Pets fill our lives with joy and unconditional love. They make us all better, more compassionate human beings. Wednesday is National Hug Your Dog Day and Thursday is National Pet Day, two opportunities to reflect on how fortunate many of us are to have these best friends in our lives.
My wife and I haven’t had pets for several years, but for the past couple of weeks, we got to spend quality time with Miss Eleanor Salt, an affectionate 17-year-old housecat who is most definitely lady of the manor. My sister and brother-in-law saw a photo of this green-eyed cutie in the Pet of the Week feature of their local daily newspaper. When they fell in love with her at a foster home in Ipswich and decided to bring her home, they remarked that Eleanor was an unusual name for a cat. They were told that the kitten’s scrunched-up face made her look like Eleanor Roosevelt, who wasn’t exactly a handsome woman.
But this Eleanor is adorable, even though she woke us up at 5 o’clock every morning, her loud meows from the kitchen indicating she wanted her breakfast, pronto. First, though, this drowsy chaperone had to cover his index finger with a tiny latex thingamajig and apply 1 milliliter of a medicinal ointment to the cat’s earlobe. “Don’t get any of the medicine on your skin, or you’ll absorb it and will want to chase mice,” warned my sister.
For two weeks, Eleanor blissfully found a comfy spot on my wife’s lap, purring happily whenever her chin was rubbed. Eleanor generally ignored the medicine man, unless he had just opened a book or placed a computer on his lap, which would prompt a visit.
My wife and I had been parents of two boxer dogs, who greatly enriched our lives. The first, Abbey, we got from a breeder in Gloucester. The second, Duke, (when we met, he was Prince, a name we disliked; plus I loved introducing Duke as The Dog Formally Known As Prince) we rescued at the behest of the Danvers animal control officer, who was always arresting Abbey and her Heinz 57 boyfriend, Woody Citroni, who would get loose and rummage through downtown dumpsters. Both of our pups passed away much too young: Abbey’s stomach twisted inside-out (gastric dilation); a cancerous tumor did Duke in. We thought about getting another boxer. We actually saw two darling boxer pups at a local shelter, but they were snarling and barking at each other; I would have named them Ray and Dave, after the feuding Davies brothers of The Kinks rock band. We decided it wouldn’t be fair to leave them home alone all day.
Growing up, there were goldfish and those tiny turtles, all of them eventually buried under a shade tree in the yard of our childhood home. The kids down the street had a lizard named Fluffy. But very few dogs. My aunt had a dog, Lord Nelson, that was fixated on sticking his snout in the crotch of guests, whether they be the parish priest or the guy who’d come to read the water meter.
My wife’s family had dogs, lots of them: golden retriever Pooch, St. Bernard Albert, and boxer Mandy, who would sit on Mom’s shoes while she was washing dishes.
Our niece and nephew, Casey and Charlie, had a fun-loving yellow Lab, Summer. She was a sweetie pie, but not the brightest girl; once she barked for eight minutes at a 10-inch-tall boxer statue in our house. As she aged, she wouldn’t eat and became listless. A tumor necessitated the painful decision that it was time to end her suffering.
My sister and her family have a sweet retriever, Trudy Gold, who failed her Seeing Eye of New Jersey final exam because she is terrified of thunder and lightning. She became a big, goofy, drooling, loving household pet, a constant companion to nephew Liam. Social media savvy Trudy has her own Facebook page, even joining the 10-year challenge fun; her puppy pic is so cute.
But, poor Trudy is in declining health. She was moping around the house, and blood work and X-ray indicated a large mass in the tummy area. The vet said this girl with the sweetest face might not make it through the night.
A decision to euthanize Trudy was made, an appointment was set for 3:20 that afternoon, to say goodbye. Just before the procedure, the doctor put his hand in a cookie jar, and Trudy was suddenly an energetic pup again. “I didn’t expect that,” said the doctor. Trudy went home, for one more night with her family. That was a month ago; she’s since enjoyed a steady diet of formerly forbidden treats — pulled pork, roast beef subs.
She’s still a sick girl, and we’re praying she’s still around at Easter.
It is so sad when our pets age and get sick. My friend Nate’s cat, Tipitina, named after the N’Awlins music club, passed away two weeks ago. They were best buddies. He’s been posting photos and sharing memories on Facebook; I imagine him sobbing while he types loving words, because I and many of his pals are sobbing, too. “The creature with the biggest heart I have ever seen was being betrayed by it,” he wrote. “Goodbye, my sweetest girl. I am so grateful we had and loved each other for as long as we did.” One friend wrote: “Sometimes you have to be brave enough to break your own heart, knowing that it’s best for someone else.”
So, this National Hug Your Dog Day and National Pet Day heap lots of love on your dear pets. Every single one deserves to be treated special, because they are.