Growing up with dogs has taught me many lessons about life, one being the importance of love. Every since I was a little girl, a howling hound dog has been by my side. No matter what kind of mood I was in, I could always be cheered up when my loyal canine would brush her nose against my knees, looking for looking for attention (and food). When I left for college this past August, one of the most challenging things to do before I departed from home was to say goodbye to my hounds, most importantly, my elderly treeing walker coonhound, Ladybird. I knew that the chances of her passing while I was away were quite high, so saying goodbye to her was the hardest out of them all. Ladybird was not like other dogs. First off, her breed is rare, and can typically only be found in the South. Ladybird was adopted (at my request) by my family from an independent shelter in Paducah, Kentucky. At the time, she was already around seven years old. A few months after her adoption, she became ill with a serious case of lyme disease. The odds did not appear to be in her favor after her diagnosis, but somehow, after returning to her old Kentucky home (no pun intended), regained her original strength and vitality. For many years after, she spent her time stealing food off of tables, scavenging through trash cans, sleeping on the couch, acting like a stubborn mule when prompted to go on a walk, and being my best friend.
Ladybird was the only dog who lived in our house due to her sometimes wavering health and apparent seniority. Not seeing her everyday definitely threw me off when I left for college. I had always hoped that I’d get to see her again over the holidays. Unfortunately, that won’t happen. About two weeks ago, my mom came down for a visit and informed my that Ladybird had become very ill. Not only was she frail with arthritis, but something else was going on. My family came to discover after a trip to the vet that a large tumor had been forming in her abdomen. After many long nights and frequent fits of tears, my mom and dad made the decision to put her down—the most humane option for an animal in her physical state. Not being there for my family was one of the most heartbreaking things I have had to experience. I had been there for the deaths of every other family pet except hers. She had been my loyal companion since I was ten, so I was not ready to say goodbye, especially when I could not say it in person. An emotional FaceTime with my mom, brother, and Ladybird convinced me that it was her time, and the vet came later on that Sunday night to take away the old girl’s pain.
Many people don’t believe that pets can touch us just as much as people do, however, I am one of those people who believes that they can. Even though they cannot speak to us, they know us and can read us like a book. The most beautiful thing about being a dog owner is that we always hold their presence within our minds and hearts. No matter where we are or what has happened to us, we can always count on their loyalty upon our arrival home. When she looked into the camera one last time, I knew she was speaking to me through the familiar gleam in her eyes. She knew how much I love her, and she was letting me know that it was okay to let her go. My favorite movie about a person’s relationship with a unique canine is My Dog Skip. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you do (with tissues in hand). This film is not only a beautifully written tribute to the relationship between man and canine, but it is also a reality that all dog owners must face at some point in time. Willie cherished Skip’s companionship, and I cherished Ladybird’s companionship. Just as the movie so eloquently explains, we never truly lose a dog when they pass on, for they are buried within our hearts forever.