On pets and passing

Oscar and I clicker training in 2006
I doubt this entry will be of fantastic quality, but this is something that comes up now and then that I feel should be said while the notion is fresh in my mind.

Today is a doubly sad occasion for me, not only is it the last weekday of a two week break from work, but I got a text from Dad just after 2pm local time.

Hi, are you working at present

This was not Dad's usual style, and truthfully, my parents don't reach out to me that often.

No, what's up?

Confused, and despite a warning nearing three weeks prior, I get bad news.

We had the vet out to Oscar this morning. He could barely walk and couldn't stand up to eat or relieve himself so it was his time. Mum said to let u know.

Oscar was the family Dalmatian, who we adopted in the Spring of 2005, when I was nearing 17. He was far too splotched to be a pedigree, and his tail was white barring a couple of faint grey spots, but the girls in my family, myself included, loved him from the moment he came to our home. Back then, he was nearing six months old, a third of his adult size, poorly trained and extremely anxious of being outside or alone. But he was affectionate.

One of the quirks he had developed under our roof was that he was more likely to obey the three girls of the family (my mother, myself and my sister) over the men (Dad and my brother, the middle child). I suspect it was because it was the girls in the family that doted on and trained him. I myself took him to a dog training school for training with a clicker (a tool used to indicate behaviour you're pleased with) and basic in agility. My mother was the one who enforced the rules, teaching him that he was not allowed upstairs in the house they live in now and that he wasn't allowed to eat until she gave permission. These were all things that helped him become a much happier dog than when he came into our family as a pup.

A great example of Oscar's character was days after we adopted him, the house fell quiet due the loss of my aunt and godmother, who passed after two years battling cancer. My father had gone to Ireland to attend the funeral, and one day during this weekend, Oscar went under some curtains over some French doors (the ones behind me at the end of the frame in the above photo, in fact).
"Oscar, come out of there!" my mother called.
Oscar turned 180 degrees and began to walk across the narrow corridor until...
With a dull thump of a noise, he walked, cream curtains still over his eyes, into the wall that narrowed that part of the room into a corridor that separated the house's extension from what had been originally built.
After a moment of stunned silence, my mother and I burst out laughing, the first time anyone did loudly since the news reached us of my godmother. Oscar perked up under the curtains, turned towards the noise, and trotted towards us, wagging his tail and looking like he did that on purpose and his mission had been a complete success.

Losing a pet is not something those who choose not to have one always understand. It's not something that is covered by company handbooks dealing with private mourning, especially not in cases like mine, where the pet in question is part of a household I'm not physically living in. However, to those who welcome them into their homes, pets are as much part of a family member as any person, and their loss needs to be mourned and processed like any human family member.

Dogs are simple in the mind compared to people, but their love is equally simple, almost unconditional, and people love them for that reason. A prime example of that is the story of Hachiko, now an icon of Shibuya for canine loyalty.

So I ask this of anyone who read this and has never had a pet, if someone you know has lost theirs, do not tell them it was 'just an animal'. To that person, that animal was a companion and friend, and their loss is not unlike that of the loss of an immediate relative because they were family.

Just as I will process my own grief for Oscar, and in time grow to move forward while still missing him, we should all instil the kindness to help those we care about do the same.


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