I was owned by a dog. His name was Max and he reigned supreme in our household. When I graduated with my degree in funeral service (ten years ago!) I told my husband that I needed fur. Our dog and cat had both died a couple of years before, our kids were gone, and I needed four feet around. So, on Christmas Eve, Joe showed up with a six-week-old Pug. He had obviously watched Men in Black too many times. We welcomed Max, otherwise known as “The Most Spoiled Dog in the World,” into our lives and he quickly took over. On evenings when we had sandwiches for dinner, Joe cooked steak or chicken for his “little boy.” He slept in our bed and loved it when I was out of town, because he got the whole side to himself and he was just a little miffed when I came back home. Our lives revolved around his schedule and his needs.
My story is not different from millions of people in our country. “Pet Spending Higher Than Ever with an Estimated $58.5 Billion in Spending in 2014 - The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates a 4.9 percent growth over last year’s $55.72 billion”.
This is the continuing headline. It is estimated that there are 85 million pet owners and a majority of them own more than one pet. My older daughter has six boxers and my younger daughter has three dogs and three cats. Obviously, they are helping the pet economy in a big way. It’s not just the “crazy cat lady” anymore who has more than one pet.
An increasing number of people are choosing not to have children and have invested their emotional time and physical dollars into caring for their fur babies. Empty nesters, such as myself, find great joy in having someone waiting at the door for us who does not require braces, trips to soccer practice, or the latest video console. They are incapable of rolling their eyes in disgust. All good traits in a companion.
Sadly, we lost Max last year. He became sick very suddenly, the vet professionals who saw him thought he just had a case of vertigo which made him dizzy and walk like a drunken sailor. But, after 3 weeks, he deteriorated quickly and we knew that he was not going to make it back from whatever brain event was going on. The last night, when he was unable to even stand, we put him in bed with us and promised that we would call the mobile vet the next morning. It was time. And, so it was, because he died in our arms at 5:00 that morning. It was awful, it was an honor, it was heartbreaking and it was exactly right.
Our dear friends at The Dodge Company gave us a beautiful Howard Miller urn with a picture frame and we set up our Max shrine, with his cremated remains, his picture, his food bowls, his collar, his water bottle and the Tupperware containers that held his food. I told my sisters that when I die, there is no way Joe will set up a shrine like that for me. This was his “little boy”.
The grief following the loss of a pet is surprising and overwhelming. While you fight against the common response, “Well, you can get another one”, your heart is broken that the one creature on this earth who loved you with total abandon and complete loyalty is no longer here. It’s huge.
Out of our experiences with losing our own pets and visiting with others who have had similar experiences, we created a condolence card and lapel pin for pet parents. Some people see this as trivial or minor grief, but those of us who have lost a pet who dominated your life for years, understand that niche that just can’t be filled.
So, if you know someone who is struggling with losing a pet, or you are walking that particularly lonely path yourself, you might wander over and look at our card and pin. It won’t bring back that jingle of the collar or that welcoming lick in the morning, but it might just bring a smile and a memory.
And, no, we have not yet gotten a new dog. Joe is still in deep mourning and is just not ready. Understandable. He was a special little guy. I can wait.