This weekend, my mom called with some sad news about her dog, Dakota, a handsome malamute mix with different-colored eyes and a singular personality. She'd had to put him down unexpectedly. It wasn't a total surprise, as he was an old boy who'd led a good, long life. But still (sniff). And the worst part for her? Coming home and seeing his stuff everywhere. She says the place just feels empty without him.
His pillow and toys make her heart ache right now, but someday my mom will want to remember her sweet Dakota. That's why, a couple of years ago as a Christmas gift, I commissioned an artist friend, Joan Hiller, to paint this simple, lovely watercolor of my parents' two dogs (that's Rascal in front, the snuggliest of all pit bulls and Dakota's BFF since they were puppies). I wanted my mom and dad to have something special to hang among the many framed photos in their hall(way) of family fame. Because that's what the best pets are to us, right? Family. And while it's devastating to lose them, we can hold on to their memories until the end of our own days.
I have one friend who saved her dog's ashes in a stylish little urn, which comforts her, though it's been tucked away in her closet for years. Another keeps a locket of her dog's thick fur in a beautiful box, along with other small mementos like photos and tags. And, when I was a child, an elderly couple who lived next door displayed a commanding oil portrait of their prized doberman in their sunroom, where he'd spent many happy afternoons with them.
I'm head over heels for my own pup, Quatchi, and even though he's only two, I wish I could stop the clock right now. Since that's impossible, I am making sure we have a few tangible memories of the best moments. When Quatchi was a wiggly puppy, I had a small painting made that captures his mischievous-but-adorable personality perfectly. He'll be posing with me and my guy in our engagement portrait, too. In 50 years, when I look at that picture, I bet I'll bawl more over my beloved dog than any long-faded youth or beauty.
What about you? How do you remember your favorite pets when they're gone?
(Image: Painting by Joan Hiller)