I have a confession.
sometimes often feel like an inadequate dog-mom. I am always asking myself if my dogs FEEL loved enough. If they are happy enough. If they are fulfilled and content. I constantly feel inadequate.
I know where the guilt comes from– It comes from losing my previous dog, Ben, 2 years ago. Ben had heart-disease and the last year of his life was a heavily-medicated struggle. He was my first dog; I adopted him when I was 18 and had just moved out on my own. If there is such a thing as a canine soul-mate, Ben was it. I’m serious when I say that I loved that dog more than I have ever loved anything (another source of guilt because I often wonder if I loved Ben more than I love Oslo & Jersey.!.) I thought that making decision to put Ben to sleep and end his struggle was the hardest thing I’d ever done… but when I brought him into the vet-appointment and watched the life leave his eyes, I realized that nothing- EVER- would be harder than that. To say it was excruciating would be an understatement.
Intellectually I understand that I did what was best for him and that I did it selflessly and out of nothing but the deepest love, respect and compassion… But emotionally, to this day, I can’t shake the feeling that I killed my dog.
I went home and thought about all the times I was snappy and impatient with Ben. All the times that I’d left him alone too long. Or made him wait too long between potty breaks. Or denied him a tasty treat. Or nudged him off the sofa when he wanted to cuddle… and I regretted IT ALL. Fast forward 2+ years— I still regret it. I’d give anything right now to take Ben on an extra long walk, or have him cuddle in my bed with me, or slip him some tasty nibbles off my plate.
Experiencing Ben’s death (and being responsible for Ben’s death) changed me. It reached down into the core of my being and altered the way I see & do things. Some for the better, and some for the worst. It made me a more patient, loving dog owner, certainly. But, to this day it’s very hard for me to live ‘in the moment’ with Oslo & Jersey. I am always looking forward to a day when they are gone, and how I will feel, and if I will feel guilty about doing XYZ, or not doing XYZ. Constantly, in my head the words, “One day they will be dead” scroll through.
Oslo is pestering me to let him up on the sofa again…….. One day he will be dead.
Jersey’s snoring is driving me INSANE………….. One day he will be dead.
The dogs are begging for food off my plate…………. One day they will be dead.
I do realize that this probably isn’t the healthiest decision making process, but I would be lying to you if I said that I didn’t let that knowledge change the decisions that I make and the rules that I set. I am occasionally accused of being too lenient with my dogs, too sweet, too accommodating… For example, I have no problem with my dogs ‘begging’ while I eat… and I will often wake up in the middle of the night with the express purpose to check on the dogs to see if they are warm and ‘cozy’ enough. I wash their bedding as often I wash my own, and I turn a cheek when they bark at our gate as other dogs walk by. It truly pains me to reprimand them, and I can often be found cuddle and snuggling them after raising my voice to them because I just feel so dang GUILTY.
(For the record, yes- I understand that this isn’t ideal behaviour from a ‘pack leader’ and it’s probably confusing for them.. and I should be more firm and consistent.. and WHAT WOULD CESAR MILAN DO!?! But.. well… One day they will be dead.)
When that day comes, I want to regret as little as possible. I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did everything I could to make their time with me as happy as possible. I want to go to bed at night feeling like I did a good job and that they felt as loved as they were. I’m willing to overlook almost anything to not feel too terribly guilty… But the shitty thing is that I feel guilty even NOW. It’s like this immeasurably huge guilt and nagging feelings of inadequacy are completely unavoidable. I wish I could separate Ben’s death from how I feel today with Oslo & Jersey… I wish I could go back to a time when I was naive and unexperienced with this sort of loss and pain. But I can’t. I’ve seen death, I’ve experienced that loss, and I will be forever changed.