Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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June 10, 2013
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Pet column: Pets as life markers

For many pet guardians, the memory of a time and place is wrapped up in the memory of a particular pet who shared the experience. When a pet has a long life span — 10 years or more — he or she shares ups, downs, romances, breakups, uprootings, and other significant chapters in the human book of life. World Pet Memorial Day, designated for the second Sunday in June, was established to acknowledge the key role a pet can play in enriching an individual’s life experience on this planet.

Sometimes a childhood pet is part of a sad memory — the first experience of death, loss of a loved one, a forever buddy. Sometimes a teenager’s pet goes to college, offering stress reduction during finals as well as easing social interactions. Then that same pet may graduate to debut with his or her human mate into the adult world. If long lived, that same pet may suddenly be expected to share a guardian’s affection and attention with a new spouse and then a new baby. Through it all, the pet remains loyal even when confused. Dogs, cats and horses are most likely to share a longer road. However, parrots may outlive their human life partners. Rabbits, hamsters, reptiles, fish may travel a shorter distance in tandem, but their time with their human can be a highlight of personal growth and memory making.

Unconditional love, naturally being a friend to the end, makes it easy and rewarding to have a companion animal along for comfort and affirmation. World Pet Memorial Day is a time when many plant a flower or tree, visit a pet grave, leaf through a scrapbook, create a digital memorial, volunteer or make a donation in the name of past animal best friends.

Science affirms that companion animals help people be healthy both mentally and physically. By virtue of their dependence, domestic pets engender a sense of responsibility and selflessness. Recognizable and shared emotions of fear, joy, pain and suffering foster empathy for other people as well as for voiceless animals. People and pets thrive in each other’s company. Resting peacefully at the hearth or exploring, smelling, tasting the world together, many humans find spiritual awakening through animals as well.

Ashes on the mantle, a marked grave in the woods, hundreds of JPEGs, a worn collar with expired tags, a dented bowl under the sink, all honor shared memories forever preserved in the heart. The expectant new pet, knowing nothing of the past, enters naturally ready to partner. The human overcomes hurt and loss and “never again” to risk making new memories though they may be short lived.

An uplifting story about a family attending the euthanasia of their terminally ill dog has been passed around the Internet. The author was anonymous but the voice was that of the veterinarian who wasn’t sure what to expect from the 6-year-old child who was with the family. “The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’ Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try to live. He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’’’

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jun 11, 2013 07:00PM Published Jun 12, 2013 05:14PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.