Replacing a Pal


Over the holidays, my family and I experienced the most heartbreaking part of pet ownership.

The day after Thanksgiving, we had our beloved 13-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Maxy, put to sleep after it became clear that she could not win her year-long battle with mammary cancer. It was by far the hardest decision I have ever had to make, and one that is still gut-wrenching weeks later. Yet my mind cannot help but to keep turning to just how lucky I was to have her in my life for as long as I did.

My wife and I adopted Maxy as newlyweds. In many ways we considered her our first “child,” and she taught us volumes about the responsibilities and joys that come with parenthood. She was everything we could want in a dog, never losing the puppy-like zest for play and hunger for affection that made us fall in love with her in the first place. She never turned down an opportunity to retrieve a ball, catch a Frisbee or chase a squirrel up a tree, and she never failed to display unbridled enthusiasm whenever we came through the door, whether it was after a long business trip or a quick run to the store.

I once heard Jack Russell terriers aptly described as big dogs trapped in little dog bodies, and Maxy was a prime example. Her personality was far bigger than her physical stature—and so is the hole that her loss has left in our family.

As deeply as I, my wife and our two young children have been hurt by that loss, there is no member of our family who has been more affected than our toy fox terrier, Zoe. Maxy’s tiny constant companion for the past nine years, she clearly misses her big “sister,” as evidenced by a reduced appetite and clinginess that she has never displayed in the past.

It is actually for Zoe that we are currently contemplating bringing a new dog into our home sooner, rather than later. While the rest of the family is in no rush to replace Maxy—honestly, we can never truly replace her—the idea of Zoe sleeping in what is now an oversized dog bed, as well as leaving her home alone, seems patently unfair. She needs the companionship that only a fellow canine can provide. This was something that we understood when we got her, a move that was made, at least in part, to provide Maxy with a pal. Now it is time to do the same for Zoe.

Like me, the American Pet Products Association understands the importance of providing pets with animal companionship and has made this a central theme of its Pets Add Life public-outreach campaign. I believe that this is a concept that pet specialty retailers can and should get behind by promoting it to customers. Every pet could use a pal to help fill the time when its owners are out of the home or simply too busy—or maybe fill up the extra space in an oversized bed.

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