“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France
“Something is wrong.”
It was three years ago today on a bright, cold winter Saturday morning in February. I had popped out of bed early and hurriedly thrown on a pair of old jeans and a comfy sweatshirt, excited that this much-anticipated day had finally arrived. After six full days of this animal-lover’s pleading and begging on Facebook for someone to adopt a sweet, lonely pit bull mix that had found his way to our local animal shelter, my prayer had finally been answered. Little “Lenny” (the name I promptly bestowed upon him after observing his ‘gentle giant’ ways that mirrored his namesake in the classic Of Mice and Men) was going home! And who had adopted him?
You guessed it—me!
After seeing that there was no public interest in saving this sweet boy from his ever looming demise date, my big-hearted husband finally gave in. Lenny was coming home to join our family. Lenny would be pet number five.
The only problem we faced was timing. The shelter (which was unfortunately not a no-kill shelter) had scheduled sweet Lenny to be put to sleep on Friday. But because of mine and my husband’s out-of-town work schedules, neither of us could work it out to go pick up our sweet boy before closing time on Friday. So, the shelter graciously agreed to extend his date to Saturday—with our promise that we’d definitely show up by the time they closed at noon. No problem! I rose with the sun with my happy heart pounding out of my chest. Our baby was coming home!
And then I walked into the living room and everything changed.
There lied my precious fat calico kitty Patches on her little pet bed, struggling for air.
“Something is wrong.”
At first the words came out in a whisper, but as I realized the seriousness of the situation, they gained strength.
“Something is wrong!”
I called out to my husband, “Richard! Something is wrong with Patches!”
My husband came into the room and said, “Let’s get her to the vet. Hurry.”
I began scrambling for my shoes and for a large towel to wrap my sweet cat in. We rushed to the car and started the thirty minute drive to town, with me all the while holding my fluffy girl like a baby in my arms in the passenger seat. We made it to the emergency vet and while my husband ran to the counter to explain what was happening, my beautiful cat’s gentle sweet soul left her body as she lay in my arms in the waiting room.
My girl was gone.
Just like that. This day that was supposed to be filled with such anticipated joy was just bombarded with a soul-crushing sadness that I couldn’t possibly have seen coming. I heard voices swirling around me, offering help–burial services, cremation–but all I could do was look at the lifeless eyes lying in my aching arms. My sweet girl had seen me through so much over the past few years. She had watched my children grow with me. She saw my marriage fall apart. She saw me fall in love again and welcomed this new, amazing man into our world. She had been my constant through all the changes swirling around me.
And now she was gone.
I looked up into my husband’s empathetic eyes and saw the pain I was feeling reflecting back at me. He gently took my arm and led me to the car. I wouldn’t let Patches go. I held onto her lifeless body and couldn’t bring myself to put her down.
“Honey. We have to get to the shelter.”
My husband’s sobering words pulled me out of my stupor and I glanced at the clock. 11:00 a.m. In the rush of the morning’s tragic events, time had slipped away from me. We lost my baby that morning but we still had work to do. We didn’t have time to take my sweet Patches home and bury her and come back to get Lenny. We had no choice. We had to go straight to the shelter or we’d be too late.
We pulled into the parking lot of the shelter and my strong, stable husband finally convinced me to turn my kitty over to him. He gently took her from my arms, covered her lifeless body with the towel, and placed her into a box. We had no choice but to lay her sweet body in the trunk until we could get her home to her proper burial. After we got her in place, my husband took my hand and walked me into the shelter. There, we found our Lenny.
And he was terrified.
My eyes locked onto his and I saw his fear of the unknown. I saw the uncertainty and questions that I was feeling too. Could I do this? Could I switch gears so suddenly? From the heartbreaking pain of loss straight into the joy of a new adoption?
No. I couldn’t. And my sweet Lenny didn’t expect me to.
Dragging our terrified new pet to our car, my husband placed him in the backseat. And, in a last minute mindless decision, I climbed back there with him. We both cried all the way home. Both of us were scared. Both of us were leaving what was familiar to us and embarking on a journey where nothing would ever be the same. Both of us were shaking, sad, and weak.
We needed each other more than ever.
Now, three years later, here we are. We’ve adjusted. My sweet Lenny helped me through one of the hardest days of my life back then. And I think I helped him through his, too. We snuggled on the couch on that cold Saturday back in February until our pain began to subside. We held onto each other until we realized that our broken hearts had just enough room for each other. My gentle giant coaxed me back to happiness and taught me to open my heart to another furry soul. And I taught him that some people just won’t ever leave you.
They just won’t.
We’re a team now, sweet Lenny and me. We didn’t have the happiest of starts, but we’ve promised each other that we’ll have a happy ending. Instead of me saving him, he saved me.
Someone told me once that they believed that my precious Patches chose February 7, 2015 to leave me on purpose. She knew that this would be the day that I would be able to accept her departure. I don’t know about all that. But I do know this.
A whole big furry ball of gentleness and love immediately filled the spot that she left behind. Was that divine intervention? I don’t know.
But I certainly know who’s a good boy. My Lenny, that’s who.
“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”
– Bruce Cameron