On Friday we had to euthanize Jester, our ten year old black lab. All pet owners out there who have been through this know how hard it was. Now I am in recovery mode. This causes me to reflect back on the impact of being a dog owner can have on the life of a baby boomer.
Jester was a soulful dog. He craved affection, returning it ten-fold at every opportunity. I wonder how many gallons of Jester’s saliva have been transferred to us over the years from his affectionate and compassionate licking? He was empathetic and seemed to know when a family member just needed him to be nearby or even cuddle. He would willingly do this for hours when the need arose.
I could go on about the benefits of owning a companion dog but the dog owners out there already know.
However, owning a dog presents other issues, not all of them good. They are like having children because once domesticated, they cannot take care of themselves. They cannot be left alone for extended periods. This is not a serious problem when we also have kids in the house that have to be taken care of. Throwing a dog or two in the mix with the kid maintenance does not seem to matter much.
It’s when your kids become adults that the needs of your pets become more manifest. Your freedom to spontaneously go somewhere for an evening, for a weekend, or a week is seriously impaired. Arrangements must be made and that takes advance planning. It also takes money. You’re not really an “empty nester” because the nest is still occupied by a needy canine. I know folks who are so attached to their pets that travel plans are shortened, cancelled or never made because the needs of the pets trump everything.
Because of this, I periodically half-complained about being a dog owner in recent months. The complaint usually went something like this: “I love Jester and Keira (our female lab who is still with us) but ……..”
After the “but” you could fill in “but I am so tired of the constant dog hair scattered around the house” or “I dislike having to re-position the furniture after Jester’s daily back-scratching” or “I don’t like having to rush home to feed or walk them.”
And then we have this week – when over the course of 48 hours, Jester went from a happy, active, and apparently healthy companion to a surgical patient and then incurable cancer victim who could no longer sustain his basic bodily functions. I had no choice but to end his misery and let Jester die peacefully.
That is hard on all dog lovers. It is really hard when you have to experience it repeatedly over multiple short life cycles, as I have. Last night I once again pondered why animals who give us unconditional love only live for 10-15 years while even the meanest and most hostile humans get to hang around for decades more. Who came up with that plan?
I have another concern – for Keira our female lab. She and Jester grew up together and have been best friends and constant companions for nine years. Will I need a dog psychiatrist to get her through the loss of Jester? Will I have to provide even more care to her as she grieves? I’m worried about her. Dogs have feelings too.
If you had asked me a month ago, I would have told you that when Jester and Keira leave this earth, I would likely remain dog-less for a while, for all of the reasons mentioned above.
I know I will own dogs in the future but it may be after I have tried complete freedom for a while – the ultimate empty nester.
I may change my tune after experiencing the void left by Jester. I may need some more of that unconditional love. We shall see.