Co-parenting Pets and Dealing with Loss as a Family
When we first separated, I didn't know I was pregnant. (More on this in another blog). However, we were the co-parents of two dogs we got at the pound, Lola and Charlie. Lola was our first baby and she was my heart and soul. She was the dog embodiment of me and everything I wished I could be. As a dog she didn't have any hang-ups about life. She did not regret her upbringing or what led her to us. She was a crazy, free-spirited little girl who did not appreciate anyone telling her what to do or how to act. She wanted to do what she wanted, even sometimes to her detriment.
We saw many dogs at the adoption fair that day, more than a decade ago. I was so overcome with emotions at being there, hearing all of the dogs crying to find a home, my head was in a tailspin. We walked by her cage and she was just standing there. She wasn't crying or barking, she wasn't terribly upset. We stuck our hands through the bars and she wagged her tail and licked our fingers with her black tongue. At that moment her daddy knew she was the one.
They say that when you rescue a dog, they really rescue you. For me and Lola, there couldn't be a more accurate statement. She filled the void of having a child for me. She was my best friend and soulmate. I took her everywhere with me. We grew up together.
When we separated, I got majority custody of both of our dogs. Although I felt a stronger bond with Lola, I didn't feel it right to separate them. Later, after I had our son, my attentions turned to him and sadly I couldn't focus as much as I had on them as they were used to. They adapted though. Charlie was not really a snuggly dog and he had not overcome his past traumas when he joined our family. He was always a bit of an odd dog and didn't really bond with anyone except his dad, although he took affection wherever he could get it.
Lola however loved our baby, because he had acid reflux and poopy diapers. She was really gross sometimes, she was a dog after all. But she loved him because I loved him. As he grew she was sure to tell him what her boundaries were, she would not tolerate him hitting her or pulling on her. Sometimes he listened and sometimes he didn't.
In the last couple of years, they grew quite close. She would drive with us as I dropped him at school. He would feed her breakfast and dinner and sit with her so she would eat her food and not steal Charlie's. She laid next to him while he fell asleep so he could pet her. We took her on hikes off leash or just played around the front yard while she hunted.
In the recent years, Charlie's behavior had become more erratic and drove my step dad crazy. As I still lived with him to save money, I begged my ex to take Charlie. I could no longer handle the stress and anxiety I got from the two of them interacting. So he agreed. We were fully co-parenting our dogs now. I was very much looking forward to a new life with just my son and Lola, and having little adventures.
However soon after Charlie left, Lola started to get sick. This was very unusual since she was always very healthy, despite her wild youth. (If you want to hear some crazy stories about that, read this blog.)
After several weeks and theories from the vet and trying different medications, nothing helped. After a second opinion we found out she had pancreatic cancer. It had just started a few weeks prior and was already the size of a baseball. The vet determined she would only have a few more weeks. Being the location of the tumor, it wouldn't respond to treatment and surgery was nearly impossible.
Throughout these weeks, our little family rallied. My son was more than willing to help me clean up vomit and diarrhea whenever necessary without being asked. Kelly (the Step-Mom) offered to pay for the first vet bills. Dan calmed me down on the phone while I had a panic attack at the site of the vet bill. They watched her and cared for her while I was away at a conference. They are gracious to let me take our son away from their regular visitations so that we could come to my mom's house in Arizona for a few weeks.
I decided to come here, because she has always loved this property. They are surrounded by forests with a lot of critters to chase. She loved running through the woods, hunting with the other dogs. Sadly, Lola's best friend Joey passed away last August, and then our other family dog Harley went in May. To say that it's been a difficult few months is putting it mildly.
In the end we were only here a day with her. Last Tuesday we took her for a last little walk. She was so weak that she laid down twice to rest. Wouldn't you know it though, as soon as she saw a lizard she jumped up after it. She passed that afternoon, and a little piece of me went with her.
Kids naturally tend to live in present mind, and while he was devastated when she passed, as soon as we got home he was ok. He thinks about her from time to time but overall he is ok. He knows that she is ok, and that his life will go on.
For us, it tends to be a little harder. Especially after sharing a strong bond for nearly 13 years. I'm lucky enough to have friends and family understand this and give me time and space to heal. Being here in the woods and having fun with my son has done that. When we get home, Kelly has offered to help me clean and declutter the house of dog accoutrement and leave behind only happy memories.
This blog is not your typical blog from us, as it isn't necessarily about co-parenting and it's a very personal one for me, sharing my grief over the loss of our animal. Some people think it's silly and that's ok. This blog isn't for them. It's for you. And for me. Putting it down in words helps me process and get through to the other side. If you have grieved over your pet, know that you are not alone. If you co-parent and also have animals, perhaps this was helpful for you.
Next week we will spread the ashes of all of our recent lost pets in the woods where they once played, so they can continue to play and visit us from time to time. I still cry sometimes when I think about her and the things I will miss most. I won't miss her digging out our garbage or stealing food off our plates when we weren't looking, but I would take all that if it meant she was back here with us. For the most part I am trying to look to our future and planning some fun adventures for me and my son. As our daily lives go on, it won't be so sad anymore. We'll look back at love instead of tears at our memories of her.