Update: See this piece featured on Mamapedia!
A few weeks after we were married, Billy and I strolled into a coffee house in Alexandria. There on the bulletin board was a sign advertising beagle puppies born on our wedding day. If ever there was a sign, this was it. It seemed serendipitous to start our new life together with a little ball of fur to whom we were forever joined by a sunny day in January. We named him Charlottesville, in honor of the place where we met and fell in love.
Charlie shared our first home, our first months as newlyweds, our late nights and our early mornings. He took our loud voices and our moves in stride. We cut our parenting teeth on him, learning that when you become a parent, the things you give up pale in comparison to what you receive.
He welcomed our babies without hesitation, sleeping beside me as I held my newborns, resting his head against theirs, never worried that my love was compromised. Beagles are, after all, pack dogs. There is no jealousy, no territorial affection. For them, more people just means more love.
He cried when they cried. He ate when they ate. He walked next to them as they took their first wobbly steps. He was patient with their unrestrained affection and protective of their little bodies. I talked to him often and, as is the case with most owners I’m sure, I am confident that he understood me. He followed me from room to room throughout the day just to be near me. He stayed close to me when my father died and closer still to my children.
Today I walked into the vet with him in my arms and walked out with my hands holding only an empty collar. A fast-growing tumor had overtaken his abdomen and there was no medical solution.
It might have been a painful decision but it wasn’t a hard one. There is nothing a mother won’t do to protect her children, even if that child walks on four legs. So with tears running down my cheeks, I chose to give him the one thing I had left – compassion.
I watched the vet put the vials of medication in his IV. I rubbed his head and whispered in his ear as his muscles relaxed and thought about how grateful I was to be able to tell him I loved him as he took his last breath.
We talk about our pets as if we are their owners but I didn’t own Charlie. We simply belonged to each other. We shared a home. We shared our anxieties and joys. We shared our love. We shared a life.
And now I wait for my boys to come home and think of how to tell them for the third time in their short lives that someone they love has been taken from them. Because Charlie was not a something. He was a someone. Maybe it is not the same to you. But maybe to them it is exactly the same.
And I am so tired. Tired of losing things I love. I wander through the house picking up his beds, washing his bowls, collecting his leash and already the house seems emptier. I have never thought about the idea of our pets in heaven. But I know that his soul is too good to be anywhere else.
Two weeks ago, I thought I would be spending the day in Houston, watching through tears as my beloved Cavaliers brought home a championship. Instead my tears are for my first baby, for the dad I miss in moments like this, for the end of the season that gave me back my belief in miracles, and for all the things I have lost in the last two years. For the price we pay for loving hard.