Have you seen that billboard? The one that says, “Pets are children too. Don’t abandon them.” It’s right there outside of Las Vegas as you head south on the I-15.
It always makes me laugh because, really? Pets are children? Um, no. I mean, sure there are some similarities, especially when it comes to their manners. But, I don’t feed my dog at the table and I don’t leave my six year locked in a kennel for hours at a time while I’m out running errands. My kids also figured out that whole don’t-pee-on-the-carpet thing, whereas the dog, eh, not so much.
This past Sunday, though, I dreaded seeing it. Guilt ate away any attempt at derisive laughter I could muster when we passed it eight hours into our twelve hour drive home from Utah to California.
By that time it had been nearly twenty-four hours since we’d seen Lola.
Aka: the stupid dog.
For on the eve of the New Year–and also of our departure–she had run away into the wilderness surrounding my parents’ home. A wilderness full of coyotes, at least one wolf, and other various and assundry wildlife, but still an area she thought would be safer than the front yard where we were letting off fireworks.
We looked for her for an hour after we noticed her absence, searching with flashlights in the freezing cold, calling her name until we were too frozen to stay out any longer. The next morning we expanded our search area and put off our departure time by three hours, but without any luck. So we put three crying girls in the car and drove away, sans dog.
And now, as another cold night approached without any sign of Lola, there was the billboard staring down at me with its accusatory words. I had abandoned my “child” to the wolves, coyotes, and owls after only a three hour search. What kind of pet parent was I?
And what about all those times I had called her dummy? or stupid? Instead of appreciating her loyalty, I had complained about her always being underfoot. Instead of relishing the fact I had something who would never outgrow cuddling, I pushed her off of my lap.
You know what’s even worse?
I joked about her running away or being eaten. I said those things out loud, forgetting everything I had learned from reading half of The Secret about sending things out into the Universe. If you send out a thought to the Universe, It just might comply. And It doesn’t always get black humor, so you best be careful what you throw out there.
And those Pets Are Children people must be doing all right, because there were two more of those billboards that I had never seen before, pointing their doggy paws at me. I tried to console myself that at least I had been feeding her left-over turkey and ham for the past few days. Mostly because we were out of dog food and I was too lazy to drive into town for more. But also because she liked it.
Then it occurred to me that my plying her with meaty treats made her an even tastier morsel for whatever animal had got her.
Perhaps I sound a little callous about my dog’s demise, but I really did feel very sad and guilty about not finding her. And for not being more responsible and thinking to lock her up before the fireworks, knowing how skittish she is and all.
But then I remembered something…
Four years ago on a similar New Year’s Day, my friend Jenny, while on vacation in Utah, had to say an unexpected good-bye to her four year old boy after he was involved in a fatal sledding accident. She started the New Year in 2008 by putting a little casket with Russell’s body in it on an airplane and flying home; her life completely changed.
Kind of puts the loss of a dog in perspective, doesn’t it?
When I remembered it was the anniversary of Russell’s death I started thinking about a lot of other things. Like how I would feel if it were one of my children I had lost instead of the dog. Would I be regretting I hadn’t appreciated them more? stopped to hold them when they needed it? looked for the positive side of their “faults”?
I thought about that a lot. I thought about it through the next day as we still didn’t have any word about our dog and I became even more certain she hadn’t survived two nights out in the wild. And I thought about how much my perspective had changed when I found out Russell died. Suddenly the little things I got angry with my kids over didn’t seem nearly as important as appreciating the time I had with them. The fact that no one is immune to loss hit hard and I resolved to remember that and treat my loved ones accordingly.
But then I did something Jenny can never do.
I forgot that things can change in an instant and without warning. I forgot that we can’t determine how long we’ll have a child. Or a spouse. Or a parent. Or any loved one.
I forgot that life is fragile.
So my New Year’s resolution this year is this: To put things into perspective.
I will hold the things close that matter and let go of the things that don’t.
And you know what happened after I made that resolution?
I got a call from my parents that my dog had been found. (Stupid dog).
But her rescue and the kindness of my parents’ neighbors is a story for another blogpost.