One doesn’t buy a pet. That would imply that it’s a simple financial transaction. It’s much more complicated than that. When you pay money to take ownership of a cat or a dog, you are making an investment. You are investing in your own capacity to love and be loved. Unconditionally. The real cost that you have to consider is the fact that no matter how much and how well you love your pet that you will likely outlive him.
A little bit more than14 years ago, a Gordon Setter my children would name Max (after a setting on a hair dryer) was born, and a couple of months later, he came home to his new family, which consisted of five humans, two cats, and one aging and overweight and utterly charming Golden Retriever named Sid. Max was a good puppy. House broken and kenneled at night very easily, he was physically the opposite of Sid. Where Sid was lethargic in his old age and obeyed a strict economy of motion, Max was constantly on the go. He quickly learned the boundaries of our 2 ½ acre yard. This was the most satisfying thing about our relationship with Max. We gave him the freedom to explore a world that he absolutely loved, and he’d run all day every day, chasing birds and squirrels and rabbits and even butterflies, running in graceful and long strides, a lean mean running machine, muscles rippling, a display of fluidity. Nothing could slow him down, not even a bout with heartworm several years ago from which he recovered fully and quickly. After running all day, he’d curl up on the back of a couch and rest and begin the same pursuits the next day. Not that he ever actually caught anything. That didn’t matter in the least. He found true joy in the chase, the pursuit. I recognized this and I think I’ve learned a thing or two about how to view the world from the way Max loved every inch of our property, or more accurately, Max-land.
Over the past couple of years, in his old age, Max’s long strides shortened to a trot, and he’d come in earlier in the afternoon and rest longer on the couches. He’d spend much of his outdoors time laying in the grass, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, content to be among the familiar grass and flowers and birds of the world that was still his.
A couple of months ago, very suddenly, on a Sunday, after letting him out, we found him barely breathing, laying in the back yard. After a trip to the E.R., he was diagnosed with Pancreatitis and Aspiration Pneumonia. They kept him for three days, and after several medications and a new diet regime, he seemed to be doing much better, but he’d changed in subtle ways. He only wanted out when my wife and I were out, and he’d stick close to our sides, for the most part forgoing the adventure of the chase.
Then came today, when he woke up with a strange and foreign panic in his eyes and fits of coughing. My wife took him to the vet and he was running a high fever, and the vet suggested that it was probably time, so my wife made the soul-wrenching decision. I was up north at our cabin with our other dog, a four year old English Shepherd named Tucker, when my wife called and informed me that she had to have Max put down. I’m up here trying to write, but I didn’t anticipate having to write about this.
When Max was three or four, we had to have our beloved Sid put down, and eventually both cats, too. Max mourned each loss with the rest of us, just like Tucker will undoubtedly mourn Max when him and I return home. We’ll come home to a house that will suddenly be emptier, and a yard that will still, if only in dreams and memories, be graced by the fluid black blur of a very special dog who created in its 2 ½ acres a world big enough to encapsulate a lifetime of adventure and wonder.