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Love is a Four-Legged Word
It's been a privilege, my friend
One of the fun things about social media is all the animal content. From every adorable face, incorrigible antic, amazing feat, it is abundantly clear that we adore our pets. They are our family, as dear to us as any member. We hold them close to our hearts and revel in their companionship. Trudy features regularly on Instagram (#trudytheunicorn) and Facebook and my very handsome German Shepherd Lutz (#lutzthewonderdog) has graced many a social media timeline. Handsome, kind, patient and protective without being scary, I refer to Lutz as my #bestboyfriendever. In a world full of so much craziness and fear, animals are a relief. I could watch dog, cat and horse videos all day.
The last couple of years of remote working, where colleagues and I had been entering each other’s homes virtually, allowed us to meet and interact with each other’s children, spouses and especially pets. In many ways it strengthened relationships as we feel we know more about each other than we did before.
This has definitely been the case with Lutz. Lutz has inserted himself into many video calls with my colleagues. Usually appearing over my shoulder, drawing attention by chasing his tail or barking at someone at the door, or just quietly sleeping on the floor behind my desk in view of the camera. We became like an old married couple and Lutz a regular fixture, accepted as one of the gang, part of the team. He even featured on the company intranet page at work for thousands of my coworkers around the world to enjoy his handsome mug.
Lutz has always been good with people. Back in younger days, we were certified as an animal assisted therapy team and visited hospitals, retirement communities and the VA. One of his favorite things was spending time with the hospital staff who showered him with attention every time we visited. At one time I served on the board of directors for a women’s shelter and would bring him by to visit. The nuns who ran the shelter couldn’t get enough of him.
A friend of mine was working with a severely autistic client who couldn’t connect with people and had many developmental issues. She wanted to test a theory that it would be therapeutically beneficial for him to interact with a dog. She asked me to bring Lutz to meet him. We spent a good part of the day with her client who would briefly cast side glances at Lutz but never engage with him. Being an easy going dog, Lutz let him keep his distance. We went out for a walk, the client and his therapist in front, Lutz and I following behind. As we passed a house with an open garage a little yappy dog ran out, charging straight for Lutz. The client stopped and turned around to watch. The little dog jumped at Lutz, bouncing all around him and barking nonstop. Finally, Lutz decided enough was enough. He stood up over the yapper and let out a truly impressive roar of a bark right in the little dog’s face, sending it scurrying back to the safety of the garage. The client looked at Lutz and smiled before resuming our walk. When we got back to the house, he very gently put his hand on Lutz’s head to pat it before walking away. Though a small gesture, for that severely autistic person, this was a big moment.
A couple of months ago I wrote about trying to function when you know something bad is going to happen. I said it was like standing on a train track, knowing the train is coming and that the impact will be excruciating but there is nothing you can do, nowhere you can go, to avoid it. What I didn’t say at the time was that we’d just been to the vet who told me that it looked like Lutz may have bone cancer.
It was so. There was no way to fix it. No way to stop the fast moving train. Last week I had to make the heart-rending decision to release him from pain and let him go.
In the first few days I was barely functional. My house was painfully empty. Consumed with loss and unable to deal with it, I began questioning my own actions. How did I not see he was in pain sooner? Was there something else I should have been doing for him? What could I have done to stop this from happening?
But none of this is rooted in reality. Bone cancer is not something I caused or could have cured. I could not have prevented his leg bone crumbling beneath him. And when the worst of it was happening, we were already at the vet’s office. We were where he needed to be. I was taking care of him. I did not let him down.
A dear friend of mine called this guilt my “emotional twinkie”, the fluffy, weightless, toxic treat that I reach for when I don’t want to feel my what I’m really feeling, which is incredible grief.
My dining room table has been full of flowers and cards and gifts, and I couldn’t help thinking that even the loss of my parents did not result in this much outpouring of love and support. But it made sense to me. After all, my friends never met my parents, they had no social media presence, and relationships with family can be complicated. It can be uncomfortable for people and they tend to be cautious and more inclined to steer clear and give you space. With Lutz there was no confusion or complication. We were a team.
A pet’s love is unconditional. They ask so little of us. Some food, some exercise, but more than anything, they just want to be with us. No expectations, no judgements, just present. They don’t care what happened in your day, or what you think you did wrong, or how inadequate you feel. They are just grateful to have you there. You’re their family, their pack, and they love you.
When the empty house was too much, I went to the barn. Fresh air, sunshine, and the focus on Trudy and my riding. For a few hours I felt relief and could breathe.
And yet, there too was sorrow. Only one day after I had to let Lutz go, we at the barn had to say good-bye to Rio. Rio belonged to my trainer and was a feisty, larger than life horse, living out his retirement. A warmblood who had been a champion and achieved so much, all while being a real handful. The tales of his mischievous and naughty behavior are legendary. And part of what made him so special and so beloved.
All of us dealing with loss, my barn family and I did the only thing we could. We went riding. Everyone finished up their lessons and then the whole gang saddled up and headed out for a trail ride. It was relaxing, it was fun, it was joyful. It was our own way of comforting each other and celebrating the lives that were so special to us.
Afterwards we communed together, we drank wine and laughed as we shared stories and raised a glass to Rio and Lutz.
As always, the barn is my safe place, where I know I can find my community and where there is space to heal. Where I can acknowledge what is given and what is taken, with gratitude for the love that is shared in between. And there is nothing purer than that.
Lutz and I had a long journey together. I will never stop loving him and I’m still not able to get through a full day without tears. But the grief is worth the privilege of having shared his life with him.
Thank you, my sweet and darling Lutz.
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