I will be the first to admit, I am not a real pet person. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. Unlike my mother whose little shih tzu owns his very own red rubber rain boots. And, yes, she puts them on him when it rains. Or a friend who dresses her cats in Halloween costumes and holiday dresses. So, it was not a big deal to me when we got our dog, Nike.
To be fair, many experts say a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development (as well as allergy management) can all be encouraged by interaction with the family pet. A dog might be good as a little added protection to help guard the place. I also knew Nike would one day teach the boys one of life’s most important lessons on loss.
So, I was OK with helping to feed, water and walk the newest member of our family, whom I sometimes referred to simply as “the Hound.” My husband took on most of the responsibility with occasional help from the boys.
My rules were few; no doggy kisses, sleeping in anyone’s bed were forbidden, and no table food. Simple enough.
Over time, he proved to be just the right dog for us. He was laid back and rarely barked. I had an early conversation with our veterinarian, asking, “Why is Nike so, relaxed? Is he okay? His response, “he’s just that kinda dog.. quiet, sweet, and sleepy.” Like most dogs he loved to play. His favorite spot was the back porch. During summer, you’d often find him napping there.
Unfortunately, my most memorable moment with Nike came after a brief family vacation and a trip to pick him up from the kennel. At first glance he looked great. The obvious tail wagging showed how happy he was to see us. But, we quickly realized that something was wrong. Most of the hair from his tail and rump was missing; we’d never experienced this with him. The very next day we would be faced with a difficult decision regarding Nike’s life. Nike was less than 2 years old.
The vet explained that Nike had a rare flesh-eating skin disorder. He mentioned expensive skin grafts, and even talked about an emergency “life flight” for Nike to a specialist in Iowa. My husband had one question, “What will Nike’s quality of life be during and after all of this?” The vet told us not good.
I couldn’t believe it.
While we all missed him I wondered whose lesson is this. This dog was supposed to be a life lesson for the boys. But on that day, I realized I just might be a dog person. I missed the Hound, even the annoying tail whips against my legs.
As we are working through our grief, it is obvious that my husband and I have taken it the hardest. The script was flipped on this one; our kids were consoling us instead of the other way around.
Now the question we often hear from the boys is “When can we have another dog?”
I just don’t know when my heart will be ready.