Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my first dog, Joey, a black-and-white papillon.
Every time I visit my parents, I expect to see his nose under the front gate or run toward me once I swing the garage door open.
But he’s not there. And it’s been eight years since he died.
I think about that a lot, now that I’m the proud owner of three pooches. Opae, Sunny and Indy are still young — 7, 6 and 5, respectively — but I know there will be a time when we have to say goodbye. And I really, really, really don’t want to.
How it is that these we bond so fiercely with these furry creatures? I’ve lost my grandparents, but I don’t expect my Grandma Ann to greet me at the door whenever I go home for Sunday dinner.
I try not to think about “that day,” though I worry every time we have to take one of the dogs to the vet with something — an upset stomach, lethargy, a strange lump — and I can’t imagine I’ll be able to deal with the loss of these dogs.
My dear girlfriend, a fellow dog lover, just lost her beloved chihuahua after 14.5 years. Sam was sick, though the vet said he was putting on a convincing act that he was OK. He wasn’t. And in just two short weeks, his health drastically declined and my friend had to make the tough decision to put him down.
Just thinking about it makes me well with tears.
The animal-human bond is incredibly strong. There have been studies done — including a 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling — that show our connection is often closer than with other humans. Thirty-eight percent of people surveyed said their dogs were closer to them than their closest family member.
And grieving over the death of pets is comparable to that of losing a family member or close friend. Sometimes it’s far more intense.
So what do we do? We can’t stop life — meaning death — from happening. All we can do is love our pets, appreciate every moment we have with them, feed them well, exercise them often, hug and play with them as much as possible.
I know the day will come, and I’ll never be ready for it. But at least I know our three dogs lived a full life. I guess that’s all we can hope for.