The Privilege of Living With a Pet

Yesterday was a tough day. My husband and I said goodbye to our 16-year-old dog, Gemma. We rescued her when she was 1 year old, and we affectionately referred to her as our first born, as we never had kids. As soon as we saw her sitting in her tiny pen in the dog shelter, we knew she was the one for us.

How do you begin to thank a pet for 16 years of unconditional love? The truth is, Gemma has taught me so much about life and how to live it -- yes, even me who has read hundreds of self-help books. No book can ever come close to the wisdom I've gleaned from living with her these past 16 years. And for that, I am so full of gratitude for her.

Here are just things she taught me:

She was always enthusiastic about life -- She never got bored with her daily walks, eating her kibble, or meeting new people. There was never a day when she woke up in a bad mood. Every day was a new adventure.

She knew that sleep and rest were important -- She always slept like a baby next to me in her own bed, and she loved taking naps.

She knew how to express her emotions -- When she was left alone for several hours, and particularly when Tim and I would go on vacation, she would become quite overcome and cry tears of joy upon our arrival showering us with love and affection.

She had healthy boundaries -- She wouldn't allow us to cuddle her if she was tired. Beware! She was so independent.

She ate a carrot every day -- This kept her digestive system healthy and very active.

She never held grudges -- Even when her younger siblings would steal her treat! She always forgot, and never held grudges.

She had a generous heart -- She lovingly welcomed our other two dogs into her life, even though our youngest and more active dog would sometimes pester her to play. She knew that we still had plenty of love for her.

She was balanced and regulated in her habits -- She would always tell me in her own way if I was late serving up her kibble. She was clockwork when it came time to eat.

She never got offended -- When we, or our friends would point out that she'd put on some extra weight, she didn't care or take it personally. She was complete in herself.

She never complained: When she was sick (which was very rarely), she'd take herself to her bed to be quite and still -- she knew how to restore her balance.

And last but not least,

She exercised amazing grace and dignity these last months, even though we knew she was in pain. Instead, she would just lie down in a secluded place with her head covering her paws.

We had a serious conversation with each other several months back -- we made a pact -- that when things would become too uncomfortable, we'd do what we had to do. Fortunately, for Gemma and for us, that moment was adamantly clear to all three of us.

This was life according to Gemma. Goodbye and thank you my darling, darling Gemma. What a privilege.