Finding, Loving, and Losing Pets

Recently, we found out our dog Ringo has mouth cancer. This wasn’t a huge surprise, since he’s had small tumors for the past few years on his legs, and we know from experience that any dog with a Labrador bloodline is probably going to succumb to some type of cancer during their later years. Still, this kind of news is always tough to take.

At this point, we could put Ringo through surgery, chemo, and maybe even radiation treatments, but at about fourteen years old, he probably wouldn’t do well with it. For now, then, all we can do is keep him comfortable, satisfy his still impressive appetite for food, and watch for signs that he isn’t enjoying life as much as he has been. That’ll be tough, because he’s always happy.

Today, Ringo’s situation got me thinking about the pets my wife and I have had and lost over the years. She and I got married in 1998, and though we’d both grown up with dogs and cats, it wasn’t until early 1999 when we got our first cat, a magical feline that actually turned out to be three cats: Jemima, Pudding, and Sassy. There’s a longer story there, one involving some sleight of hand, a crowded cat carrier, and some well-intentioned trickery on the part of a rescue worker. All things told, it worked out well.

Clockwise, from top: Sassy, Pudding, and Jemima

Not long after the cats came on board, we met our dog and the love of our life, Katie the Golden Retriever–or, as we often say, she found us, right in the middle a sizable highway in Mobile, Alabama. A few years later, in 2003, we found Elvis, our weird little dog of indeterminate origin who’d never been socialized. He was hit by a car near our house–that’s how the story always begins, in case you don’t know–and we rescued him from the road and whisked him away to our vet. Eight weeks and a hefty chunk of money later, bad-mannered Elvis came back home with us. Surprisingly, he took to Katie right away and eventually came to tolerate the cats, especially Pudding, who became his running buddy and assistant security expert.

Katie and Elvis

Around 2007, we inherited another cat, Sisko, from a friend who was moving away from Alabama. Sisko was the prototypical cat: ornery, self-absorbed, but occasionally loving, usually only for minutes at a time. More than any other cat we ever had, Sisko loved screwing with our dogs, especially Elvis. I’m still convinced that every time we left the house, Sisko told Elvis two things: 1) They’re never coming back, and 2) you now work for me.


One by one, we’ve lost all these critters over the years. Before we moved from Alabama to Colorado, Sassy disappeared out of our backyard during a sudden summer thunderstorm, and Jemima got out of the fence and was hit by a car. The day we found Jemima in the street was the same day Ringo found us on a walk. He was the puppy of a neighbor’s neglected dog, eaten up with mange and malnourished but still one of the sweetest dogs you’d ever meet. By the transitive powers of We Found Him and He Likes Us Better, he became ours that day, and once he was all fixed up, he became my mom and dad’s dog, at least for about ten years until he moved to Colorado to live a good life in the Rockies. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Cap’n Ringo

(A side note: From 2003 to around 2010, my wife and I also fostered rescue animals, probably around twenty or so dogs and cats during those years. A few of them got along with our pets, most didn’t, and some of them required special care, some didn’t. Of course, it was all rewarding and heartbreaking.)

In 2011, we moved to Colorado with our dogs Katie and Elvis and cats Pudding and Sisko in tow. Later that year we lost Pudding to a mysterious cat illness, and the next we lost Katie to cancer; another couple of years passed before we lost Sisko, and then last year in 2018 we lost Elvis. Now it looks like Ringo may not be with us much longer. Or I could be wrong. He could still outlive all of us.

When Ringo goes, though, it’ll be the first time in almost twenty years that my wife and I have been without at least one pet in the house. That’s a stunning reality. Everything in our married lives has always been in some way organized around taking care of our animals: arranging for pet sitters, driving across the country instead of flying so we could haul geriatric dogs with us, losing vacuum cleaners to dog and cat hair, cooking special food for a dog with pancreatitis, giving a cat phenobarbital for epilepsy, making a breakneck drive from Colorado to Alabama and back just to give two cats a ride to their new home. It’s difficult to imagine that not being our lives.

When we’ve told people about Ringo’s prognosis, most of them have asked if we’ll get another pet. To me, it isn’t even a question. Of course we will. Our animals have been such rewarding parts of our lives, and there are so many of them out there in need of homes, I know we’ll get another one, probably two, maybe more.

We may just wait a little while.

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