Losing a pet is like losing a piece of yourself!by J.W. Miller on 12/04/17
I cried hard today for the first time since my Dad died in 2006. The reason was because we had to put down our beagle, Elmo, who had been part of the family for more than 15 years. Losing a pet is not the same as losing a family member or good friend, but it’s more like losing a piece of your own life. You can measure so much of your life and that of your spouse and kids in the context of your pet.
Elmo came to us as a bribe of sorts. When my contract with the Bears expired in 2002, the Lovely Miss Jean and I decided to return to New Orleans so our kids could grow up with their cousins. The kids, however, were at the impressionable ages of 6 and 8 and had a circle of friends who were important to them. But parents learn to be good negotiators, so I promised that when we moved to New Orleans, we’d get a puppy. That concession immediately turned our kids’ objections from “waahhh!” to “when?” A minor problem was that Miss Jean was not a pet person, had never enjoyed a dog growing up and was not overly enthusiastic about the idea. But she was outnumbered.
I figured the kind of dog did not matter to the children, so in some small way I felt it permissible to resurrect my own childhood love of beagles. My dad was a rabbit hunter when I was young, and we always had one or more beagle hounds around the house. I remembered them as affectionate animals, great with children and ready to warn of any uninvited visitors. After we moved, I found what I was looking at a kennel near Tylertown, Mississippi, that advertised beagle pups for sale. I loaded the kids into the car, headed to Mississippi and returned with a bouncy little black, brown and white bundle that I named Elmo after an old family friend in Kentucky.
The kids were in puppy heaven, although Miss Jean still was skeptical, especially as Elmo grew and displayed a young beagle’s foremost attributes: excavation and escape. Our small back yard took on the ambiance of the Baghdad Airport with multiple craters and holes beneath the fence that led to several search-and-rescue missions. Alert neighbors and an ID on his collar always resulted in his repatriation, and we were relieved he was home.
By then, Jean was getting grief from her dogless sisters, which prompted a now famous skit at a family party. Taking off on the old Bobby Fuller Four classic, I rewrote the lyrics to fit a lament from Jean, sung by the kids and me, and retitled: “I fought the dog and the dog won!” Over the years, Elmo evacuated with us during Hurricane Katrina and lived in his own makeshift quarters until we were able to return to our house in Lakeview. As the kids grew and their interests strayed, they retained a peripheral ownership share and never refused to take him out for a walk or clean up after him, although Jean’s claim that he was “Daddy’s dog” was never contested.
In the past year, we could see Elmo fading as we sold our house in Lakeview and resided in a couple temporary locations until our house in Mississippi was completed. As Elmo passed his 15th year in September, it occurred to me that while we were coming into a new house, Elmo was coming home to Mississippi.
It’s only been a couple hours since we left Elmo at the vet for his final journey. I’m still grieving and probably will until we get his ashes back tomorrow and intern them in a special memorial garden in our yard. But like with any loved one, at some point the grieving stops and the celebration of a life well spent begins. Elmo was a great companion for us and the children, and we were lucky he was a part of our family. He helped enrich our lives along the way, and that should be a beloved pet’s lasting tribute.