Luigi

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On a beautiful day last September we made the incredibly difficult decision to allow our beloved Luigi to be taken from this life. He passed comfortably in the arms of those he has unconditionally loved for over 13 years, and who have loved him back equally fiercely. His life was a joy to us, and, we hope, to him. He was one of the best friends either of us have had in life.

Luigi made a lot of friends during his time with us, and we know that each of them will miss him in their own way. We appreciate your love (or tolerance!) of our boy and thank you for helping to make his life the hopefully wonderful thing that it was.

We sincerely hope that we gave the boy an exceptional life well lived, while realizing that we could not possibly have given him a fraction of the worth of the unconditional love and companionship that he brought to us. It is a very sad day because it was such a wonderful life, and that is as good as it can be. We will never forget you, Little Man!

– Wanda & Bill

Bella

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(Photo by Nathaniel Wilder Photography)

Yesterday marked a week of living without Bella. I loved her fiercely for the decade-and-a-half that she was mine, and it was the steadiest, simplest, easiest, brightest love in my life.

More than simply (simply!) my friend and constant companion, Bella was my sense of home. We moved seven different times together. She came to me from a New Orleans shelter when she was three years old. Within days of getting her, I carted her on a long journey to the Arctic, our first home together, where she loved chasing ground squirrels feverishly and unfettered across a tundra that seemed like it couldn’t end through golden sunsets that stretched late into night.

The 14 years that Bella and I spent together were years of great change and transition for me. My life with her marked the phase in my life where I learned to live on my own terms, learned to follow my own internal guidance systems and trust my wandering, adventuring ways. Bella’s steadfast presence helped me feel safe taking risks, exploring, and changing everything again and again.

A few years ago, we spent a summer living together in a canvas wall tent high up on a mountain, next to a meandering glacier in rural Alaska. One night the temperatures plummeted, and I woke to find us both covered in frost, huddled together in my cot to stay warm. Repeatedly throughout our years, I clung to her. No matter how many transitions I went through or where we were living at the time, Bella was the part of my life that was steady, unwavering. Our daily routines—walks and treats and, in later years, carrying her up and down the stairs each morning and night—were often the most consistent things in my life. And her dependence on me made me, of course, depend on her.

When I first got Bella, she was malnourished and terrified. For our initial days together, I fed her from my hand—something the vet said would help her learn to trust me—and we bonded over small pieces of meat and her timid reaching for it. In her final weeks last month, Bella’s appetite diminished and she lost interest in most food. Trying to coax her along—determined to sustain her and keep her wasting body functioning, desperate for more time with her—I again began offering her food from my hand: meat, again, and donuts. (Yes, she loved donuts.) Often, she wouldn’t eat unless it was directly from my hand. In those moments together, pitiful and intimate and heart-wrenching, we came full circle, relying on each other, sustaining each other.

I have no shortage of love in my life. I have a supportive family, friends who delight me, and a partner who willingly (and unbelievably!) keeps choosing to share his days with me. I’m grateful for all the types of love in my life. But most relationships with people—even the best, loveliest, and healthiest of them—bring with them the need to reckon with compromise, quiet the ego, acknowledge our own dark shadow side, all of which requires effort, sacrifice, even struggle. It’s what makes love hard, a labor—a labor that is of course worth all it requires of us, but a labor nonetheless.

None of this is true with animal loves; that’s what makes animal love so sweet: It’s effortless. With our animal loves, we get to experience love that is pure in joy, total in delight. It’s all the light with none of the dark. It’s what makes animal love a relief.

Bella has been my relief. Loving her was the most natural, instinctual thing I’ve ever done—until the end, when I had to make the grueling, impossible choice of loving her enough to let her go. The endless chase across the tundra with her ended. The long-lingering sunset finally turned to darkness. It was the only time my love with and for her ever felt hard. And now of course this, the moving forward without her, feels like the heaviest labor I’ve known.

– Kelsea

Jake

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Who would have thought that when my dad brought home the cheapest puppy from the pet store that he’d be bringing home my best friend? The same year I graduated from high school, Jake was brought into my life. He was there through the separation of my family, moving into a new house, four years at college, my moving out on my own, and a few different jobs. He may have started out as my dad’s dog, but it didn’t take long before everybody knew Jake was mine.

He was clearly not just a dog in my eyes. We were inseparable; he went just about everywhere with me. He loved going for walks, rolling around in the grass or snow, eating anything, and going for rides in the car. When we were apart he would always cry with excitement when we reunited.

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Jake not only made his way into my heart, but into many other hearts as well. Among visits with my grandparents, going with me to my different veterinary office jobs, hanging out with my friends, and even coming along to my pet sitting houses with me as a guest, he was a real dog about town. He was welcomed into so many houses, he walked in like he owned them all and no one even cared because they loved him. He also had tons of animal friends as well, whether it was his new housemate Stabler, my parent’s dogs, friends’ dogs, clients’ dogs, and even birds and a rabbit thrown into the mix.

I will never forget him because he’s always with me – his paw print permanently inked on my wrist. It was hard to let him go, but with everything he did for me over the years, it was my way to pay him back. Surrounded by those that loved him, he crossed the rainbow bridge and is now my angel.

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– Kristina

Chase

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Chase, when he picked me at the Lawrence Humane Society: long limbs, long tail, slim head, ribs showing, vertebrae painfully obvious through the fur on his back. He reached his paws through the bars of his cage, encircled my neck as I walked past. I turned to look at him and we were eye to eye. Lightning to the heart: I knew that we knew each other, had always known each other, would always know each other. He was 15, ancient for a cat, skin and bones, arthritic. An ulcer covered one entire cornea, so that he squinted and wept at all times.It was the Fall of 2006; I didn’t want him to die in a cage.

I brought him home, and when I climbed into bed that night it took perhaps 30 seconds for him to jump up onto the bed to join me. He stalked from the foot of the mattress up to my face, sniffed me thoroughly, and then threw himself down beside me – as though he had waited, in misery, in a cage, and this right here was his reward. He stretched out  full-length, pressed firmly against my side, with his head on my shoulder and his arm thrown across my neck.

We slept that way every night for five years, with very few exceptions. I learned to sleep on my back, to be motionless, because sharing my immediate physical world with Chase was worth far more than comfort or uninterrupted sleep.

He was, in many ways, the love of my life. He was my teacher, my constant companion. He bore the indignities of old age with grace and patience. He took joy in the small things. He taught me to focus not on all the years that we did not get to spend together, but to instead be grateful for the fact that our paths aligned in his waning years. 

He died on Easter Sunday, 2011. It seemed a proper ending: the magnificent man cat, returning to the void on a day when choirs gathered and people raised their voices to the sky.

I have never felt so lost.

– Kelly

Hammy

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Though there are no photos of nine-year-old Tot’s hamster, Hammy, here is the condolence note his six-year-old sister, Callie, wrote him when Hammy died. A good lesson in animal and sibling love for us all. Sorry, Tot. Thank you, Callie. RIP, Hammy.

Miss Elegance (Ellie or Elle)

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Elle, as I knew her, was my paternal grandparent’s dog. I would see her, my grandmother, Mudder, and my grandfather, Daddy D, once a year during our Easter visits to Houston. Elle was graceful, sweet, and painfully shy. She appeared to be a mix between a deer and a dog (now I can see she must have had greyhound in her). She was so skinny that when she curled into an “O” on her bean-bag bed you could see every bump in her back.

Elle’s most beloved, Mudder, memorialized her with her remarkable needlepoint skills at age seventy-three, pictured below. (And let me just say, you think this is something, you haven’t seen anything. Mudder could stitch the Sistene Chapel. I’m even willing to bet she has.) Now ninety-four, Mudder no longer needlepoints – and I just miraculously inherited this tribute to Elle. Upon unpacking it, I was so moved to find the following words (along with Elle’s identification tag and the photo of my grandfather walking with Elle above) attached to the back, written in my grandmother’s patient cursive: “Ellie came from the SPCA, had been abused and was so afraid of shoes. Had she been kicked!? Horror. Eventually her trust grew and she loved us as we, she. The snapshot is her walk for the 5K Canine (K9) in 1988. What a dog!!!”

Thank you, Elle, one of the beautiful dogs of my youth. I now have a graceful, sweet, shy dog of my own – Safari – and I think of you every time I gently caution someone that when meeting him it’s better not to make eye contact. “If you hold your hand out,” I always say, “and look away, he will come to you.” You taught me that. Patience. I am so glad you found your way to Mudder and Daddy D. I am grateful I knew you. I do think, Miss Elegance, that for you there was no more perfect name.

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– Chloe