Even though I hardly remember a time when there were no animals at my home growing up -- from dogs to cats to birds to fish. Including piranha! And snakes! -- I have never considered myself a pet person. Part of it is because ours were always outdoor pets, and outdoor duties went to my brothers (that's how it worked in my family). Beyond that, though, I've always been nervous about their sudden movements and start at fuzzy (or wet!) nuzzlings. And I'm not a huge fan of all the shedding.
Our dalmation, Zip (or Zipper, as I like to call him), didn't really have sudden movements. He was a beast and you could see -- and smell -- him coming a block away. When he got to you, he'd wag his tail so excitedly that you'd sometimes get a rather painful lashing. He was infinitely playful and cheerful, and never realized his own strength. I admit that I was scared of him in his early adulthood because he seemed so unpredictable.
As he got older, Zipper never lost his exuberance, never forgot about us. He would run to the gate whenever I came back to my parents' house, and whine until I reached over the fence to pet him. Then he'd sneeze -- always big, wet sneezes -- and get his slobber and fur all over my arms and pant legs. Yum.
He got older and older. And arthritic. It gradually became harder for him to get up and run to me when I came over to my dad's house. My brother moved back home and started taking better care of Zipper, and he got better. But he didn't get younger. After my brother got back from a trip recently, he sent a concerned email to the familiy to let us know that Zipper would barely move and could hardly control his bladder or bowels anymore. I came to see him a couple of days after that and saw that he had weakened considerably since the last time I saw him. Still, my little Zipper came to greet me. He leaned all his weight into my leg, like he always did -- but was so wobbly that he ended up rolling over and ended up on his side. I helped him to his stomach, cleaned him up a bit, and took this picture.
We said goodbye Zip last Saturday. It was so difficult to see him at the vet's -- my brother had to carry him into and out of the car -- his breathing had become so labored. He still hobbled around the room, sniffing at the different scents and chewing up pet treats. The veterinarian confirmed that there was nothing we could do that would restore him, and that the summer heat was probably making it more difficult for him...so we decided that it was time. I made sure to look into his face for a long, long while. So that I would remember him. So that he would know that he was loved. I think he knew.
I thought about what a luxury it is to be able to say goodbye to a loved one. I'm glad I got that opportunity with the Zipper. I'm glad I got to be there with my brother, that he didn't have to make the decision alone. We both agreed that Zip's quality of life wasn't very good at that point. That he had had a good -- no, great -- life, that he had brought us all a lot of happiness in all the ten or twelve years he was with us. That we were doing the right thing.
But it still sucked.
For the rest of the weekend I kept my mind and hands occupied with a lot of cleaning and ironing. The couple times I pulled up that picture on my phone, tears would well up and flow over. But I couldn't help it -- I mean, c'mon: that is one good looking doggy.
On Monday, I passed a woman walking her dog and mentally shook my head at the thought of her one day having to say goodbye to it, and that's why I could never have my own pet. But then it hit me: if I extended that thought to people, jobs, books, projects -- or anything, really -- I would never do anything. Or know anyone. Anything or anyone meaningful, that is. Just because something ends doesn't mean it's not worth having at all. Actually, it makes the time you have with that something even more precious.
I still don't see myself as a pet person, but I learned in that brief moment that memories are not lost; I can treasure them in my heart and mind. And, more importantly, I am not afraid of loving again, of loving more. And that's a very good thing.
Thanks for helping me realize that, little Zipper. I love you and miss you.