I’ve been reading a whole host of blog posts recently about friends having to put down their family pets and each time I always find myself fighting back tears. Not necessarily because I knew the specific dog, but because I know what it feels like to lose the adopted four-legged family members. It’s a pain that sits deep in your chest and holds your heart in its icy little hands. It rips at it and smashes it, and causes you to stop. You have to appreciate that kind of pain because it shows you just how much you can love. We love those members of our family with an abandon that most are unable to replicate for another human being. Reciprocal human love comes close to the love shared between man and pet, but it can never be replicated.
We feel for these creatures in ways which are unique - we scoop them up into our hearts and love them for no reason other than the joy they bring to us. And they love us simply because they can. We provide them with a place to sleep and food to eat, and they provide us with more warmth and compassion than any of us really deserve. They simply love us, with no qualifications and no pretenses. They love us when we need someone to cry to, they love us when we kick them out of the room, they love us when we yell at them, they love us every moment from the second they come into our lives. And that is what makes it so hard to make that final decision, that last compassionate act for an old friend.
My family has been blessed and cursed with animals that live long and healthy lives. Our last cat lived to be over eighteen, our dog was nearly seventeen, one horse was nearly thirty-five, and the other horse was thirty-three - and both refused to leave us on their own terms. We cared for them and loved them and kept putting off the decision just hoping that we’d wake up in the morning and they would have left us by their own means. Instead, it seemed as though they loved us so much, that despite their age and the various ailments that accompanied old age, they couldn’t bear to leave us. So we had to make that decision for them, and love them enough to let them go.
Kit-Kat, the beautiful white cat which I had a love-hate relationship with for much of my childhood (I loved her, she didn’t love playing with a kid so much), was my first real experience with the death of a pet. Sure, I had hamsters and fish, but Kit-Kat was the first major part of my menagerie that I had to say good-bye to. She’d been around virtually since I was born, and I never knew a life without her. When we had to put her down one time when I was home from college, I cried and I cried. I held her, her tiny aged body wrapped up in her towel in front of the wood-stove and told her stories. I apologized for dressing her in doll clothes when I was little, I apologized for calling her names when she scratched me, I promised her that she’d be with Chelsea again real soon(my father’s dog whom passed when I was too small to really understand), and I told her over and over again that I loved her. I wanted every last second of her life to be filled with as much love as we could give her. I still feel bad for not going to the vet with my mom that next morning, but I couldn’t face her death. I gave her my love and thanked her for her life with us.
Inkey was my puppy. I picker her out when I was in elementary school - I wanted another Collie and when I saw her tiny tri-color face sticking out of a pack of traditional colored collies I was hooked. She bounded around after me day and night, she slept on my twin-sized bed with me (which was an amazing feat as she and I both got bigger). She grew up as I grew up and I loved her in ways that only someone who has known the love of a dog can understand. When I came home from college for breaks the best moment for me was always when the door to the house would open and Ink would run out as fast as her legs could carry her right to me. Even in her older age when she would baby her joints, she would abandon everything and run to me. That was the love we shared, that was what a best friend was to me at the time. When my parents called to tell me they had to have her put down I cried for hours. I still regret that I wasn’t able to be there for her the way I was for Kit-Kat. I wasn’t there to tell her how much I loved her, I wasn’t able to tell her what her friendship had meant to my life. It still hurts, but I believe she knows.
This post wasn’t meant to be a walk through the pets of my life, but rather one whom we had to put down today. I just think it’s important to know a little of the history of our family and our pets. And also, I just needed to set down a little memory to them as every time another pet joins them I feel like I am flooded with longing for them all.
As a preface to him, I need to talk about our other horse, Shimmer. Shimmer was my mother’s first horse - a beautiful chestnut colored horse who, for some reason or another, had let my mom teach her silly tricks. She would “shake hands” with you by lifting her knee and when you grasped it she’d let you shake it; she’d smile when you’d point at her lips and ask her to smile pretty for you; when you’d ask her if she was a pretty girl she’d bob her head as if to say “yes!”; and when you asked her “Shimmer, do you like boys?” she’d (almost always, unless she was feeling particularly nice) shake her head no. As she got older she started to get stuck laying down in the barn and my mother and either my father or me, if I was home from school, would have to go and push her back up. One Thanksgiving vacation I was helping my mom get Shimmer up when she slipped and crushed my hand between her and the wall of the barn. I had to get x-rays to ensure it wasn’t broken, but it was bruised and swollen for weeks. It was after that mom decided that it was the right and compassionate thing to do to have her put down. This way we were able to have her walk off our property on her own accord and be taken to the vet to be put down and then buried (the alternative, if she broke a leg or died on our property would be having to drag the body away; and that was not something that needed to happen to such a sweet creature). She was spunky and had more personality than you can imagine. It hurt me for a while, as I felt as though I were the catalyst that caused her to be put down. If she hadn’t fallen on my hand, maybe we wouldn’t have had to let her go quite so soon. It’s taken me a while to realize that it’s not my fault. Mom made the decision for an old friend to let her leave the world with dignity and love.
And now, with this background I can tell you about Glory. He was Shimmer’s baby. Mom has had him since he was born. She’s had him longer than she’s had me. He’s her boy, her “Goofball,” and even more, he’s her friend. He had a habit of knowing when you were sad and he’d shove his huge brown head into your chest so you could hug him close. When you were happy he’d stick his big nose in your face and puff hot air at you to make you giggle even more. I know making the decision to put him down was one of the most difficult decisions she’s had to make in her lifetime, and I respect the courage and love that it shows.
When he was younger he had an accident that made him basically lame. It was the type of accident that would cause some horse-owners to put them down. He couldn’t be ridden, but he wasn’t going away from our family. He basically became a jumbo-sized dog, and we loved him even more because he was our jumbo-sized dog. Despite this accident he was never without energy or happiness or love to spare. When it was time for shedding season he’d come up to the fence when he saw you and whinny. What did he want? He wanted you to use the rake (for raking leaves in the fall) and scratch his back for him. He’d just stand there and stretch out his neck and make this sound of complete happiness.
When we had Shimmer put down my parents said he cried and whinnied for days. He stayed in the barn with his head hanging out watching the direction she had walked away. Dad said after a few days he went hoarse, but still cried and waited for her to come back. If anyone ever tries to tell me that animals cannot feel the loneliness and depression of loss, I can tell them with great confidence that they’re wrong. Glory missed his mother and his friend. He stood for days just waiting for her to come back to him. He never gave up. Even years after you could still catch him staring out around the corner of the house where he watched her disappear. He loved her like he loved us - completely and unselfishly.
One time when I was little I wanted to feed him an apple. I knew feeding him meant that I had to keep my palm flat and my little fingers together and still. Despite that knowledge when his tongue licked out and tickled my hand I tried to hold on to the apple. My little fingers got chomped by his giant white horse teeth. And it hurt. And I cried. It took me weeks to go near him again. I was convinced my pink little fingers looked like juicy little carrots to him. But he was part of the family, and family forgives and moves on. Whenever we had carrots or apples in the house I’d always smuggle one down to him just as a treat (careful to keep my fingers away) because I thought he’d enjoy it.
He loved peppermints. You could just see him get excited when it started to get cold out and snow because he knew it meant that candy canes and other peppermints would be coming his way. He always looked so silly with the end of a candy cane looping out of his mouth. The crunch of the candy was so loud as he’d nuzzle a thanks into your jacket and poke his nose around looking for more. He’d roll in the snow, legs kicking in the air. He had the energy of a pony even when he was becoming an old man.
There are a thousand stories I could tell you about him, but none would do him justice. Mom would be a much more valuable resource on the matter as she had his lifetime to share. Like with Shimmer, she made the decision to let him leave this world with dignity. There is no greater act of love that I can think of when it comes to these animals. It's an act of love that can only be understood by those who have to make it. Mom and Glory got to say goodbye on their own terms. She got to thank him for the thirty-three years of friendship and companionship he provided, and she got to tell him she loved him.
It’s hard for me to think of a life with no horses in the back yard as no such life has ever existed for me. Glory has been around since before I was born, and has been a constant staple in my life at home. I went out and talked to him on many occasions when I just needed to get out of the house and someone to listen. I know this is going to be much harder on my mom than me, and I can only begin to imagine the pain her heart is in. But he was, and still is, a part of the family. And he will be missed and loved as such for the rest of our lives.