This year’s Thanksgiving started off in the usual manner but our Thanksgiving dinner was quickly disrupted when our dog, Prince, needed to be taken to the animal hospital with a breathing problem.  Although we had to put him to sleep the next morning, we realize how wonderful a Thanksgiving we actually had since this was the only Thanksgiving we ever had when we all agreed that the best thing that happened to us in this past year was when we rescued our six year old Prince from the animal shelter.

This past Spring, my daughter was taking a course in college titled “Ethical Treatment of Animals” and as part of an optional service learning component of the course, she was required to spend time helping out at our local Humane Society.  From time to time, she would come home and express her desire for us to adopt a dog. Neither my wife nor I had ever had a dog and it never crossed our minds to ever own one. I could not understand why people would spend their time and money on an animal. I would always be amused when I would see the neighbors walking in the neighborhood with a bag cleaning up after their dogs. My wife would swear that she would never allow a dog to dirty her house. Soon I would become that person walking the dog and my wife would become emotionally attached to our dog in a way that she or I would never have imagined. This little dog would forever change our lives and finally make us understand why people become attached to their pets.

Prince entered our home in April of this year. He was 5 years old and was an adorable slightly overweight Chihuahua. I know, I know, Chihuahuas don’t have the reputation as being the most cute or adorable of dog types. Prince was an exception. He had longer hair than most Chihuahuas and never barked at anyone. In fact, whenever he met someone new, he immediately approached the person and the greeting usually ended with the person eventually petting Prince in their lap or at least rubbing his belly. Prince had to be given up by his former owner since he was moving into an apartment where dogs were not allowed. He quickly adapted to his new home with us.

Whether it was taking a walk at night, putting on a Halloween costume and going out trick or treating, or sitting in front of the television together, he was becoming a member of our family. He would make us laugh when he would walk around the family room with his blanket covering him as if he were a ghost. And yes, Prince was going to be part of our Christmas card this year – my wife and I, our three girls, and Prince.  All of that changed this past week.

Unbeknownst to us, Prince had aspirated on his food and developed Pneumonia. The vet explained that this could have happened a few days before Thanksgiving and that Prince would not have shown any signs of anything wrong. But on Thanksgiving, while we were watching the Thanksgiving Day parade on television, we knew that something was wrong. Later in the day, my oldest two daughters called the animal hospital and quietly excused themselves from the dinner table to take Prince to the hospital. Little did we know it at the time, this was the last time that Prince would be home. I received a call during our Thanksgiving dessert with our company that I needed to come to the hospital. Prince may not make it. After agonizing with what to do (we did not have pet insurance and we were stunned as to the cost for even a three days stay in the hospital), we decided that Prince deserved a chance to live and agreed to his staying the night in a glass oxygen chamber at the hospital. However, Prince was not improving.

The news was not good the next morning. My older girls knew what needed to be done. They showed me their courage when they said that they wanted to be present when Prince was let go. They gave him one last hug and were present when he looked up to us and said his last goodbye. We knew it was time to say goodbye, but we could swear that he knew it too. We cried together. And that brought us closer together. Our little dog brought us closer together.

Naturally, we were all devastated. Seven months earlier, we never would have imagined that we would be in this situation and feeling these emotions. A day earlier, I had bought Prince’s Christmas stocking and I was about to decorate it with his name in glitter. I am not sure what I am going to do with it now. Would we consider rescuing another dog again? It is too early to say. We need to give ourselves a few months break. I don’t know when we will be able to go through a day and not think about Prince. I know it will take some time. I never understood why people become attached to their dogs. I do now. They become part of our lives and our routines. They love us unconditionally. They can make our sad day better just by wagging their tail in our direction. And when they are gone, it hits us like a ton of bricks that that love is gone too.

If there is one practical thing that I have learned in this experience, it is that a family with a dog should take out pet insurance.  You never know when it will be needed and it is a real shock to find out how expensive it is when medical help is needed. This one day in the pet hospital and the other expenses came to about $2,000. It hurt me deeply when my daughter turned to me when she found out the estimate of Prince’s cost and cried that we couldn’t afford it and that we would be forced to put him to sleep. We did decide to give it at least two days in the hospital.  However, Prince wasn’t going to recover even if he could have been in the vet’s care for a week. But, if that would have been the case, we would have been presented with a terrible decision to make. In the end, he spent one night in the pet hospital. Unfortunately, we will be paying the cost for his final expenses over the next few months. But, fortunately for us, we will be remembering all the good memories we had with Prince for a lifetime.

So, the next time I see a dog being walked down the street, I will stop and say hello to the dog and its owner. I will ask about the dog’s age or some other small talk, and ask if I can pet him.  I now know what that dog means to its owner. I now get it.

And, I will remember our Prince.

— John from Wyomissing, PA