Last Wednesday, my wife, Susan and I dropped off our Lilly, the Boston terrier, at our friends’ house in preparation for a trip to Chicago to celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday.
Lilly panted with excitement as we approached her “aunt” and “uncle’s” door and did her happy, peppy puppy dance as she always does when she sees the people she loves. We have boundless faith in our dear friends to take good care of our girl. She will enjoy healthy amounts of attention and cuddle time, treats for good behavior and vigorous play sessions with her roughhousing uncle.
Every day, thousands of people leave their furry family member with a friend, relative or day-care facility, just as they might leave an elder or child in the care of a trusted individual. Virtually 100% of the time, those people will come home to their frolicking fur child without incident and the family chain remains intact. But once in a great while, things can go horribly wrong.
Walking through the halls of the hospital where I work, I recently overheard a man - forever tethered to his motorized wheelchair - tell a social worker that it had been two months since he’d spoken to his son.
“The dumb ass didn’t look where he was going when he backed out of our driveway with his damn truck,” the man said. “He killed my baby! I’ll never speak to him again!”
I never learned the exact circumstances of the incident, though I was seized with empathy for the man I would never see again. Later, I thought about how this man’s boycott of his own son would affect the lives of everyone in his family.
As pet parents or caretakers, we strive to be vigilant and provide the safest environment possible for our beloved pet. However, there’s always a remote chance that something awful can happen. Upon learning of the tragedy, we may be angry to the point of rage, then proceed to excoriate our once-trusted friend or family member (and maybe ourselves) for a random event over which there was perhaps some degree of control. This is a natural part of the grieving process.
But, weeks or months later, we’ll ponder the legacy left by our furry, feathered, finned, scaled and shelled family member. When we do, we will unearth why we lashed out in pain and then hopefully tap into that reservoir of unconditional love that our companion animal gave us.
If our departed pet could speak to our hearts, what would he or she say? Would they want us to remember them for how they died or the way they lived? Would they ask us to torture another being in their name? Does this honor their memory and bring the best out of ourselves the way they brought the best out of us?
Retribution and the hardening of hearts is the stuff of which humans are made. If we truly value our beloved pet as an unselfish change agent, how can we not forgive the one we charged with his or her care?
Should we choose not to forgive, at least two people will be tortured forever - and a legacy will be thrown away.