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Choosing Grief

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I never liked the word pet to describe an animal adopted into one’s home. I guess if all the animal is there for is to guard the house or perhaps entertain the kids, perhaps then it’s a pet. But we don’t adopt pets. We adopt animals, dogs usually, to become part of our family. I don’t mean this lightly.

One either truly understands the emotional value a dog brings, or they don’t. Words don’t do the feeling justice. Nothing I say will do it justice.

We had to let our Sherlock go, this afternoon, after 16 years with him being truly a member of our family. He was old, 17 years old and wasting away from kidney disease, beginning to stagger in the last few days. He’d been on the decline for a long time, requiring weekly vet visits to give him fluids, and so many medicines we had to buy one of those AM/PM containers for the week. For him, anything.

But today he wouldn’t eat, even when it was his favorite things to eat. It was as if he decided, this is it. I’m done.

He spent hours today just standing, just looking. In the backyard, in the sun, eyes squinting, looking thinly at the world, or nothing at all. In the room, looking. At me, looking. And today he began to twitch, noticeably. I’m done. He walked slower, showing the pain in his right rear leg. Skin and bones and beautiful nevertheless.

So it was time. We made the appointment, spent a few hours holding him before we took him to the vet. Letting go wrecks you.

I realized today that when you choose to make an animal a part of your family, you’re choosing grief. It’ll come eventually, usually, because more often than not, you’re going to outlive the animals you love. But you do it anyway, because they are worth all this grief. He is worth all the grief wrecking me.

He gave me a gift of ten thousand wags. When he was young, he zoomed throughout the house. He barked madly at skateboarders. He scared old ladies even when I tried to explain he was just being overprotective. He curled up at our feet. He could have picked anywhere in the house to be, but he wanted to be at our feet.

That’s why we choose them, knowing it’s not forever. That’s why they’re worth it. You choose the grief because you’re getting all the joy that comes before it.

For my old man dog, I’m grateful forever.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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