Some of us have furry kids. Others have human kids. I have both. My two furry kids are twelve and thirteen years old now. By human standards, they would be strong-willed, prepubescent, know-it-all tweens—just beginning to make a mark on this big, amazing world. But in their unit of measure (dog years) my furry kids are aging seniors in the twilight of their lives.
My furry kids are Yorkshire terriers named Maddie and Leigha. Both have been with me through a lot of good (and plenty of bad) times. They have lived with me alone, and also with other pets I have had over the years—including turtles and strays dogs off the street.
They have seen boyfriends come and go. They were around before I met my husband.
They have moved up and down the East Coast with me. They even waited for me over a year so that I could live and work in Europe while they stayed behind with my parents.
Theirs was the fur that I cried on when my dad passed away.
They were home to celebrate when we brought each of our babies home. Although celebration wasn’t their initial reaction, they have since forgiven me.
My oldest, Madeline Louise, entered my life shortly after I got of out college. I was single and living by myself. I was lonely. One night I decided to stop in a pet store—even though I knew I shouldn’t get a dog from a pet store for a variety of health and cost reasons. But I couldn’t resist. At fifteen weeks old, she was still so tiny that I could hold her in one hand. I asked the store clerk if I could take her out and hold her for a while. Her bright eyes and scruffy fur were too much to resist. Her price tag was beyond ridiculous, and since I was a poor recent college grad with only ramen noodles in my cupboard, affording a little dog like her was going to be impossible—no matter how much I loved her. As I walked out of the store, the clerk held Maddie in her arms and made her little paw wave good-bye to me. Dagger in my heart.
After some thinking of ways to pool money together and a phone call to my dad begging for help, I was able to eventually go back and buy her. It has been one of the best investments in my life and happiness.
My second child, Leigha Belle (pronounced Lee-a), was given a first and middle name as well because I pretended they were my kids. She was born a year later. I had been scouring newspaper ads with my boyfriend (at the time) in pursuit of expanding our furry kid family. When I found an ad for a litter that was to be born in a few weeks, it seemed like the perfect match! The breeder lived on a farm outside of the city that I lived in, and told me she would let me come look at the puppies as soon as they were born. I was so excited. When the call finally came to plan a trip to see our new addition, it came with some bittersweet news.
The breeder on the phone began to tell us that only one of the pups had survived. Apparently, the mother Yorkie had an infection which harmed her milk, resulting in all but one of the puppies making it. She was the runt of the litter—our Leigha. Because she was forced out of the bunch when nursing, she avoided the infection contracted by her siblings. Luckily, the breeder had recently had a litter of Boston terriers born just weeks before, and the mother of that littler took Leigha in and fed her as one of her own pups. Leigha’s mother was too sick to care for her.
I visited our new puppy at two weeks old, when her eyes were still shut. I visited her again at about eight weeks when she was older—just a little bigger than the size of a hamster. Finally, I was allowed to take her home at thirteen weeks. By then, she was the size of a guinea pig. She weighed only half a pound. I had never seen a dog so small! She was a pint-sized pooch with the attitude of a Great Dane.
That all seems like it wasn’t that long ago, but the reality is that my little furry kids are aging fast. Neither one of them can see nor hear very well. Leigha has an enlarged heart. Maddie has lost almost all her teeth. Both of them are pretty wobbly on their feet. They have good days and bad days. I have started to believe that I will be lucky if they make it (especially Leigha) to their next birthday.
I realize losing a pet can’t be compared to losing a child, but how do you know when their time on this earth is no longer enjoyable? How do you as the parent of a furry kid decide when it may be time to say good-bye? My pets have been a part of every big moment and memory in my life for more than a decade.
I hope I know what to do when the time comes. But I know the time is not yet.