Skyler: The joy of having a dog and the sadness of losing one
At the beginning of summer, our dog, Paco, died. One day he didn’t want to eat, and the next he struggled for breath, then died on the way to the emergency vet. For weeks, I couldn’t imagine writing about it. It was just too sad. Because even though he was very old (17, we think) and deaf and probably ready to go, we were bereft when it finally happened.
Paco was our family’s first dog. A few weeks after we moved to California, we picked him out of a rescue corral at a Petco in Cerritos that was sponsoring an adoption day. I wanted a small dog, for cuddling purposes and because houses in California are so small, but my husband, John, said no way were we getting some tiny lap dog. He favored a boxer, possibly, or something medium-sized and semi-manly.
A kitten was my kids’ first choice, but that was out of the question because I am allergic to cats. Lux, despite desperately wanting a dog, was also a little bit scared of them, so a smaller one seemed to make sense.
Once we found Paco, a bedraggled tiny white Pomeranian who looked like he’d been through the wringer, my husband was easy to convince. Despite his scraggly appearance, you could tell Paco was a kind, old soul.
We didn’t realize how old he was until we took him to the vet. The rescue had estimated his age at 5, but the vet said he was at least 10. He didn’t make a sound for the first three days and we worried that he’d been debarked, which seems particularly cruel, but it turns out he was just recovering from whatever ordeal he’d been through. The day he first barked was so exciting. It was as if he were telling us, “I accept you as my family now.”
I’ve come to believe there is a secret dog-owners club, much the way there is a secret parents club. Before you have kids, you don’t feel left out of this club, but once you add a new member to the family, a world of fellow parents opens up to you and welcomes you in. You share knowing looks over the heads of bawling toddlers, talk pacifiers and co-sleepers in line for coffee, fall into conversation on park benches and beside city swimming pools. It’s a hidden community that is suddenly made visible, and if you’re lucky, it helps to get you through those often-difficult first years.
Dog owners also gather around you the minute you join their club. There are casual chats during evening dog walks, and entire conversations with people at parties that you otherwise would never have. You may not have understood the passion people feel for their dogs before you had your own, but now, you definitely get it.
Paco grew plump, glossy-haired and happy under our care, and two years after taking him home, we adopted another elderly dog from the Long Beach animal shelter. Eileen was an 8-year-old black Chihuahua going gray around the snout and down the chest that we picked up on a whim. (Tip to parents: never stop by the shelter just to look around for fun unless you want another animal going home with you.)
That day, in the arena of barking dogs, Eileen was the silent one, watching us with her big bat ears cocked, and John said, “She’s the one. That’s our dog.”
Our family isn’t one for research when it comes to getting a dog. We go on pure instinct, both times with John finding the perfect one. I don’t necessarily recommend this for others, but so far it’s worked for us.
I tried to talk him and the kids out of getting Eileen that day – something they still like to remind/accuse me of – because we were considering moving and it seemed like bad timing. But we took her home and she and Paco got used to each other, then became friends and now I can’t picture our family without her, either.
I never imagined how much happiness these two dogs would bring us. I should’ve known because I had dogs growing up. I remember talking to our beagle basset mix, Patches, when I was 11 or 12, telling her all of my troubles then crying a little as she licked my hand. She was such a deep comfort to me as a kid.
Studies show that being around a dog, even just looking into their eyes, raises your levels of oxytocin, the neurohormone that elicits feelings of happiness. It’s also been found that dogs can lower their owner’s stress levels, and can even help soldiers recover from post traumatic stress disorder.
As I was writing this, Eileen leaped onto my lap and gazed into my face, as if willing the release of oxytocin. I can’t tell if she misses Paco at all. I thought she’d show signs of depression, but her innate happiness persists, and this is for the best. We need one member of the family to cheer us up over the loss of Paco, one of the most soulful, loving, quirky dogs I’ve ever known.
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