When I was young, an abused Golden Retriever who lived next door to us began spending most of his time at our house. Our previous dog had died and we missed having a canine friend in our lives. We fed and played with this dog. At some point my mother confronted our neighbor and we took official ownership of Geoff.
Geoff was a gorgeous dog, grateful that he had constant food and a safe place to sleep. We adored him and treated him like the gentle giant he was. Geoff went with us everywhere and always joined in our neighborhood games of dodgeball and kickball. He was our friend.
I eventually went off to college and Geoff, who had gotten older just like us kids did, started to have medical problems. He had some kind of ear/cancer tumor problem that required extensive surgery. The surgery didn’t work, so they did it again.
At the end of one school year I returned from college. There was Geoff’s food bowl on the floor of the kitchen, but I didn’t see him in the house.
“Where’s Geoff?” I asked mom.
“Oh he must be at the Rung’s,” my mom told me. “He likes to go visit them and spend time there.”
Geoff was a friendly dog and I knew that he liked to roam the neighborhood, the Rungs were an older couple who loved Geoff’s company, so I didn’t think much about it. Besides I was busy myself, I had a summer job and I had friends who needed catching up on. I simply didn’t worry about Geoff, he was one of those dogs who belonged to everyone.
A few days later, I saw that the food was still untouched in the bowl.
“Mom, where’s Geoff?”
“Oh he must still be at the Rungs.”
Maybe it was avoidance, maybe I just didn’t want to know, but I let it go.
The next day, I was concerned at the untouched food.
“Mom, I think something’s wrong with Geoff.”
It was then that my mother told me that they had put Geoff down – the cancer had taken over and he had been in constant pain. They hadn’t wanted to tell me because they had feared I would try to stop them.
My parents couldn’t bear to tell me that he was gone.
I was so angry. Angry that they didn’t tell me. Angry that I had not been there for Geoff. Angry that my dog was gone and I hadn’t been able to help him.
Angry that my parents knew me so well.
In hind sight (which is always 20/20) I have to say that my parents were right, I would have left college to take care of Geoff. I would have gotten an apartment and moved him in with me. I would have kept him alive, not because it was the right thing to do, but because I wasn’t ready to say good-bye.
My mother knew this. She knew that I sometimes drove life spontaneously.
Which is why she didn’t tell me until after the fact.
It’s a story my kids have heard often and having family dogs of our own, I know that all of my children would drop everything and come home if one of the dogs needed help.
It’s the way I was raised. It’s the way I raised my kids.
You take care of those in your care as much as you can.
But in loving a pet, your responsibility also includes recognizing when it’s time to let go.
Which is something that still hurts to this day.
Lesson Learned – Occasionally it takes someone older with more life experience and who is looking out for you to step in when impossible decisions need to be made. A decision to put down a pet can sometimes be made as much out of love for the pet as it is out of love for you.
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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