I'm supposed to be reading Melvin Mencher's "News Reporting and Writing" right now for class in the morning. When this thought came into my mind, it became all I could think about. I couldn't make it through the first paragraph of the reading without reflecting sadly, so, here it is ...
It's really hard to say goodbye to a childhood pet.
It's probably one of the worst feelings in the world.
For me, it's been harder than losing most loved ones that have passed away during my lifetime. That seems terrible, I know, but if you have a dog or cat for years and suddenly that day comes, it's worse than breaking up with a girlfriend. Or getting rejected from college. Or getting in your first auto accident. Hearts will heal, new opportunities will arise, bones will mend, but replacing one of your best childhood friends? Not possible.
Pets play a special role in the life of a child. For me, Congo, my Australian Shepherd of 14 years, was many things: my friend, when no one else was around; my alarm clock, wandering about my room when it was time for him to eat; my confidant, when I was learning to understand women; my workout partner, when I was training to make the college soccer team; my photo subject, when I wanted to practice portraits; and my welcoming party, standing at the gate with his tongue hanging and tail wagging when I'd come home from a trip. And quite a bit more.
We never fought, he never held a grudge, he was always willing to go for a walk when I needed to clear my mind, he was willing to lick my plate clean, no matter what was on it, he watched whatever I wanted on TV, and damn, did he give the best head rubs when I'd let him lick my hair (a bit gross, I know, but he loved that Herbal Essences).
So when I heard that my dad had made "an appointment with the vet," I was heartbroken. I knew Congo wasn't well. His hips were bad, he was losing weight, he couldn't jump and torment the neighbors the way he used to. I knew it was a matter of time. But the look on his face when he stood in the front yard, a breeze in his face, his mouth slightly open, a look of contentment in his eyes, made me hope I'd never have to say goodbye. But I did. When I was packed and ready to fly off to NYC for a year, it was when I got down on my knee and hugged him that I shed the first tear. I knew there was a good possibility it was the last time I'd feel his fur and kiss his head. It's times like those that you wished you shared a common language. I wished I could thank him and express my appreciation for all he'd brought to my life. But all we could do was lock eyes and I hoped he knew how I felt.
I'll have another dog someday. He'll have a different temperament, probably be an adorable puppy and make me smile. But it won't be the same. That first (or most memorable) childhood pet gets a special place in our heart. One that can never be covered up or forgotten.