This is a post that is mostly not genealogical. It will be the hardest article I have ever written. And I am doing it for my own therapy so bear with me. You don’t have to read it.
I occasionally come across family history prompts involving the family pet. I have never come across any mention of beloved family pets, and I have only found one photo that included a family pet, whose name is lost to time and generations. My father is a dog man and he had a faithful pooch, Shep, that went hiking and hunting with him when he was a boy in the Dakota’s.
And I have had family pets. Like many, I have had quite a few. I stick to cats as pets for the most part. They worm their way into your heart no more or less than dogs, but their independent nature makes saying goodbye a little easier. They tend to go with a look on their face that says, “see you later, sucker!” I love cats. I perceive them to have my cynical personality.
Dogs are a whole different story. Dogs are like children. They look at you with such adoration and joy. This is probably why they make the best companion for the elderly, the ill, and the infirmed. They truly love you unconditionally and that has magical healing abilities. I have lost dogs in the past and they break my heart so badly that, as I’ve mentioned already, I prefer to stick to cats.
I lost my dog this past Friday to cancer. She was my everything. I love my husband and my family members…but she was my joy. We adopted “Jenna” from a shelter in 2015. She was a stray that had been found in the streets, we don’t know where. At the time we adopted her, she was estimated to be about 2 years old. They thought she was an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix due to her coloring (blue merle). But after just a few weeks with us, and a visit by a dog trainer friend, we all decided she was a Louisiana Catahoula (or hog dog).
I picked her out for my husband because she looked like a near twin to the Australian Shepherd he had lost a few years earlier (to cancer also). And I wanted to stop him from “stealing” my Border Collie, whom I had worked so hard to train to my liking. She was very skittish and shy, but soo curious and energetic. She liked us well enough and acclimated, but I swear it took her three years before she really, truly bonded with us.
And she bonded with me.
She had gone through the prison program for obedience training while a resident of the shelter. They gave me all her notes from that program. She had already been trained by whoever lost her. She was trained maybe a little better than my Border Collie! And she loooovved to play fetch, with anything…a ball, a Frisbee, and unfortunately small furry creatures. We discovered she also liked to play “plink”. That is, she liked it when we fired guns at something (tree, target.. usually b-b guns, folks!). We would shoot the chicken coop with the b-b gun and she would go run to the coop to “retrieve” whatever we shot. She was fanatical about that game.
Despite her love of “plink”, she hated to hear gunfire from a distance, but she was not afraid of real gunfire in her immediate area. We once tested this theory by firing several calibers of guns starting with a .22 and worked our way up, and she never flinched or cowed. We figured she must have been trained for hunting. She knew that guns could hurt, if not kill, and was nervous about distant gunfire and where it was coming from. Strange, yes?
She was tough and scary looking from a stranger’s perspective. We knew she was a big softy, but she had short thick bristly fur that would stand up all along her spine when strangers invaded her “space”. We would tell strangers who wandered onto our remote property to stay in their cars to avoid being bitten. She was my little razor-back and a great deterrent.
She hated thunder. As tough as she was, she would shake like a leaf. It broke my heart to see her that way and I could not, for the life of me, adhere to the advice not to coddle her at such times. We would cover her up with my husband’s old Army poncho liner and just let her nose stick out for fresh air. It seemed to help, but we could tell she was still distressed about the storm.
She would be about 8 to 10 years old now. We have been combatting tumors all year long. But we just couldn’t keep up with the spread, they grew soo fast. I promised myself I would make the hard decision the day she stopped playing fetch. And I kept my word Friday morning. She chased the ball reluctantly two more times, I think because we asked it of her. She ran off the cat for the last time. She ate peanut butter-covered dog cookies for breakfast. All week long she got a slice of ham with every sandwich I made for myself. I took her on a car ride last Tuesday. I had planned to take her for another car ride that morning. But we had a bad night so instead, I released her from her cancer and gave her peace at 8:30 am. My heart is heavy.
No, I do not have a lot of ancestral stories or photo evidence of family pets. But I have loved MY pets with all my heart. They may be lost to time and generations, but not to me. They will remain in my heart for as long as I live.
Imagine if we humans could love as unconditionally as our pets…
UPDATE: “Jenna” came home today (8/26/21) and I put her under my desk, where she liked to lay. In the nice little box that the crematorium put her in. Some day, maybe I will scatter her ashes. But not yet…