Walking the last mile with an old friend

Opinion

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JUDY BAAR TOPINKA

Pets are a wonderful addition to life. Not only do they provide unconditional love, they are medically proven to reduce stress, keep the blood pressure down and make one more healthy overall.

But, there is a downside. One becomes very attached to the critters, and they become members of the family. Frankly, even the terms on how they are described are now changed from "pets" to "companion animals." Legislatures are passing bills creating trusts for these companion animals, as Illinois did this year, plus other rights and privileges never before considered.

For empty nesters and folks, like me, who live alone, they provide a wealth of companionship and the pleasant noise around the house that missing members of the family used to provide.

And then the downside: they age as we do, they get sick as we do and, at a certain point, they leave us, usually with a hole in our hearts.

I have always been a dog person, leaving cat holding to my son and daughter-in-law, who seemingly pick up a stray cat at every military post they are assigned to.

Molly McDoo, my Scottie, came as a gift when she was 6 weeks old. We have grown together for 12 years now, and she is still as spry as a pup, certainly not reflecting her age. She's a tough old bird, but then, Scotties seemingly come that way.

One day, a pound dog moved into my life. I really did not expect to have a second dog, as campaigning around the state with one dog had proven to be quite an undertaking, especially when overnighting in hotels.

Andrew is a "bagel," a beagle at both ends, a basset in the middle. He is a long, strange-looking dog with a beautiful face and large, limpid brown eyes. The face makes you melt, which is probably how he moved in. God knows how old he is, but he was an old dog when he came.

He had everything wrong with him, which is how he got the name of Raggedy Andy. Furthermore, he came from an unincorporated area north of Springfield called Andrew, and he was a resident of the Springfield pound after he was found wandering on an Andrew road in the middle of the night, a collar on him, the tags removed. It was assumed that he had been dumped by his former owners.

The vet said he limped because his leg had been hurt in the past ... maybe hit by a car and never set right. He was only 17 pounds with every bone in his body showing. Now he is 50-something pounds, and I tease that he looks like a mini-aircraft carrier, even needing aircraft carrier room to turn around. Some compare him to a hassock because of his long, fat, flat back.

He is a loving dog, as only a pound pup can be. Maybe we read into the situation, but people say that pound pups are forever grateful that someone took them in. He had been at the Springfield pound for some three weeks, and his time was running out.

The men there did not want to adopt him out as they thought he was mean. The women, on the other hand, were glad he found a home because they thought he was sweet. Andy did not like men at all, though he has mellowed with age when he realized that none he came in contact with would hurt him.

And now, it would seem that Andy?"now known as Andrew as he has been spruced up to be a dog of means (smiles)?"is feeling his age and infirmities. He has something called Cushing's Disease, which attacks the liver and kidneys. He can hardly walk now, needing to be carried up and down the back steps to go out. He really does not want to eat much anymore, and that is unusual as he always relished eating anything in sight, remembering those days of scarcity on the road before he got a home and someone who loved him.

Sometimes the only and ultimate kindness we can give our critter friends is a peaceful departure after a full life. Andrew seems headed in this direction, and, frankly, it is a tough decision to make. I have had three dogs before, and was with them all when "that time" came along. It is a sad time, but when it comes, it seems to me to be the decent and loving thing to do to be around to hold a paw as one says goodbye.

It is clear to me that the final days are coming. I tell you this as many people have come to the office and know Andrew and Molly, often play with them, bring them toys and such. If Andrew is missing, I really don't want to have to explain it all over and over again, hence today's column.

And so, love your critters while you can as their time in people terms is short, but in that short time, they bring so many wonderful moments.

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