I didn't think it would hurt this bad.
I didn't think I would cry this hard.
She was, after all, just a dog.
In December of 1995, during my senior year of college, my parents decided that it was time for our family to get a dog. With six daughters, life was chaotic enough. There were a million perfectly good reasons not to get a dog. However, my youngest sister Bernadette, who was 10, had been begging for a dog for quite some time, so when she asked for one that Christmas, my parents were finally ready to surprise her and grant this wish.
"I'm not planning on getting a big dog," my Mom announced before heading off to the Humane Society that day in December, "I think I just want a medium-sized one."
Famous last words.
She came home with this dog. (Picture taken in 2006, at 11 years old.)
And all heart.
My mom recalls looking into the eyes of this sweet animal, and knowing this was the dog for our family.
After all, you just know a family member when you see one.
It only seemed right that in our family of six girls, that our dog was also a girl.
As was fitting for the Christmas time of year that we adopted her, we named her "Holly". She lived with my parents in our childhood home for 15 years. In the short span of a dog's lifetime, my sisters and I grew up. We graduated from grade school, or high school, or college. We dated. We moved out. We pursued careers. We got married. We returned home, this time as visitors. We had babies. We had more babies. Yet Holly remained our tie to childhood, the carefree times when life was much simpler.
Holly would always be there.
Even though, deep down, we knew she would not.
Surely, our dog, the one my family loved fiercely, would defy the odds. Surely our dog would live for twenty years or longer.
She was just a dog, who was also, coincidentally, our four-legged "sister", and the seventh girl in our family. She was a nurturing, kind soul who would watch over our babies like the protective "aunt" that she was.
She was just a dog that kept my parents company when they emptied their nest, and their daughters took on lives and families of our own.
Perhaps you think this is crazy talk. Perhaps you don't get dogs. Perhaps you cannot relate to this kind of grief for a four-legged friend. Perhaps you cannot relate to this kind of love for an animal.
I know she was not a person. I know she was a dog.
But she was not just a dog. She was a friend. She was intelligent. Caring. Non-judgmental. Unconditional.
The love of a dog is a pure love. There are no strings attached. Love it, and it will love you back.
Simple as that.
Today I said good-bye to her for the last time via Skype, from hundreds of miles away. Luckily, my sister Colette, who lives nearby, joined me.
Modern technology is a beautiful thing.
I watched as my Mom and my youngest sister, Bernadette, no longer a 10-year old girl, but a 25-year old woman, stroked Holly's head as my Mom described how our beloved family dog could no longer stand for any amount of time. The same body that used to run, and fetch, and play with us, was now starting to shut down. My parents knew it, and the veterinarian had confirmed it. But for a moment today, as Colette and I spoke to her, I had a glimpse of the old Holly, the young Holly. I saw her looking around and towards the front door of my parents' home, as she recognized the voices of two of her "sisters", and wondered why she could hear us but not see us.
And my heart broke that much more.
"Good-bye Holly," Colette and I sobbed to the image on my computer screen.
"Thanks for being such a good dog," was what we managed to tell her through our tears.
Just a dog indeed.
Thank you Holly, for 15 years of love.