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Life’s dark moments enlighten perspective

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The sadness of the passing of a pet brought some understanding of the Newtown massacre.

By Steve Doyle

Scout was euthanized Saturday after a short illness that brought on kidney failure. She was 6 years old. Scout was a Schnoodle and a family pet who never failed to wag her tail and never met a stranger she didn’t lick. She loved to chase toys thrown across the room, to steal her sister’s food and to sneak a nip at grass in the back yard. She was particularly attentive to strange footsteps outside the front door. She was born in Florida and was adopted in 2006. She spent her early years in Florida before moving to Kentucky in 2008. She was survived by her half sister, Shelby, and her family of caretakers, the Doyles. Interment was in a private ceremony at Dozen Acres Farm in Shelby County.

 

On Saturday morning, while many of you were out taking care of the Christmas rush or perhaps attending a special event with friends or family, my 11-year-old son and I stood in the drizzling rain under an apple tree in our backyard, digging a hole in which to lay to rest one of our family pets.

His 5-year-old sister joined us as we held hands and said a prayer over the grave. We don’t know that Scout was religious, but she certainly was a child of God.

This was the final part of an emotional 72 hours when our family went from knowing Scout was not feeling well to making the difficult decision to let her go before she starved to death.

And this was my first experience with this process, an eye-opening, heart-ripping, soul-searching, awful time, I now understand.

I must confess that I’ve never been that much of a dog person or a pet person.

I grew up on a farm around many animals. Some of them caused duress for my life, so I didn’t hold them in high esteem, if you get my drift.

Pets in our family came and went. Socks, a cat I raised from her early days in the barn, was around our house spitting out babies for years until one morning before school when I found her dead in the road.

Taffy, our most long-standing dog, stayed behind on the farm with my grandparents when I went to college and my parents moved to the suburbs. He died there, although I have no idea when or how.

I just never was one of those persons who thought of pets as family members. I abhor the practice of being called “Dad” to an animal – that won’t change – and I guffawed at a time when a coworker sneaked her dog into a vacant conference room when we were on high alert for an approaching hurricane.

During my days of developing new content ideas at the Orlando Sentinel, one of my coworkers, Ann Hellmuth, a shrewd and acclaimed editor, often pushed the idea of developing and marketing pet obits for owners who wanted to celebrate the passing of their beloved Fidos and Fluffies.

Ann loved animals of all sorts, and later in her career, when she was both a senior editor and a senior citizen, she developed a wildly popular animal lovers blog that drew huge traffic to our newspaper’s Web site.

So I took Ann’s idea through the planning stages – if not exactly to heart – and thought it had potential to be a money-maker. Alas, her notion never could get the right traction with the right people, and now I wonder if I had been more personally consumed by the concept if I might have helped.

Because now I reallyunderstand. I see why someone would want to memorialize a longtime pet

We only became aware that Scout was sick in the past week. She was off her feed, as it were, and not quite as yappy, though her stubby tail still moved at blinding speed at nearly any provocation.

After she began to get sick with what she did eat, my wife and I took her to the vet, and Melissa Lipps, bless her, solemnly and tearfully told us that Scout wasn’t going to get better, that treatment was almost useless. “Take her home and try to get her to eat anything and love her.” Or at least she said something to that effect. Stunned ears don’t record so well.

A day later, we had to break the news to the kids, and we watched as Scout’s condition deteriorated rapidly, until my wife, familiar with these things, said it was time.

On Saturday morning we took her into the office. My 5-year-old wanted to remain in the room, Her brother did not. After a few minutes, Scout was at peace, and the humans were dying.

You will agree that this was a sad time, but you would add a dose of perspective. You would note that the loss of a 6-year-old dog is a mere cold compared to the catastrophic illness that comes with learning that your 6-year-old child had been shot to death in her classroom at school.

No, there is no horror that could compare to what happened in Newtown, Conn., the unimaginable news overpowering every element of us.

But with that impenetrable darkness shadowing our souls came some sunlight:

On Friday afternoon, God had 20 new children who needed some comfort and care.

And there would be no more loving candidate than the tail-wagging little Schnoodle we sent to him on Saturday.

Those children had a new playmate, and in that there is some peace for those of us left behind.