Puppy Love

Sick as a Dog

When you have an ailing pet, it affects the well-being of everyone in the family

FaceTime rang and up popped my daughter's face, bringing her all the way from college into the living room. Her voice filled our home and, as we've come to expect, Ezzy started whining, desperately trying to connect with her old buddy. That we miss our daughter acutely around our home is no surprise, but it's painful to watch our beloved family pet cry for her.

"How's she been lately?" our daughter asked, alluding to Ezzy's health.

In answer, our 16-year-old son picked Ezzy up and put her sheltie nose—such a cute one—into the camera. Ezzy is confused. She hears the familiar voice, but can't find the person behind it and continues whimpering.

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Ezzy is a reminder of how quickly life can change. When the kids were 10 and 12 years old, we agreed to get a dog and found 8-week-old Ezzy, a blue-merle Shetland sheepdog, impossible not to bring home. Then, she romped with youthful ambition, chasing balls lobbed by the kids and pulling at her leash to go faster, further. Today, at nearly 6, she's morphed into a curmudgeonly old lady: sickly, full of fears and moving with a hobble. We remind ourselves that when we got her as a frisky pup we made the commitment to love and care for her.

The loving is still effortless and both of our teens have a unique relationship with Ezzy. Our daughter's relationship with Ezzy is soft and warm. Our son's is teasing, pushing her to learn how to high-five and balance food on her nose.

But the caring for Ezzy part—this is where the weight falls heavy. I never guessed we'd already have had frank discussions with our kids about losing Ezzy. Or having to put her down. As the kids split for college, they face real lingering questions of her not being around when they return on breaks. Each goodbye is as serious as each hello is playful.

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Without Ezzy, this season of life would be complex enough with older teens and the unending wish to try and save more for college. But Ezzy adds yet another layer in family life. Though wonderful, the medical advances offering ready answers to most every canine malady make for plenty of heart-wrenching decisions. How much is too much? To put a price tag on a pet who has become part of the family was a moral dilemma. When Ezzy was last hospitalized, I texted a friend after we tearfully handed over our limp dog: "Our hearts are woven with hers!" Through tears, we signed the form to resuscitate at any cost.

In a short time, Ezzy's medical file has grown thicker than any other family member's. When I vent my frustration at having a lemon of a sheltie, my son reminds me of how greatly she contributes to our home. "Pet owners are healthier and happier," he tells me.

I look deep into Ezzy's innocent brown eyes and melt. My son is right, of course. For however long, we're all the better because Ezzy is in our life.

Tags: friendship