I got an email from my sister-in-law yesterday. It was short, terse, almost impersonal. After agonizing for weeks and weeks, they had decided to have their ailing, much-loved dog put to sleep.
I sat there quietly with my laptop after reading the message. Their dog was not my all-time favourite dog, I must admit, but they loved him to pieces. He was their baby. He did everything with them, including sleep in their bed. He loved them just as much as they loved him.
But he got old, as we all do, and he declined rapidly. It must have been heartbreaking to watch. I spoke to my brother and sister-in-law at Christmas, and she told me how they were wrestling with the decision, but every time they looked at him and realized what he could no longer do without pain, like go up and down the stairs, they got closer and closer to facing the hard fact that they would have to let him go. It was the kindest thing to do.
And now it’s over. They are grieving for their beloved pet as if for their child. And in a sense, he was their child. I may not have cared about that dog the way they did, but I understand being a parent, and I know that owning a pet is often very similar to parenting a child. So I’m sad for my brother and sister-in-law, but I’m happy that they had so much joy with their dog for so many years. They’ll mourn and miss him for a long time, and then one day they will feel able to adopt another dog, for they are dog people and cannot really envision life without a canine companion.
To my brother and sister-in-law: I’m sorry you are hurting and send you much love. Take care of yourselves, allow yourselves to grieve, and hold tight to your many happy memories.
To their dog: Thank you for making two people I care about so very happy for so many years. Lie down and rest easy now. Good boy.