I’ve often heard that the hardest part of having a pet is saying good-bye. Dogs and cats become part of our families. Part of our lives. Yet they have tragically short life spans, and all too often, we are forced to say good-bye to those animals that have worked their way into the deepest, softest parts of our hearts.
And while saying good-bye is awful, in some ways, knowing when it’s time to say it, having to make that decision, can be much, much more difficult.
My husband and I got Bear when she was only eleven weeks old. We had both had dogs while growing up, but she was the first dog to join us in our new lives as a family. After receiving word from our landlord that we were cleared to have a dog, we both played hookie from our college classes and set out to find the perfect dog for us.
We spent the entire day on the hunt, visiting multiple animal shelters. We were about to give up when we came across an ad for Beagle/Blue Heeler mix puppies. My husband had his mind set on a beagle, so we called the number in the ad. The puppies were nearly fifty miles away, in a town we’d already visited once that day. But we jumped back into the car and made the drive anyway. An hour later, we were dog owners.
As young — and admittedly naive — college students, we made our share of mistakes when it came to raising a puppy. She chewed up more than one pen, leaving the carpets of our rented apartment spotted with black and neon pink. She chewed up several pairs of shoes. Always mine, and always only one from each pair. And on what was probably her worst day, she chewed up a newly released, hardback copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE.
But despite the hiccups, Bear grew into an amazing dog. She loved to play fetch and go hiking. She learned tricks as quickly as we could teach them. And when we brought our firstborn son into our home, she watched over him, made him laugh, and cleaned up his messes.
It’s been twelve years since Bear came into our lives, and sadly, the time is coming when she will have to leave us. As we get closer to her thirteenth birthday, her arthritis gets worse and worse. We’ve known for some time that her days are numbered, but it’s a hard decision to make.
Last summer, Bear tore her ACL. She was never quite the same. Her hips have gotten weak, and she falls down frequently. But she is otherwise healthy and there are days where I still see a flash of the puppy she used to be. Days like this morning, when she rolled onto her side, and playfully tried to grab my hand as I brushed her. While I don’t want her to suffer, I also don’t want to take her from this world before she is ready to go.
I’ve spent a lot of days and nights lying awake, and I’ve already shed gallons of tears in anticipation of losing Bear. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m crying now as I write this, while she sleeps peacefully at my feet. All I can hope is that when that day comes, when she reaches the point that it’s harder to be here with us than to be without us, we will recognize it for what it is. And we will be strong enough to let her go.