Today one of my friend's daughters lost her companion, a cat named Dusty that she had had for over ten years. Dusty was twelve years old and died of kidney and liver failure, to the best of the vet's knowledge. I remember losing a cat I loved tremendously at the same age—nineteen—and being devastated for quite awhile. I had found this cat when I was around sixteen at the mall parking lot and taken her in. She honestly thought she was like me. She met me halfway home from school every day and walked me home. She followed me to friends' houses until I told her to go. She snuggled with me and we both believed she was special. She died during—or after—a chilly storm during my first semester in college. I remember asking my dad as I left home that Sunday where she was, and he hesitated before telling me she had died. He had found her curled up in some bushes outside, and I wondered if she wondered where I had been when she needed me.
The loss of Dusty has brought back painful reminders of losing pets, but particularly my Amanda, who was my dog for seventeen wonderful years. She saw me through two graduations, a marriage, a cross-country move, custody of two children, and right before her passing, a custody battle over those children. I used to pray Amanda would survive through that custody battle, because, as I would pray, I couldn't stand to lose the kids and Amanda at the same time. In the end, the kids stayed right where they should, and Amanda continued to plug along, despite the growing pain in her body. Multiple doctor visits to the same vet told us to give her more medicine and she would be just fine. My gut said otherwise. In June, she began vomiting, and i finally took her to another vet. The vet concurred she was very sick and her kidney functions were poor, but suggested that we try rehydrating her to get rid of the toxins and see if she could get over this hump. We did just that and she was okay—for about six weeks. When I returned from my regular summer trip to Virginia to see my family, it was clear Amanda was dying. She had trouble standing, she couldn't stand being touched, and she was vomiting again.
I took her back to the second vet's office but saw a different vet this time. This vet assured me that putting her down was not only reasonable, but kind. He told me how he had a dog in the same shape before, and he had tried to keep the dog alive, and his biggest regret was not honoring her by putting her down. Those were the words I so desperately needed to hear, and I called my husband to bring the children up to say goodbye to Amanda. Both kids kissed and hugged her, cried a bit, and went home with their father while I stayed and held her in my arms as the vet talked me through the very simple procedure. When she died in my arms, I burst into tears and buried my face in her neck. He left us and told me to take my time with her. I did, but not knowing what was left to do or say, I left after about fifteen minutes.
I have never been treated so kindly by a vet's office and will forever be grateful for the gentle kindness they showed me that day, and the days following. They sent me a sympathy card, which I kept along with her collar. I gathered all the pictures I could find of her and kept them close to me. I cried every day. Every night I called a friend or my mom and cried about losing Amanda. It wasn't until a month later when I decided I needed to focus on another pet that I was able to begin to heal.
I've written many times on here about Gabi and how she came into our lives, but being able to focus on healing a sick, needy puppy fixed things for me better than anything else could. I took joy in watching her leaping around the yard, and found I could laugh at her innocent excitement. And even though it took a long time to get used to a tiny dog curled in my bed versus the thirty-five pound mutt I had been used to, we adjusted.
I strongly believe that Gabi was aware of Amanda's energy in the house, and that her energy stayed behind for several weeks. Many times in the first few months I would catch Gabi staring at one of two places Amanda would lay in the bedroom, and she would begin barking madly. I wondered if Gabi could see things I couldn't. I still don't know the answer to that, but I do believe she could feel things in those places, and knew they had been home to another animal.
For my sweet nineteen-year old friend, I don't have any great words of wisdom. Losing a pet is hard, and for some of us, it's harder than it is for others. I have always treated my animals with the same love and respect I would treat a family member, and I grieve them similarly as well. The family of Dusty is planning a ceremony this evening for her, which is a lovely way to remember her. After Amanda died, my daughter and I bought two helium balloons and wrote messages from each of us before letting them go "to heaven". That helped all of us heal a bit.
As I wrote this, I cried quite a bit. I don't know that there will ever be a time that I won't miss my Amanda. She was lovely and perfect and my companion for half of my life. But I do know now that God has good things in store for us, even after the loss of those we love. Life is full of love, loss, and more love. And that's important to remember.