When I was young and imagining the different careers I might like to pursue, I would light on one and visualize the dreamy part, but it wouldn’t take me long to envision the crappy part, too. (Thanks, anxiety.) After all, most choices carry a double-edged hard truth to them, and we’d be silly to ignore that.
With my love of animals, becoming a veterinarian was an obvious career to consider. I mean, come on…there’s puppies, and kittens, and more puppies…I would sit in the vet’s waiting room and think how cool it would be to help these lovable furballs. (For some reason, snakes and tarantulas never sprang to mind in my daydreaming.)
But all of that whimsy came to a crashing halt when someone walked in with tears streaming down her face and an older dog wrapped in her arms. She was walking in with her beloved pup…but she would be leaving without him.
In that moment, I realized that if being a vet meant having to deal with that kind of pain and dying, then…being a vet wasn’t for me. Life has enough heartbreak in it without choosing a job where I might have to be in the midst of that on a daily basis. I couldn’t handle it when the Wicked Witch of the West took Toto—I sure as hell couldn’t handle Old Yeller day after day.
This was a good call for my sensitive soul to make. But while I decided not to have to cope with that kind of pain as a vet, I did decide to cope with that pain as a pet owner.
I’ve been that woman walking into the vet’s with the tear-stained face more than once, and it so totally sucks. But when you commit to love, it doesn’t let you do just a part of things. Love isn’t about loving only the good and easy. True love loves all the way. Real love of any kind is for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health…
And, sadly, the sickness part is having a field day lately, as we are in the throes of coping with not just one terminally ill dog, but two.
Sam, our oldest, is dealing with a heart condition that we’ve treated for around two years, and he’s been managing decently—until recently. And our middle dog, Vito (yes, we’re nuts enough to have three dogs), was diagnosed with incurable cancer over the summer. I may not be a vet, but sometimes it feels like I’m running a canine Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital over here.
(Our youngest, Duke, is thankfully healthy but currently wearing the cone of shame because he’s got a skin irritation. This makes for some good comic relief.)
Comic relief that is much needed after a morning like today. As Sam’s condition progresses, he’s been having multiple difficulties, and this morning he had his second episode where we thought we might be losing him. As my husband and I struggled to help him—he’d stumbled into poop and couldn’t even stand at the time—there was no doubt we are in this all the way.
The challenge is knowing what is best for the ones you love and promised to take care of. It would be a much “easier” decision to make if the little fighter didn’t bounce back and seem relatively normal minutes after, as he has so far. But…the time is agonizingly near.
And our sweet Vito has battled a perforated bowel and intestinal cancer like the super trooper he is. His appetite is voracious, but his little body still withers away. As long as his tail keeps wagging and he seems to be comfortable, he is winning the battle. But we know very well that he is losing the war. We just don’t know how soon. But it is looming.
Four months ago we thought we were going to have to put Vito down, but his meds began working, and his spirits perked up right back to the special boy he is. Our family considers every day since then as “bonus time,” but we know that this bonus is limited.
During that earlier time we believed we were going to lose Vito (we had even made the appointment for it), my son expressed the grief that we all do as we face the impending loss of a loved one—as well as the thought of avoiding pain like this by not having any more pets. It’s a thought that strikes hard when the pain is fierce, but I reminded him that all of the pain is so worth it for the lifetime of love we receive. And while my son agreed at the time, I know that when our imminent losses occur…the pain will sucker-punch us all over again.
But no matter how hard it is, it’s for sure we’re gonna love them all the way. The double-edged hard truth of love is that it’s a package deal: it gives the highest highs…and the lowest lows. There’s no part-way. Not if you really love.
So we will love and struggle and cry and grieve and remember the sweet along with the bitter.
We will be right there…all the way…as love comes full circle.
ALL PHOTOS ARE MY OWN OR USED WITH PERMISSION.
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