I swore I’d never buy a dog from a pet store but that’s exactly what I did seventeen-and-a-half years ago. I learned of a young female Bichon that had been at a pet store for too long. Nobody wanted her. She wasn’t a “pretty” dog. Her head was way too big for a pedigreed Bichon and she didn’t have a dainty face. She was clearly the product of a puppy mill. She was a canine combo of Vanna White and Bette Midler. As I later found out, she had a heart of gold.
I drove to Long Island, bought her and she promptly threw up in the car on the way home. That’s the way our relationship began and that’s the way it went for the next several months. I wanted to bond quickly. However, my puppy wasn’t sure how to handle her newfound freedom after having spent way too much time in a peg store cage. She ran around the house in a constant state of frenzy, her eyes never made contact with mine and she was wracked with kennel cough. Tallulah slowly adjusted to life in her new home and finally acknowledged my presence. We both experienced a learning curve and grew all the closer for it. She provided the warmth and love that I’d been looking for.
One spring season she realized there was a groundhog in the front yard and I learned that obsession grips dogs just as it does people. Finding that groundhog became her sole mission in life. She’d dart outside every morning, stick her nose down its hole and stand guard. She was as patient and dogged as any wildlife photographer.
She was also devoted. My husband would trudge off to work for the week at five a.m. every Monday. It was Tallulah who somehow knew when he was prepared to walk out the front door and ran down to see him off while I remained in bed. The she’d return upstairs and cuddle with me.
Tallulah slowly began to grow old. Her eyesight started to fade along with her hearing. Four years ago, she developed Cushing’s disease. This is where human vanity and obsession kicks in. I felt sure that if I worked hard enough I could keep her alive for an infinite amount of time. I’ve always cooked for my dogs. Now the daily medications began. Soon, I was not only carrying Tallulah in and out of the house but also around it since she could no longer find her own way. Finally, she refused to lie down to rest or sleep unless she was on my bed. That meant someone always had to be home with her. Still, I felt that I could magically keep her going.
Reality hit hard when she could no longer be coaxed to eat by tempting her with baby food, broiled turkey burgers or home-cooked chicken with broth. Then her back legs began to give way. I held her the last night and finally realized that I was no magician. Tallulah had become a very old lady. I’d been hoping for an easy passing. My wish was that she’d slip away in her sleep and I’d never have to make a hard decision. It didn’t happen that way.
So, what does this have to do with the 18 rare Bengal tigers, 2 wolves, 6 black bears, 2 grizzlies, 9 male lions, 8 lionesses, 1 baboon and 3 mountain lions that were released from a farm by their owner who then shot himself? People buy wild animals for their own vanity sake. They want what’s rare. It feeds their ego. Many truly believe they have some sort of magical bond with a wild animal. It helps to make them feel special.
I don’t believe any wild animal should be owned. It’s a crazy idea that can only lead to heartbreak. Certainly the animal isn’t happy and, many time, the owner becomes overwhelmed. I’ve never understood why state and federal regulations haven’t yet been put in place to stop this. Perhaps it’s because it is a business and there is money to be made. However, the sight of the resulting carnage in Zanesville, Ohio should be more than enough to prompt states to immediately pass a law against the buying and trading of “exotics.”
Even so, once you do own an animal there is the responsibility to care for that living creature for the rest of its days. That goes for zoos, sanctuaries and pet owners. There is also the responsibility to provide that animal with a dignified death. The wild animals in Zanesville not only had a sad life but a horrific end due to the selfishness of their owner.
I wanted to believe that I could somehow make my dog live forever. If she was ill, then I just wasn’t working hard enough to keep death at bay. Tallulah had to teach me that sometimes we have to let go. I did my best to give her a good life. She taught me a valuable lesson at the end—to respect a dignified death as much as I do a dignified life.