I am not an animal lover, but in the last eight years, by virtue of my marriage, I have mourned the loss of six animals (five dogs and one cat). I fell for an animal lover and I have paid the price in sorrow.
When I married on a bright summer day in 2005, I received two dogs and a cat in the bargain, each of which my wife had had for more than a decade. Despite my inclinations, I embraced these animals as my own, even if only by my own standards. Within two months, though, the eldest dog, Oliver, became sick and within the space of a week died. The vet could not give us a satisfactory explanation, but suspected a nasty, tropical virus.
Nearly a year later, a different vet diagnosed Tyler, the younger of the two dogs, with gastric cancer. After two long weeks of chemotherapy, when we had pushed both him and ourselves to our limits, it became more painful to watch him hold on to life than to let him go.
Before we learned of Tyler’s cancer we picked up a second dog out of a laundry basket in the parking lot of a Food Lion. The woman from the newspaper ad came with her kids and four rambunctious puppies for us to choose from. We picked a small black and white puppy, the daughter’s favorite, and dubbed him Simon. He taught me about caring for something that cannot care for itself, particularly when it needs to pee at 3am or when it needs guidance on proper choices for chew toys. He provided great training for fatherhood, which came eight months later. Four years later, when Simon died suddenly and mysteriously on the way to the vet, it hit me the hardest of any of our animal losses.
The cat I received with my wedding vows, Kermit, seemed to degrade into a dirty mess, tracking wet kitty litter throughout the house, until we took him to the vet and learned he had diabetes. For nearly two years I, the non-animal lover, gave him daily insulin injections, before a sickness and honest questions about his quality of life forced us to let yet another pet go.
When we moved to the Charlottesville area in 2010 we picked up a dog from the SPCA to be Simon’s friend. Her name was Rosie and she was a devil of a dog, pooping in the house and eating everything in sight, such as lengths of carpet fiber, and, well, let’s call it recycling things she left in the house.
But we stuck with her and trained her and loved her for three years. She did not shed all her problems, but when she got lymphoma, we made her as comfortable as possible and helped her live out her days with as much joy as we could give. As the lymphoma grew, putting pressure on her respiratory system and increasing her pain we took her to the vet one last time. The vet found a chocolate donut for Rosie to enjoy and we sent her off to heaven with a sugar high.
A month after we adopted Rosie, my wife talked me into fostering another dog for a “month” while the SPCA had their floors repaired. Gloria, a hound mutt, used to sneak up behind me and howl at the top of her lungs. The month came and went without an adoption or a return to the SPCA. After a year of putting up the foster façade, we adopted her. We had her for another year before she got necrotizing pancreatitis. Which sounds terrible and deadly and it is, but after a lengthy vet stay she beat it. During her recovery, however, she developed blood clots. One went to her brain and that was the end.
These six animals have caused more hardship, financial turmoil, and heartbreak than I can say. I have been asked to make decisions that weighed life and death, that asked whether an animal’s care was worth more money than we had, or if a life of pain and suffering was better than no life at all. I began by saying I am not an animal lover, but, above all else, I love my wife. And whatever pain and tempest may come from that choice, be it physical, emotional or financial, I will meet it gladly and still more, I will welcome it, for that is what it means to love.