How do you deal with the death of a loved one? A pet?
It can certainly be difficult, and the process is not easy. Unfortunately, dealing with the pain has been all too familiar around my house lately.
Eight years ago while living in Joplin, Mo., we came across a little black-coated, white-footed ball of energy at the Joplin Humane Society. We had no idea what breed he was, but we knew he was very sweet and in desperate need of a home. I was convinced we needed to adopt him, and to persuade my wife only took introducing them.
When we walked into the room, the little dog -- then about 12 weeks old -- let out a high-pitch bark at us. "Who are you barking at, Bob Barker?" asked my wife. And the rest, they say, is history. Being Spurs fans, his full name had to be Bob Tony Barker.
That was 2004. He was so small that at one point he could fit underneath the coffee table, standing up.
After moving to San Antonio in 2005, we found a red-nosed dog at the Animal Defense League. Having no children at the time and a lot of love to give, we went to meet her and introduce her to Barker.
The two played around in a big fenced-in yard at the ADL, where the new pup showed us her love for digging water in the kiddie pool. I always wanted a red-nosed dog and she was perfect. We adopted her and brought her home. The dogs first bath together was a little rough, but they learned to love each other even if they didn’t always show it.
Our first trip together as a family was to Corpus Christi where we stayed at the Laughing Horse Lodge and they got their first taste of salt water at the beach.
Hailey was eight months old when we adopted her and she fit right in. Barker and Hailey soon became good friends and patchwork siblings. They were dog park pals who loved wrestling with the other dogs, but would always check in with us and with one another.
Barker left us on New Year’s Eve in 2011.
I could tell that Hailey was depressed when Barker died. I would have never thought that nearly one year later, she too would be gone. These dogs, which we rescued less than a year apart, also left us less than a year apart.
Some people wonder what happens to dogs when they die. A friend of mine, Sharolyn Browning, is a seminary student in Austin. She shared a comforting message when Hailey passed, and I questioned her about the possibility that dogs go to Heaven.
Sharolyn said there is a lot of theological controversy surrounding dogs in heaven. She thinks the truth is that we get a glimpse of God's heart through the boundless love of a pet, and if love never ends, logic dictates that their true spirit of love will be with us in Heaven.
Our experience with losing our own pets makes me think of the endless list of homeless animals in San Antonio. For those who have lost a dog or a cat, I read that adopting another can be a great way to honor their memory.
I reported last week that Animal Care Services celebrated more than 4,000 adoptions in just three months, winning the top prize in the Rachael Ray $100,000 Challenge. The contest encouraged shelters to reach out in ways they never did before to increase adoption rates. I was told that San Antonio adopted over 1,000 more pets during the three month contest period than it did during the same time last year.
It’s pretty amazing if you think about it. Even if you’re not an animal person, you know how much San Antonio’s pet population is out of control. Raising awareness is the first step.
ACS is working with partners toward a strategic goal of reaching a live release rate of 70 percent by 2015. This year the organization has met that mark.
One of the downsides to owning a pet is dealing with their loss, but the best parts, like dog parks and unconditional love, are what stick with us.
For my family, Barker and Hailey taught our three-year-old son how to act around dogs. They welcomed him home when he was born. I know he may not remember them like we do, but I am looking forward to many more years of happiness and companionship through another rescued dog.
And that is my hope for the hundreds and thousands of other shelter animals in this city and all over the country - that they find a place, a home, where they can love and be loved as members of a family to share in all the experiences of life, which unfortunately includes death.
***This article was written by Ryan Loyd as a tribute to his dogs and the many homeless animals in San Antonio. This is an op-ed and is not considered a news story.