June 30th 2010 8:05 pm
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From Project Monte
These last four months have been difficult for the Lomonaco family.
In February, my father was murdered at 52 years of age. Somehow, our small family struggled through, bolstered by the love of our friends, family, community, and colleagues. Now, four short months later, I have lost my child, suddenly and painfully.
That's right, I said it. I lost my child.
When speaking with other pet parents, there is no need to explain the use of this word to describe my dog. Yet for many others, some pet owners and petless persons alike (yes, on occasion, I do associate with people that don't share their lives with animals), using such semantics to describe my dog is seen as me being "overly dramatic."
It is easy to tell the difference between these two types of people. Pet parents understand when I use the term, nodding sympathetically, imagining their own pain after such a loss. The latter category, those that don't "get it," simply respond with a restrained eye roll and some level of discomfort or disbelief...did she really call that dog her child?!
To those people, I ask, how is my experience as a dog mom that much different from the experience of a human parent?
As a parent, when your child is an infant, you carry around a diaper bag full of supplies - ointments, wipes, spare diapers, burp clothes, perhaps a pacifier or a prepared bottle. As a dog mom, I carry a leash, treats, a clicker, poop bags, and toys everywhere I go with my dogs.
When you were expecting your child, did you lose sleep from worry, excitement, anticipation? Did you look at your ultrasounds frequently, thinking about the new life you were bringing into your home nearly constantly? Did you go through dozens of names before you chose the right one? Get lots of advice from every parent you came across, some of it good, some bad, some desired, some unwanted? I felt all those things too, staring at their pictures as I waited to bring home my animals from the shelter.
Many parents choose to feed their children the best food they can possibly afford. Nearly every parent would gladly go without a meal to provide for their child. Similarly, there are weeks when our budget is stretched - Jim and I go without many luxuries (and a fair number of basics) to keep two freezers full of raw meat stocked to provide the best nutrition we can afford for our pets.
You think carefully about where your child will go to school. I think carefully about how I will train my dogs and yes, where I will take them to school. You want your child to grow up to be a productive, polite member of society. I expect and train for the same in my dogs.
My mom drove a Mustang Shelby until she had three children, at which time the Mustang was traded in for an S.U.V. Similarly, the Lomonacos drove a sedan until bringing a Saint Bernard home, at which time we had to upgrade to a minivan so our family could travel together. I like to take my kids with me when I run errands or go on vacation with me much as you enjoy these activities with your child, and even more than many parents of human children I know.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure that your child is safe when riding in the car. Your child likely rides in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belted. My dogs are seat-belted too, in one of the few harnesses on the market that is impact tested for dog safety.
You take your kids on play dates so that they can socialize, play, learn manners and life skills from their peers. I searched far and wide until I could find well-mannered, healthy, socially appropriate play mates for my Saint Bernard as he progressed through rehabilitation for his reactivity. You enroll your child in ballet, karate, horseback riding or baseball, mine learn agility, tricks, how to play various games, solve puzzles, and yes, even are able to "read" a few words.
Perhaps you read books about parenting or consulted with more experienced parents when you were newly blessed with a child. As a dog mom, I consult with trainers, breeders, other pet parents, books, videos, and magazines to learn how to better raise my furry kids.
You probably bought your children backpacks. I bought some for my kids as well. You buy your baby a crib, I buy mine a crate. You buy clothes, I buy leashes and harnesses. You are responsible for doctor's visits, keeping your child well-groomed, finding a baby-sitter.
Are your kids the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of when you go to sleep? Mine are. Do you find it hard to relax when your child is sick, stressed, or in pain? I do. Do you wipe teary eyes, clean up boogers or vomit (and in my case, slobber as well), brush your toddler's teeth, bathe him, gently brush his hair until it shines? Me too!
Do you sometimes have to do things you don't want to do to take care of your children, like get out of bed and take them to soccer practice when you have a fever, cold, or broken leg? I know that for me, there have been days that I felt like hell and got out of bed anyway to give my dogs a walk in the middle of a snow storm, so I think I can empathize with how you feel on those days.
When Monte came to me, he was very ill. I likened the experience to adopting a special needs child - a nearly 100 pound child who was so ill he'd defecate all over himself numerous times a day, would need constant bathing and cleaning, expensive vet appointments seemingly every other week, scrapes, cuts, bruises, injuries that needed maintenance and attention, recovery from surgery, treatment for an oral tumor, hundreds of dollars in "treatment" from behavioral specialist, hours of work bringing him through that "therapy," trips out to the bathroom at 11:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m., and 4:00 a.m.
I've kissed my share of boo-boos, hung doggy "fingerpaintings" on my fridge, called a friend to brag and celebrate when my dog surpassed my wildest expectations. I've made doggy birthday cakes, bought birthday and Christmas presents, planned vacations around my dogs, turned down social engagements which forced me to leave them alone without care for long periods of time.
Have you ever had a bad day, lost your temper with your child, and felt bad about it later, apologizing? Me too. Do you have dreams and hopes of the future, fears and worries, or watch your child affectionately as he sleeps?
If so, perhaps we have more in common than you think. So to parents who do not have pets, try to have a little empathy when a dog mom or dog thinks of the family dog as a child. Imagine how you might feel if human children had a ten or fifteen year lifespan (or, in Monte's case, not even six full years) and how hard it must be to love so deeply, knowing you will almost certainly eventually have to make a decision to compassionately end their life.
Perhaps we're not so different after all. Maybe we pet parents, too, deserve to celebrate Father's Day and Mother's Day with our four legged children, celebrate their lives, grieve and mourn their loss, without judgment.
June 28th 2010 8:29 pm
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*I originally wrote this yesterday*
Yesterday, I said goodbye to you, Monte.
You were my best friend. My hero, my hope, my inspiration, my rock. This last week has been really hard, watching you get worse, slow down, fall apart, and knowing that there was little I could do to take your pain away. I so hoped we could save you, $12000 of surgery would have been a bargain to have even one more happy day with you, but sadly this was not to be.
What an adventure we had, what a wonderful journey we shared together. I thought I knew a lot about dogs until I met you. Thank you for being so gracious in showing me my ignorance and inspiring me to learn more about dogs and how best to love them. Thank you for your unfailing devotion to and patience with me – brilliant dog that you are you saw potential in me – even this primate is a trainable animal. Your love was the strongest positive reinforcement I’ve ever received as a pet parent.
I remember the first time I saw you on petfinder. Looking at your face, I knew you were the dog I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. I remember picking you up at the shelter, so sick, bones hanging off skin, never bathed or vetted, covered in ticks and fleas. Hungry and sad. And yet, as soon as I came to get you, you ran across the room and leaned against me with all your body, looking up as if to say, “can we go home now, mom?”
I remember teaching you your new name on the car ride home with a six piece chicken McNugget from McDonald’s. I remember feeling so sad when your body didn’t know how to process good food – the months of diarrhea as your body adjusted to a regular, healthy diet. I remember the frustration of my failed Dog Whispering attempts, and my subsequent guilt at having put you through all that when I better understood you.
I remember all my hopes for you. I thought to myself, if we just feed him well enough, exercise him well enough, train him enough, I would be one of the lucky few that got to see her Saint thrive until 13. Sadly, you will not see your sixth birthday next week.
Yesterday, I buried my nose in your fur. I wanted to breathe you into me, to absorb the memories of a thousand adventures, a million smiles, waterfalls, woods, creeks, play dates, untold laughs and fun times. I wished I could have breathed some of my life into you and given you more time. The least I could do was give you lots of lamb, barbecued chicken, and some chocolate chip cookies.
Truly, nothing in life is free. Today I pay for each of those shining, sparkling memories with a tear. Yet, my pain is a bargain, the best deal I ever made and a worthy exchange for the honor of loving you for four and a half years. Far more than I ever saved you, you saved me.
I will never forget you, angel. Truly, I will remember you each time I help a pet parent choose empathy over confrontation, each time I see a smile bursting with pride at a dog’s good behavior, each time i see a little girl thrill at her puppy’s new trick, each time I help save a dog from the fate I was forced to resign you to yesterday. Teoti was right – the price of rescuing from your pain was a lifetime of my own. Again, a bargain.
You were not only my angel, but a hero and an inspiration to dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs and their people. I remember celebrating your honor last year in San Fransisco at the APDT conference, my heart swelling with pride as I saw your picture twenty feet tall in front of hundreds of the country’s best dog trainers, all applauding the relationship built from our teamwork. I remember all the people your story has helped, even if only to let them know there is hope for reactive dogs and that hope is based in compassion, understanding, empathy, forgiveness.
I wouldn’t trade one second of the sunshine you brought into my life. You made every second I spent with you sparkle. When dad was murdered, and I hurt so much I could hardly walk or breathe, you were my salvation. We laid together for hours, until your soft fur was sticky with my tears. This has been the worst year of my life, and I really don’t know how I’ll get through it without you, friend.
Of course, your happy spirit shone through until your last breath. Unfailingly thankful, the last part of your body to move was your tail thumping, as if you were trying to give me your last bit of strength to make the choice I had to make. Until the end, you supported me and gave me strength to survive.
Perhaps we loved each other too much. I think you tried to cram twenty years of love into the four years we had together, and that all the strength in your body went to loving and taking care of us. Everything I had went into giving you the best care I could, as well.
I am eternally thankful to Dr. B, who made the trip to our home yesterday so that your last moments could be spent with your family, where you were happiest. Before you left me, I told you, as I had so many times before, “I love you, boy. I’m your momma, I take care of you. That’s what I do.”
I laid with you for hours afterward, thankful to have one last chance to kiss you, to feel your fur in my fingers, to breathe you in to the Monte-shaped hole that will always be in my heart.
My heart broke and soared at the same time as we took you for your last car ride today – breaking with my own pain, and soaring with gratitude that I was able to rescue you from yours. I just didn’t have the strength to see you hurting anymore, boy. I owed you more than that, the last gift I could give you was dignity and freedom from agony.
You were my hero, my rescuer, my confidante, my fuzzy body pillow, my inspiration, my hope, my mentor, my trainer, and my best friend. Truly, you helped me to become a well-trained human, and for that every dog I ever meet will carry your legacy. I would not trade any second of our shared joy, and would gladly relive this pain for another four years with such a brilliant, noble, loyal, and honest animal. It was an honor to walk this earth with you.
Perhaps you were called home because my dad needed a friend. If this is the case, I have given him the best gift I could ever give him, the gift of you.
Mokie and I sat on the back porch today and smelled you on the wind. Someday I too will be ash, and my wishes then are to have my ashes scattered with those of my dogs, someplace where we can always wander the creeks and forests together, for eternity.
That’ll do, piglet. You’ll always be momma’s angel.
September 16th 2009 6:34 pm
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