“He saw me through and through”, is what my brother said after losing his dog, Leo, to cancer. Leo came into my brother’s life when the latter was a young, carefree, 27 year old bachelor. He was that always-present-friend, part of all the frolics and parties, while also being the non-judgmental-confidant, during heart breaks and life’s lows. He was the 5 am wake up call and also the 11 pm reflecting-on-life reason. Accompanying in the journey of life for 13 long years, from a bachelor pad to a palatial family house, sprawling with kids and toys, Leo truly witnessed the evolution.
Over the years, life brought on many changes. While some he enjoyed dearly, such as the bigger yard and better treats, he surely resented a few. For he didn’t much fancy his move out of the bedroom into the hallway and his dinners replaced by leaner organic versions of something appearing to be food. Yet, for the most part, none of those things “mattered”. All he truly cared about, was one person – my brother. Anything or anyone else was at best, temporary entertainment or momentary distraction. As much as he cared about that blue bouncy ball or that chewed up rattler or steak bones, everything fell short in front of his human friend. It was his friend who made all the favorites turn into priceless. This is the unconditional love of a pet. It never ceases to exist. Not even when life itself does.
Towards the later years, Leo was diagnosed with cancer and his body slowly started giving up. Even after all the heavy medications, the excruciating pain was making living harder. His will to stay and please his friend was quickly fading away too. In spite of that, he didn’t drop dead. Instead, he kept going until that very last day. He stayed for that one last picture, for that one last treat and for that one final walk, albeit, on the lap. Most importantly, he stayed to give my brother time to grapple with the unfathomable. In return, demanding that final act of selfless love. As he put his paws in the same hands he loved to lick, felt those very anxious breadth, he wanted his friend, his world, his partner, to let him go.
It was the human friend’s turn to reciprocate the unconditional givings. To choose his dog’s pain free life-after-death, for his own inexplicable lifelong pain. To hit that reset button on life itself. To endure the guilt of ‘making’ the decision to end something, he once promised to protect.
As my brother honored Leo’s wish and struggled in the process, I reflected on the life of a pet owner. It’s so transient and so fragile. From the moment you bring them home, you know the inevitable, that you very well will outlive your pet. Yet, you embark on the journey. Hoping against hope that along the way, the bond you foster will make the farewell, somewhat, just somewhat, bearable.