the Newberry County Humane Society.