I put up a request on my Facebook page last week for people to share pictures of the pets that supported them through divorce. The submissions were equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking and throughout, it was extremely clear how important our pets are to our mental health. My favorite pictures were the ones that demonstrated the bond between human and animal; some were powerful images that truly captured the connection. It’s amazing how much joy and comfort these dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even a turtle have brought to the darkest days.
Some shared sad stories about losing their pets in the process of divorce. Those were hard to read because that is still the biggest pain I hold from my own spilt.
Nine years ago, my then-husband left the home while I was on a trip. He didn’t send the text that he was leaving (I guess he needs a lesson on verb tenses) until one to two days later. In the meantime, the three dogs and one cat that we had were locked in the basement with insufficient food and water.
If he hadn’t sent that text, I probably would have returned home from my trip to find them deceased. Thankfully, the notice allowed a local – and priceless – friend to check on the animals and ensure they were taken care of until I arrived back home half a day later.
It was a bittersweet reunion with my pack. I loved them so much and yet, as the reality of my precarious situation made itself clear over the next few days, I also knew that I was no longer able to care for them. Damn. Just writing that still brings the tears. I still feel guilt over my inability to fulfill my promises to them. I still turn over the facts in my mind wondering if there was a way that I could have found a space where I could have lived with them and found a way to pay for their needs. The reality of that time was that I was barely able to care for myself (emotionally, physically or financially). It would have been a disaster for all involved if I assumed the responsibility for the well-being of others at that point.
With the tireless help of friends and family, the three dogs found new homes. Good homes. The cat stayed with me in the priceless friend’s guest room. We were refugees together. When she died from complications of old age a few years ago, it was as though a part of me went too.
My canine savior came in later, just after the divorce was finalized. His name was Tiger, a spirited, strong and wise soul tucked inside one hundred pounds of beautiful pit bull. When we met, I was still struggling. I was so scared. Not of him, but of loving and losing again. I was still unable to trust my perceptions and my instincts after years of gaslighting and so I doubted my ability to handle him in public.
He knew all of this, in the way that dogs do. But he didn’t judge me for it or tell me to get over it. He just stayed by my side, teaching me that he could be trusted. Showing me that I was capable of more than I thought. And giving me unconditional love in a time when I still felt unlovable. He rescued me.
We lost Tiger suddenly and traumatically last fall. It was too soon. Isn’t it always? It was such a hard day, but I’m glad that I could be there for him at the end. It helped with some of the residual guilt from before.
Kazh came into our lives a short time later. It’s been fascinating to see how different I am with him because I’m in such a better place. Tiger was my teacher. Kazh is getting the benefit of those lessons.
And that’s how it is with our pets. For their brief times, they live beside us through it all. They see the truth behind the picket fences yet withhold judgment, they offer affection when the whole world turns its back and they display a loyalty and fidelity that few humans can match.
They are the dogs (and cats and guinea pigs and turtles) of our lives. Making the good times a little sweeter and helping to guide us through the hard times.
If you have an animal in your life that has helped you through, give them a little kiss of gratitude today. If you’ve lost one, pause for a moment and say, “thank you” for sharing your time with me.