Last week, my dog died. And despite the grief that lingers, I am happy.
Ruby joined our family when I was still in the throes of middle school. For twelve years, she was a light in our family — always greeting us at the door when we came home, running into the kitchen when you opened a jar of peanut butter, or begging you to throw her tennis ball over and over and over again. Though her energy declined over the years, her companionship never wavered, not once.
Our relationship with our pets is unlike anything else. They somehow dial in on our emotions, moods, and even health. They are with us for a fraction of our lives, but oftentimes, we are there for them throughout the entirety of theirs. Sometimes, during the early hours of the morning, when my cat meows at the door or Ruby would need to be let outside, I contemplated how the bonds with my pets are so strong (even though they don’t know my name and constantly beg for food and attention and live in my house rent-free). How can our love for these animals go so deep when they do not share the same humanity with us?
When I think back on the qualities of Ruby, the answer to this question is clear. They experience the same emotions that humans do — happiness, anxiety, excitement, irritability, devotion, love. They need companionship just as we as humans need to surround ourselves with friends and family. They need a purpose in their lives, even if it’s just to repeatedly fetch a tennis ball. The cherry on top is that there’s research that backs up the claim that our pets truly do love us.
When my dad shared with us that Ruby’s life was coming to an end, of course, I experienced a range of emotions as grief rolled in. I immediately felt crushed, with a sliver of optimism that maybe she would rally. But after talking with my family, it was clear that none of us wanted her to be in pain. Part of loving your pets is knowing when it is time to let them go.
As I said my final goodbye to sweet Ruby last week, I reflected on the role she played in my life — the joy she brought to our family. She showed me what love looks like in its purest form. For that, I am grateful. And I am happy.
Join us this month at Grotto as we share stories of “Creatures Great and Small.” From our beloved pets at home to wild animals across the globe, we’re diving into all things animal, and we’re excited to see where it takes us.