Recently, my friend Bruce and his family went through the heartbreaking loss of their furry friend Munchkin, a 15-year-old Bichon Friese. Any long-time pet owner understands the deep bond that develops between a pet and their family. Recognizing that the time you get to share your life with a pet will be brief doesn’t make the loss any easier.
I can’t speak of the bond families may have with their cat or their turtle, but dogs earned the moniker of “man’s best friend” for a reason. Quite frankly, they just are. Like your buddy you go to a ball game with or the bass player in your band, a dog is no less a friend.
They love hanging out with you and will do tricks for you. They speak a completely different language, but intuitively know when you’re sad or happy. They will follow you anywhere you let them.
Dogs never outgrow that childlike sense of happiness when you come home. Tail wagging, face licking and utter joy always greets you when you return. We even talk to dogs like they are humans, even though we know we won’t get a verbal response in return. Friends don’t need to communicate in words.
Dogs provide something that your human friends seem to be incapable of—unconditional love.
In turn, you love them back. You protect them and care for them, rubbing their bellies and scratching the back of their necks. You provide food and shelter, take them to the vet when they are sick. You worry about them.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have two long-term relationships with dogs. When I was just a teenager, we adopted Sparky, a mixed breed, beagle-sized companion, who was part of our family for more than 17 years. After marrying and when our boys were old enough, my family welcomed Harry, a Wheaton terrier. Harry was a member of our family for 16 years.
Both of those dogs were my friends and losing them was devastating, leaving an unexpected void. I remember how distraught I was when we lost Sparky, even as a recently married, young adult. Later, those same feelings came rushing back when Harry’s time was up, only this time I experienced the loss with my grown children. Other than seeing replays of the Mets winning the 1969 World Series, I’m not sure my kids have seen me cry before.
Losing a beloved pet is a traumatic experience no matter how you slice it. People that love animals can sympathize with your pain, but pet lovers that own pets can feel your pain. Even with the heartbreak of losing your beloved friend, most dog lovers get back into the game at some point in the future. This decision was made for us when my college graduate son returned home with a Labrador named Louie. Of course, like all dogs that have come across my doorstep over the years, my wife is the primary caregiver.
But when my wife isn’t around, Louie and I get along like good pals most of the time. We’ve only known each other for a few years, but I kind of like him. He hangs out with me outside when I smoke a cigar, so he’s got that going for him. Our relationship is just beginning.
Human friendships may come and go, but the bond between a dog and his master is for life. Science has proven that companionship with dogs helps us relax, lowers our blood pressure and keeps us active.
As a consultant over the years, my friend Bruce spent time away from home for days on end. When transitioning between assignments, Munchkin would accompany him on long, solemn walks almost every day. Always by his side and never judgmental, Munchkin was the perfect companion, listening to his jokes and loving every minute of their time together.
When Munchkin passed, I know Bruce and his family lost more than a pet, they lost a member of their family. But I also understand that he lost a good friend.