We got Izzy from the Pottsville SPCA the summer before we got married. We never really agreed on which breed she was. I thought she was more like a labradoodle but my husband, with encouragement from the SPCA, insisted she was a Spinone. On the way home, she had fallen asleep with her head on my husband’s lap. I didn’t know how anyone could have given her up. At six months, she was already well-behaved. She never chewed on anything that wasn’t hers. Potty training was a snap and we rarely had to worry about her running away from us. Sure, she jumped up on visitors when they visited. Sometimes, she ran across the street to greet our neighbors. She loved people. As she got older, she became a bit of a counter shark, trolling for food left out on the counter. Still, she was a good girl.
The goodest girl.
She was a lunatic in the snow. She loved splashing in water and drinking from the hose. She was a master at fetch. She was gentle with small kids. Every morning when my husband would get out of bed, she would jump up into his warm spot and cuddle with me. My kids and I played hide and seek with her. My husband and I had both agreed to adopt her and she was a family pet, but she always felt like my dog. My first dog.
Impossible that one day she would get sick and instead of getting better, she would just get worse.
When they gave us the results from the ultrasound, that she most likely had lymphoma and her prognosis was poor, I wept. Cried like I hadn’t cried in a long time. I’m crying now, if I’m completely honest. It wasn’t fair. She was still just a middle-aged lady. As a healthy dog, with no known health problems, there was no reason to think that she couldn’t live another seven or eight years.
It hadn’t even been a year since we had lost Avi, but he had become an elderly beagle who had always had struggled with heart problems, epilepsy and Lyme disease. Heartbreaking to lose him as well, but we had seen it coming for a long time, had maybe even prepared for it. At least, I thought I prepared for it, until I was knelt next to where he had collapsed in the yard, openly weeping. As for Izzy, we kept her with us as long as we could and when nothing made her better, we helped her slip away.
Now, there’s no one to follow me around the house. I always joked that Izzy was my therapy dog and she was worried I would wander off if she didn’t stay with me. Our other dog, Roscoe, doesn’t feel the need to keep such a constant eye on me. Without the jingle of her collar and her sudden bark at the window, my home has become terribly quiet. Heartbreakingly silent.
Why do we do this to ourselves? We bring these beings into our lives and love them, even though we know we will outlive them and they will break out hearts. I know some people who don’t do it anymore, who opt to not have any more pets to save themselves from the grief they will feel at their passing. Maybe someday I will feel the same way, too weary to face another loss. I’m not there yet.
Our pets teach us more about love than other humans do and it’s mostly because we get the full lesson in a short amount of time. We may live decades with another human, but we may only get a few years with a dog or a cat or a pet rat. British psychiatrist, Dr. Colin Murray Parkes sums up grief this way, “The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love; it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitable occur in our own live and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”
So, thank you Izzy, not just for being the best dog and for spending most of your eight years with me. Thank you for your love and loyalty and all of the joy you brought into my life. Finally, thanks for this final, bittersweet gift, a better understanding of love and loss because in doing so you have made me a better human.