This piece is for animal lovers. If you are not or never have been an animal lover, this piece will either sway you towards the idea or help you understand the love people feel towards their family pets.
I warn you, this may get a little sappy. There will be no apologies, and those who understand will see themselves as people that understand for a reason. Not everyone grew up or appreciates the same benefits in life. However, those who grew up with a family cat or dog will understand with warmth in their heart and perhaps a tear in their eye.
As a special note, and before I move forward, I think it will be helpful for you to imagine the house you grewup in. Think about the house you live in now. Remember the dog you had or the dog you always wanted. Think about the cat that slept with you at the foot of your bed, or imagine whatever animal you had (or wanted) when you were young.
I’ll give you a minute to think about this.
Here we go.
I grew up in a regular sized house with a usual, normal, everyday crazy, and dysfunctional family. We had our problems same as everyone else did. We had good days and bad. We had nice things in the house—maybe we never had anything that was extravagant, but whatever we had was nice just the same. We had a pool in the backyard, cars in the driveway, and televisions in the home. I cannot say I grew up with everything. I can only say that I grew up with the important things.
For certain, one thing I grew up with is the love for animals. We had Tammy. She was a fox terrier and passed when I was around seven or eight years old. Tammy was a good dog. She smiled when she was caught doing something wrong. Tammy was not a pretty dog by any stretch. She had wiry, curly hair. At best, Tammy was considered to be the ugly kind f cute dog. Yet still, she was very protective.
Tammy understood the meaning of the words, “Tammy, sick’em!”She knew how to give paw, lie down, and sit on command. All else was Tammy’s choice. She often ran away and often came back pregnant. Tammy was a good, loving dog. But like all dogs, Tammy had accidents. She did things wrong and chewed on a few pair of shoes.
I came home one afternoon and Tammy was in the corner of the den. The Old Man, my Mother, and my brother Dave were with her. Tammy was dying and everyone in the room was crying. I am not sure if I began to cry right away. I was quite young. If anything, what led me to cry most is when The Old Man dug a hole near a tree in the backyard. Then he wrapped Tammy in a blanket, said goodbye, and we all helped fill in the hole.
By the way, filling in the hole is a practice in different heritages. When a loved one passes, as a sign of respect, everyone in attendance passes the grave and places a shovel of dirt in the grave. This is what we did for Tammy because you see, Tammy was not a dog. Tammy was a a loved and important member of the family.
Like people, our pets have faults. They make mistakes. They chew on things, or leave stains on the carpet. They have feelings. They understand interaction, affection, and instinctively, our animals somehow know exactly when we need them most.
We had a big black lab named Sheba when I was young. As a very small child, I used to share my chewing gum with Sheba. She was a good girl. She would curl up. I would lay my head against her side while chewing gum. Then I would let Sheba chew for a while and She would give it back to me when I asked for it.
I have no real memory of this as I was too young at the time. My parents remembered this well. I cannot say they approved of it. I am sure they told me not to share my gum with Sheba. I am also sure there was an innocent cuteness to this story, which made for a good story again and again. I would play with Sheba and pretend to go on brave adventures because, after all, nothing can stop the love between a little boy and his dog.
Sheba had to go away. I was told Sheba went to a big farm with other dogs like he so she could play more. And you know what? I believed that story until I was much, much older. It was not until I watched a sitcom (can’t remember which one) and when the family dog needed to be put to sleep, the parents told the youngest child the dog went to a farm. Apparently, this is a popular story. The parents told the youngest child in the house how the dog went to live with other dogs on a big farm and play. I laughed at this story because I am a Dad too. Someday this story might come in useful. I remember laughing about this until suddenly, a light went off in my head. I remembered being very young and told the same story.
No sooner did the light bulb appear above my head; I reached for my phone and called my Mother down in Florida. I began telling her about the show I was watching. I told her about the family dog that was put to sleep. Then I told my Mother about the story the parents told the youngest child and how the dog went to a farm.
Mom laughed along as I told the story. Then I explained how the show started a few thoughts about Sheba.
“What about her?” asked Mom.
“You told me the same story!”
Mom refused to change her version. She explained that Sheba went to a big farm with other dogs and animals to play with. Mom explained how she and The Old man brought Sheba up to the farm. She described the farm so vividly. I envisioned a large plat of land with mountains in the background, pens for horses, hay bales, cows in pastures, and a big red barn. I pictured someplace in the Upstate New York mountains in a town where life was friendly and easy. Mom said Sheba was scared at first. But Once Sheba saw the farm and all the animals; Sheba was happy and it was okay for my parents to leave.
I listened to the story and felt like I was six years old again. I allowed this picture to settle in my mind and though I was very much an adult—I like the childish version of the farm better. I would rather think about the big farm than know my dog (Or should I say my best friend) was ended with a needle in a veterinarian’s office.
Over the years, I have had different animals. Some were less fun than others. Of course, I had a few fish tanks. Fish alone are not the most interesting pets. No one cuddles with their pet fish—at least, not if they want the fish to stay alive. However, I did appreciate the social structure and system of government that takes place in a fish tank. The strong survive, and in fact, the meek that outlived the larger fish, survived to fulfill the prophecy and inherit their world
I had two hamsters when I was a kid. Hamsters are not much fun. I had a gerbil named Hugo. Hugo was cool—but he slept most of the day. Hugo was not an interactive pet. He never bit or played much. All Hugo did was eat, sleep, and run inside that wheel I kept in his cage.
I had budgies—one was blue and the other green. Budgies are little parakeets. They are not too interactive and not too much fun. Least fun was an African Cherry head parrot named Stevie. Aside from being loud, Stevie was not friendly. The only word Stevie spoke was “Hello.” Stevie screamed in his cage and snapped at anyone that came to close. He never snapped at The Old Man though. Stevie and The Old Man got along quite nicely.
I have had lizards. I had a Burmese python named Lucifer, which was sort of cool. Eventually, the novelty of having a somewhat large snake wore off. I did not feed the snake properly. This became a problem because whenever I opened the top of the snake’s cage, Lucifer would strike with the assumption that my hand was food. The bite was never big. The snake broke skin a few times and that was never fun.
Lucifer struck quickly. Once Lucifer realized my hand was not food, he (or at least I think Lucifer was a he) was no longer aggressive. After the initial strike, Lucifer went back to being a slithering, somewhat chunky, and periodically overfed python with no interest in human interaction.
I went a while without animals. Then I had two cats named Chester and Zoey. They were great cats. Both of them were big and both of them were black with beautiful white markings. Zoey was less friendly than Chester. Chester and I played often and sometimes rough. Zoey never played with anyone very much.
Both cats were affectionate; however, Zoey would often change her mind in mid-cuddle. Then Zoey would either hiss or express her displeasure with the swipe of her kitty paw. I was separated from these cats by means of divorce. I was never there to say goodbye to them when they left. More importantly, I was never able to thank them for their trade. This trade was simple actually. They let me feed and clean up after them. In exchange, these two cats kept me company in a very difficult time.
I owned a veiled chameleon for a short while. His name was Rigby.
Rigby had independently moving eyes. Rigby ate crickets and meal worms by catching them with his lounge from across the tall, tree-lines tank, which was made to somewhat resemble Rigby’s natural habitat.
Rigby was not affectionate either.
He was pretty cool though—just not an interactive pet.
Next, we have Oscar. Oscar Madison was my very big, blue and gold macaw parrot. He spoke. He said, “Hello,” and he mumbled to himself. Oscar was somewhat playful, but mostly, Oscar was only interactive with me. I would take Oscar for walks around the neighborhood. This was a fun thing to do because cars would drive by, stop, then reverse to ask me above all, the absolutely stupidest question like, “Is that a bird?” Sometimes, depending upon my mood, I would answer back and say, “Nope. He’s my special needs dog.”
I have never been what one would call a “Small dog,” kind of guy. I like big dogs with big, deep barks. I like a dog that barks with bass in his voice. I was never a fan of small dogs with small, yap-yap, barking noises. Sure, they were cute. I was simply of the opinion that a man and his dog cannot play quite as rough when the dog is small.
Enter Roxxy, my little dog. I met Roxxy the same night I went on the first date with my wife. She was a little black fur-ball. Roxxy was not exactly enthused by me. She commanded my attention and she demanded that I give praise when she peed on the wee-wee pads. Aside from that, Roxxy would have little to do with me.
Roxxy had her own celebratory dance when she was happy. She would lay on her side and allow her hind legs to propel her around in circles while her face happily buried in the floor. I admit it. I did not get along with Roxxy in the beginning.
Enter Buster the Bulldog. Buster was not an easy to train dog. He was and still is a good boy. He’s just not always an easy dog to handle. There was a learning curve, however, and it was not until Brody the Pit came into the home that Buster changed.
We had Buster the Bulldog, Roxxy the Dog, Brody the Pit. Then there was Tiki Marie the gray cat. She was a good girl. Tiki was with me through some of the roughest times in my life. During the longest days and in the roughest times, Tiki Marie, the little gray cat was there for me when no one else was.
Tiki went away. To steal the story from my Mom, Tiki lives on a farm now and plays with all the other animals. She has a good life and she lives happily with her new friends in her new home.
I miss Tiki.
There was a strange energy in the house after Tiki Marie moved to the farm.
I used to have a morning routine. I woke much earlier than anyone else in the house. Roxxy the Dog used to follow me down the stairs and into the kitchen. She would sit at my feet as I stood in front of the coffee maker. Roxxy looked up at me with her little brown eyes from underneath her furry, little black face. She cocked her head to the side. This was her way of asking for a treat.
By this time, the coffee gods were kind enough to help the coffee machine pour my first cup of coffee into my mug. Roxxy took the treat into her mouth and wagged her little black curly tail. Then she followed me as I walked down the hall and into a place I called The Writing Room.
I sat behind my desk and began typing all that came to mind. I wrote for as long as I could. Meanwhile, my little dog Roxxy was either lying underneath my chair or on top of my feet. I felt as if my dog was a part of my process. Roxxy helped me break through the terrible walls of writer’s block.
I know we didn’t get along at first. It was a tough road, but eventually, Roxxy had me wrapped around her little paw. Sometimes, Roxxy would need attention. She would ask me to take a break from writing by doing her little Roxxy dance while running on her side and twirling around the rug on her side.
Roxxy was the best part of my morning routine . . .
I have lost a lot of things in my life. I have lost people to death and disease. I have lost friends to poor decisions. I have seen heartbreak and felt the sting of being alone. None of what I lost in life compares to the loss I felt when I had to take Roxxy to the vet.
We brought Roxxy into the room and placed her on the examination table. The doctor listened to Roxxy’s heartbeat. Curling his lips downward with disappointment, the vet looked up with an empathetic sadness in his eyes. “It’s time,” said the vet. Then he nodded his head in a sad confirmation that Roxxy needed to be put to sleep.
I was instantly reduced to the same little boy I was when Tammy died. I felt no differently from the time when Sheba moved away to the farm. I felt the same loss as when Tiki left.
What hurt most was the undying love Roxxy held in her eyes. She looked at me for help—only, there was nothing I could do. There was no way for me to help my little girl. The only thing I could do is let the vet pull off his trick. This way Roxxy could find her way to that farm where Sheba lives with Tammy and Tiki Marie.
Once this was done, the vet asked me if I wanted a piece of Roxxy’s hair. “Some people like to do that,” mentioned the vet.
“Do what?” I asked.
The vet explained, “Sometimes people take a clip of the dog’s hair to keep as a memory.”
My eyes were leaking with tears. I could not look away or leave the room. All I could do was watch my little girl Roxxy the Dog lying lifelessly on the table.
“Would you like me to clip of some of her hair,” asked the vet.
Crying nearly uncontrollably, I answered, “I don’t want her hair. I just want my dog back!”
There are different types of people in this world. Some are people with pets. And some people never had pets at all. If you ask me, what truly empty lives they must lead to never have loved a dog or a cat.
There is no love like the love we have for our pets. There is no comparison to human love. This is different. This is a love unlike any other.
There is no feeling like the feeling when I come home and my dogs are eager to greet me. They are never mad at me. They never withhold love—no matter what. My dogs never judge me. They never say I’m not good enough, and instinctively, when I am at my saddest, my dogs know this. They see it and they come up to me and sit close by.
Someone asked me what I thought Heaven was “If” there is such a thing as Heaven. He asked me what I thought Heaven would be like and again, “If” there is such a thing, how would I be greeted, “If” I was chosen to go there.
I think heaven must be like that farm I was telling you about. Every animal I ever loved like, Tammy, Sheba, and of course Roxxy the Dog, Tiki Marie, Woody the Bird, Oscar Madison, Tammy the Second, Devin and the list goes on will be there waiting to greet me when I come home.
I am fortunate to still have Buster the Bulldog and Brody too. Buster is getting older. This frightens me. I speak to Buster, but I am not sure if he understands me. I suppose what I say is rather childish.
When I whisper in Buster’s ear, I ask if he feels okay. Then I tell Buster, “I just need you to stick around a little longer, buddy.”
There is nothing so hard as losing a four legged family member. At least I know that somewhere there is a farm where my animals play, and one day, I will see them all again . . .