Monday, June 20, 2011

A dog, screeching tires, and some broken hearts

Growing up, I was never an especially devoted "animal person." We had dogs and I liked them when I remembered to pay attention to them; luckily for the poor pets, plenty of others in the family showered them with love.

All that changed when I had my own kids and they wanted pets. By the time Scott and Caroline were ready to start school, we had added two beagles, Buc and Maddie, to our family. The kids adored them and helped with their care, but as such things frequently transpire, the nuts-and-bolts elements of their health and well-being fell to me.

So I grew to love those two dogs, and my heart broke when we had to have them euthanized – first Maddie, at 8, for liver cancer, and Buc, at 13, for congestive heart failure.

As painful as those two days were, though, what happened Saturday night was even more difficult to take.

Two years ago, Scott purchased a dog from the animal shelter in Ames. Forty is terrier-beagle mix with maybe a little dalmation thrown in; his face is like Maddie’s, which drew me to him immediately. I quickly came to realize he’s a human in a dog suit; whip-smart, funny, a good pest-hunter, and prone to such antics as jumping 4 feet into the air from a standing position. Scott adores the dog, and it’s safe to say the whole family is attached to him, too.

So this weekend’s events were devastating for all of us. Scott had traveled to Austin, Texas, where his and Caroline’s dad lives, for Father’s Day. He had suggested leaving Forty behind, but I urged him to take him on the trip. “In two weeks, you’re going to London for a month and a half,” I reminded him. “He’s going to miss you so much when he’s with me. You need to take him.” And so he did.

Long story short: It was Saturday night, Scott and his friend Dave were headed to the store, and Scott called to Forty – who loves car rides – to hop in the car. Forty, excited, darted out into the parking lot, and in a squeal of tires and a scraping of metal, he was hit.

A short time later, at the animal emergency clinic, Forty was found to have lost the sight in one eye and suffered some severe laceration injuries as well. The vet removed the injured eye and sutured the cut leg. It was amazing, the vet said, that Forty had lived.

My son witnessed the accident. My daughter witnessed the aftermath. They are grateful Forty is alive but sad beyond words that the active companion they know and love is traumatized and in pain. My son – a loving, caring dog owner -- feels guilty about failing to have Forty on a leash. I feel guilty for failing to have kept Forty with me for the week. The list goes on, and we just hurt.

But the reality is: Accidents -- sometimes really bad accidents -- just simply happen. To all of us. No matter how caring we happen to be. No matter how vigilant.

My friend Linda listened to my story yesterday, then said, “You can’t fix this one. Be there for Forty and for Scott. You will all adjust.”

Good advice, but when my heart hurts, I can’t make anything else work. When Scott was 9 months old, because of a stupid oversight on my part, he went down some stairs in his walker; I still see that scene, remember what he was wearing, even, and recall the hysteria rising as I was sure he was seriously injured. Thankfully, he ended up none the worse for wear, but I was shaken for months.

This is an animal, not a child – I get the difference, and I’m thankful for every day my children are healthy and safe. I also know, in my heart of hearts, that we’ll all be fine; our vet says dogs are resilient, and the rest of us will bounce back as well.

Still, though, I can’t get over feeling that I failed this little being, and that I, in my all-powerful Mom-ness, should have been able to prevent it somehow ... or, at the very least, wave my magic wand and bring the world back to the way it should be.

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