...of dog tags, that is.
This will be the first Christmas in 13 years that we are celebrating without a furry family member and it's definitely casting some sadness on the festivities.
Just over three years into our relationship, my guy and I adopted an unruly runt of a Labrador Retriever from a farm about half-an-hour north of the university we were attending at the time. Years later, I still can't tell you what we were thinking. I know I was in love with the idea of sharing a dog and I suppose my guy was in love with me. We were both dog people, having grown up with dogs, but we were also full-time students and while our peers spent their lunch hours in the student pub, we took turns going home to walk the dog.
Our runt, Shamus, was small only in size. He had a very large personality and a humungous heart. He failed obedience school (twice) but never failed to come when we called his name. He wanted to be on top of us, beside us, with us every minute of the day. And despite the fact he once chewed through all four legs of a kitchen table so that we came home to a Japanese-style dining room (seriously, the table was kneeling height), we felt the same way about him.
I remember the first few nights we had him home. We had the hot water bottle, the towels, the noisy clock, the laundry basket; everything he needed to settle in for a good night's rest. But true to his style, he didn't want to sleep anywhere that wasn't one of our armpits. And so my future hubby curled up on a futon and settled in with our pup for several nights. No doubt it was around that time I was convinced he should also be the future father of my children.
Shamus was a naughty dog, but we saw his inner sweetness and tried our best to ignore the rest. We fell into dog ownership comfortably. In fact, we got so comfortable we had a mutual lapse in judgement and decided he needed a friend to keep him company when we couldn't be with him.
And not just any dog. Oh no. Future-hubby was settled on getting another big dog. The hyper, needs-to-be-stimulated-unless-sleeping kind of dog. We found our pointer, Leroy Brown, at another farm on the outskirts of that university town. He had been living in an outdoor pen for several months with some of his litter mates. It was almost winter and being a breed that cannot manage the cold, they needed to find him a home.
He found a home and we found ourselves with another ill-behaved dog. He did a bit better in obedience school but we lost a few couches, an armchair and countless shoes to his exuberant personality. Thankfully, because we were students, most of that stuff came from the local thrift shop.
We did get one thing right. Our dogs were immediately inseparable. As much as they loved to be with us, I think they relied on one another's companionship even more.
There is a lot of work that goes along with being dog owners. The endless walking. The early wake-ups. The poop scooping. The barf cleaning. The furniture replacing. The vet visiting. The dog food purchasing. The kennel boarding. The carpet cleaning. The obedience training.
But we bumbled through all of it together. We brought four babies into their home and each time a shift was surely felt. They took it all in stride. They forgave us even when we didn't deserve it. And they loved us just as much.
Shamus passed away last fall and within the year, Leroy's health declined significantly. He passed away almost exactly a year later. One never seemed the same without the other. I can't even describe how hard it was to say our good byes or to guide our children through the experience of losing these beloved family members.
So Christmas will be very different this year. There won't be any top secret trips to the pet store with piggy bank money in hand for gifts to put in doggie stockings. There won't be a dog running through the house with a holiday ham in its mouth (true story). And there won't be a wrapping paper shredding party after the gifts have been unwrapped.
But there will be gifts under the tree the night before (think wrapping paper shredding) and chocolate in the stockings (turns out our dogs weren't allergic and had quite a fondness for it) and there will be memories.
Many, many memories.
Consider a holiday donation to your local humane society or animal shelter in honour of your loyal friend
For families helping their children say good bye to a pet, I highly recommend Saying Good bye to Lulu