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The love of a pet
I still have her on my screen saver and I’m not really in a rush to change it.
This is (was?) Molly Morrow. We miss her.
It happened about four months ago this week and we were doing okay until the kindhearted vet and her friendly assistant gently lifted her lifeless body off her dog bed in our kitchen onto a cute little doggie-sized navy canvas stretcher. They tenderly tucked in her with a grey fleece blanket polka-dotted with black paw prints and covered her with a black mesh that zipped her body securely in so they could carry her outside. With their hands full, it seemed like the right thing to head to the front door and hold it open for them.
Just as they passed by I could see the outline of her sweet self under the covers and one of her little blond furry paws just poking out of the side of the mesh-covered stretcher and it hit me.
They were carrying the best furry friend I’ve ever had out of my life forever.
Reality sank in.
They said and did all the right things. It was as peaceful and beautiful as any goodbye could be, but the pain I felt watching them load her in the trunk of their Subaru and drive away is like nothing I’d ever felt. A tidal wave of emotion. It all happened so fast.
I’m not even sure how long we stood and hugged and cried together standing in the middle of the kitchen.
About an hour later after I stored her food dishes and put away the dog toys that were painful reminders I sat and stared out the window at the spot on the grass in the backyard where she was laying just an hour before with me having her last trip outside. Not long after a blue jay swooped out of nowhere hopping all around the spot and looking back at me insistently like it was trying to tell me something and it gave me goosebumps and chills.
We’ve lost loved ones and grieved, but this was different. Having chatted with friends who have lost pets many have shared that the death of their pet brought a surprising amount of unexpected grief.
Excising rituals that have governed our daily lives for thirteen to fifteen years is a big sudden change for any family to face overnight. I was moved to hear a friend admit to continuing to go for walks with their dog’s leash in his pocket for months after their family golden retriever passed. I also remember reading an article in Newsweek about Bill Clinton describing losing his dog “Buddy” as by far the worst thing that has ever happened to him. There are probably so many worse things that can happen to us but “me too Bill”, I thought to myself.
I know some people reading may (rationally) think that she was “just a dog”, but we didn’t feel that way. She brought us so much joy and was a beloved member of our family and I’m pretty sure a few of you reading that have had or lost family pets are familiar with the haunting absence and eerie silence they leave behind. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Journal of Mental Health published a study in which people confidentially ranked their pets closer than their family members.
So why do we love our pets so much?
It’s hard to say for sure, but I have an inkling.
Because WE feel loved BY them.
The kind of unconditional, don’t-care-what-you wear or even if you’ve washed your hair in 3 days kind of love. Not even those frayed-stained covid jammies or sweatpants with holes in the crotch that your partner has politely chosen not to criticize out loud, but is secretly hoping will fall out of regular circulation very soon are not judged by our pets. They sit and quietly tilt their head and genuinely are present and listen to us even if they don’t understand a word we say.
Having a furry welcome home committee is pretty special, especially when our kids are teenagers. Not only for the guarantee that someone in the house will still be excited to see you when you get home at the end of the day but because you have the chance to see your children express genuine respect and affection for another living being.
Our kids often seek out the family pet when they feel upset with siblings or parents and when they are certain that no one understands or loves them and they won’t let anyone near them except the best non-judgemental listener in the house…like a soft furry buffer from the outside world.
They even become our reggae besties during our Bob Marley phase.
There’s also the loss of the invisible some things we miss that are hard to describe.
Like how when I bend over and put on my boots now I feel a loss when there is no cold wet nose to come and boop me in the face in anticipation of a walk every single time. Or that subtle feeling like something is missing now watching the sunrise in the cool morning air without her tucked into my side like a hot water bottle.
Or missing the feeling of being invigorated from getting caught up in a downpour, negotiating an icy walk, or trudging through deep snow after a storm. When there is no pet to walk, it just seems like poor judgment to go out in that kind of inclement weather but then we’d never get to notice the amazing icicle formations or the branches heavily weighted down with fresh snow.
And then there are of course the beautiful fall walks and the tree-lined trails hiked with family or friends that seem to always be the highlight of our days.
It feels like forever before you stop running into all of the well-meaning neighbors or dog-walking acquaintances you’ve met over the years, many of whose smiling faces remain nameless while their dog’s names stick to mind innocently asking “where’s Molly?” and blink back the tears that inevitably begin to prickle.
But with all the dirty paws, the fur we’re still picking out of our smart wool socks, and the steaming land mines in our backyards waiting to be stepped on, it ALL feels worth it.
It’s no wonder that after hunting them as far back as 40,000+ years we decided to domesticate our animal friends. They have lovingly and loyally served our needs and helped provide safe transportation and food for our families, and it’s not surprising that for the past several hundreds of years, we have routinely led them into our homes. They sleep in our beds even in pet-friendly hotels and we spend billions of our hard-earned dollars on them each year. $261 billion in 2022.
Some dummies even buy doggie-sized Toronto Blue Jays paraphernalia.
Most of our social media feeds are streaming cute and funny animal videos of pets we don’t even know. Whether they are feline, feathered, or even have a shell or scales on their back we learn the true meaning of a more Divine or unconditional kind of love. One that doesn’t come with strings attached. We care for them and they loyally adore and worship us in return. We easily forgive them for chewing up our favorite shoes beyond recognition and we can even overlook the fact that they like to eat poop and shake cold water all over us. We’ll gladly spend an entire paycheck at the vet to prolong their short lives.
Somehow it just works.
The last palliative month with Molly was sad but also one of the best of my life. Carrying her, sleeping on the floor beside her and just loving her to thank her for all the years she silently witnessed our growing family. I felt a lifetime of gratitude for being by my side when I was at my lowest, for her patiently putting up with sticky young fingers tugging on her ears, and even for allowing us to dress her up in humiliating seasonal costumes.
If I was away or out late, sometimes my husband Scott would text me a photo of her from behind sitting and facing the crack in the front door or with her nose pressed to the window. She was patiently awaiting my return and as loving and wonderful as my own family has been to me, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so unconditionally adored or loved.
It makes me teary to think of the thousands of school pick-ups, road trips, swims, tennis balls and kongs chased, the hours spent playing hide and seek, and even fondly finding the nibbled away bottoms of the gingerbread tree ornaments at Christmas, not to mention her insistent daily morning tummy rubs before the day was officially underway.
We miss it all.
Thank you for teaching us how to love one another better with fewer conditions and expectations. You’ll forever be a part of us.
Rest in peace sweet Molly.
This is dedicated to all of our furry family members past and present.
Until we meet again.
ps. We’re away on holiday this week so there will be a short break in the Field notes, I’ll be back in 2 weeks!
In other news, we’re expecting puppy breath, sharp teeth, and an untrained new furry family member on March 11th.
Here we go again!