I am about to get pretty personal with you guys today and quite honestly this is something I’ve needed to say for a long while. My thoughts may get a little bit jumbled as this topic makes me quite emotional, so please bear with me.
This here is my Sadie, who is about to be fourteen years old in less than a month. Up until recently, she was the only dog of ours that we actually knew the age of because our others were found at shelters or as strays. So I do at least know that Sadie’s birthday is January 4th. Sadie was my first dog ever. As soon as I had a bit of freedom and went away to college when I was just 17 years old, I made a decision that I had been wanting my entire life. It wasn’t to get a tattoo. It wasn’t to go off on a wild and crazy trip. It wasn’t even to rebel against my parents who hadn’t yet welcomed the thought of having a dog into our home. But ever since I was very young, I had always loved animals — and I wanted a dog more than anything. Being completely clueless and not knowing how to find one, I found an ad in the newspaper for a litter of “jack russell terrier puppies” (and she’s not a JRT, so they were also pretty clueless). I got into my little ’99 VW Jetta and started driving to North Carolina to meet them. I was in such a rush and so eager to get there, that I actually got a speeding ticket on the way there (my first speeding ticket ever), and then another speeding ticket on the way back (my last speeding ticket ever). Needless to say, I was clearly excited.
As soon as I pulled up to the pen and saw the precious litter of puppies, Sadie walked straight up to me as calm as could be, put her two little front paws on my leg and just looked up at me. In that split second, she won my heart instantly and I knew I found my little girl. I took her home with me that day.
I know that many people don’t understand the relationship that Adam and I have with our dogs. They aren’t just “family pets” to us, they ARE our family. They rely on us to care for them, they have a beating heart and they are intelligent and sensitive and they so desire, crave, and deserve love and affection — the same as any other being does. They are the most loyal friends that anyone could ask for. They teach us to be better. They personally make me want to be better all of the time. Our dogs are our kids and their lives are far, far too short. And since all of ours are all seniors, these last few years have been quite tough. We’ve had to have some pretty risky surgeries, like putting a pacemaker in our elderly beagle because her heart wouldn’t go faster than 40 beats per minute when it should have been over 100, and having an emergency pyometra surgery at 2am to remove her uterus or she could very well die that same night. And we’ve also lost some of them.
A few years ago, one of our dogs — Adam’s dog that he adopted before even meeting me, his heart Dakota — was quickly overcome with cancer and was gone within two weeks of even finding out anything was wrong. It literally began with signs of her sleeping a little more than usual, to suddenly limping a bit on one side of her body, to having her inner eyelid come across and partially cover about 1/3 of her right eye. And when we did x-rays of her chest, we discovered that her lungs were showing signs that she had some form of an aggressive cancer. We never saw a single sign of anything before her random limp, and when we found this out, it was absolutely devastating.
I still remember everything happening in slow-motion behind a wall of tears. Adam dropped to his knees in the middle of the exam room in complete shock, as soon as the words that the vet just spoke to us hit him. I dropped down next to him and looked into his eyes, and he wasn’t even there anymore. We were both floating somewhere else outside of that room, almost like it was a dream, but the news we had just processed was so overwhelming and so strong that I didn’t even know where we would go next. My mind continuously raced day and night for days on end after that, so much that I couldn’t even sleep at night because I was too panicked that Dakota would pass without us knowing and being there with her. Someone had to be awake and next to her at all times. Her breathing became labored over the next several days and I stayed up at nights, frantically searching the Internet, hoping to find some miracle cure or miracle story out there or someone that could give us hope to try anything that could save her. I remember sitting there for hours on end, my laptop in front of me, 10,000 tabs open on my browser, and once in a while in a mixture of exhaustion and paranoia, I would just stop and stare and watch her chest rise and fall as she was breathing. My heart pounded at an abnormal rate and I stayed up for days on end, until finally the exhaustion would overpower me and I would slip away at random moments of the day, only to be jolted awake in fear that she was gone. It was an incredibly dark time in our lives because she was our kid and we wanted to do all we could to save her, but we were powerless to stop it.
We were distanced much at that time because a lot of people saw what was happening to her as a sad thing, but not nearly as devastating of an ordeal as we were experiencing. Others sit in judgement and say “But she’s just a DOG – there are children out there with cancer! How do you think THEIR parents feel?!”. And while I clearly understand this statement, our pain does not detract from anyone else’s. To dumb down others feelings just because they don’t make sense to you is the biggest slap in the face that the person just doesn’t need. Pain and experiences are relative. Just because she’s an animal who can’t speak back to us and walk on two feet, doesn’t mean that we are incapable of loving her with every cell and every fiber of our being. It also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love her that much. If religion is a huge part of your heart, you should at least understand that much. I don’t think God would frown upon us mourning and loving our dogs to the extent that we do, because God understands that love is a very powerful feeling and a feeling that we should all have.
We lost her on March 15, 2013. Because we were in such deep denial about the state she was in, we waited too long to let her go. I truly believe that there is no way for us to euthanize an animal without having a lifetime of guilt follow along with it, but it is the kinder choice than to let them go on their own when they are in pain. In this instance with her, we waited too long. But had we not waited when we did and let her go sooner, we would’ve always wondered if we let her go too soon. She was ready when she went, and not having her here with us anymore has forever changed this family. We don’t break down every time her name is brought up anymore, but the pain is still very much there, and we know that it will always be.
After Dakota, we lost Jasper the next year. I blame myself for his passing and can’t even talk about it much. I brought Abby home from the shelter because I had fallen in love with her cute, waddling self, and though she wasn’t coughing, she must have been carrying a strain of kennel cough with her because Jasper got sick right after. He already had failing kidneys and having kennel cough was too much for his body to handle. We had to let him go as well, and we buried him next to his sister at a cemetery here in Fredericksburg. Anyone that knew Jasper knows that he was incredibly loving, wonderful with kids, and wagged his tail so hard that his entire body would thrash back and forth. Everyone who met him, loved him.
Now with Sadie about to turn 14 next month, watching Abby’s health deteriorate and knowing that she’s clearly a senior, watching Sophie grow more gray with each passing year, and now adopting a dog who we know is 13 years old, we have such a hard time coping with losing them all. We purposefully never travel anywhere because we want to spend all of our time with them while they are here. But this is why photos and video are SO important to us. This has been so much of what’s kept me in this field, wanting to provide any kind of photos for people so that their memories can stay with them years after they are gone. You can’t have too many photos or videos of your loved ones, you just can’t. I know many people must think we are a little off with the way we absolutely mold and center our lives around our dogs — hell, I even have family members that don’t understand and even don’t talk to me anymore because of how weird and obsessed I know they must think we are. Our lifestyles and priorities don’t seem to align with theirs. I have found that not everyone sees having animals instead of birthing human children to be a positive, accepted decision. But this is OUR life, and even my own family can’t truly know how I feel because they just aren’t me.
But for you pet parents out there who see them as your children the way Adam and I do, I want you to know that I’ve got your back. And I want to be able to take these photos for you because I know how important they are. I’m not looking to make a fortune off of your memories, I just want you to have them. I know that my dogs have saved me. I know that they need me, I know that I’m their mom, and I know that I could never love them more than I do. Each one of my animals have stolen a piece of my heart that is theirs and theirs alone, and I would love to be able to meet yours that have done the same for you. So I truly hope you give me the honor to take photos of your bond, because I would be truly honored. You’ll just have to please forgive me when my eyes well up with tears when I meet them, knowing how lucky you are to have them and how lucky they are to have you. <3
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