Two years ago, my parents decided to get a dog. We’ve never really had large animals around the house before. There were birds, hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, one beautiful rabbit (named “Aloyisuis”), and a painfully brief dalmatian cross I named “Spanky” that we had to give away after a month (brother was allergic)… but that’s it.

My dad has been retired for a few years, forced by company cutbacks and corporate belt-tightening. I think the days away from the workforce have been lonely and bewildering for him; my father has never been good at simply hanging out. He likes to keep busy, but with my mom working full-time, he’s had a lot of idle time on his hands.

Cleo LeeSo they got a dog, specifically, a Wheaten Terrier puppy that my dad named Cleo, after Cleopatra of the Nile. I think my dad had a thing for Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra; at least that’s why I think he chose the name. All of the kid’s names have connections to famous people (mine is Neil Armstrong), and it only makes sense that my dad’s dog would, too.

The dog completely changed his personality. My dad, usually an impatient, brusque man, was mellowed by Cleo. Having a young, energetic animal around him seemed to bring his enjoyment of life back, and put a smile on his face. Everyone was happy.

(You can see this coming from a mile away, can’t you?)

My parents just found out a few days ago that Cleo has hepitatis. The vet apparently cried when she told my parents the news; Cleo’s condition is “guarded… grave”. She had a long-standing thyroid problem, which masked the hepitatis until just recently. She hadn’t eaten in two weeks and has lost five pounds already.

Today I went by my parent’s place for Sunday dinner, but the real reason I went was to visit Cleo and my father. She’s finally eating again, and on medication, but the prognosis isn’t good. I was shocked at how much weight she had lost. The puppy fat that she still carried around a month ago was completely gone, and she seemed tiny; too tiny. Even so, she still bounded to the back door to welcome me as she always has, followed closely by my mom, quietly scolding her as she came. Cleo seemed spent, however. The vitality just wasn’t there.

When we take on the responsibility of pets, we take on the quiet (or not so quiet) understanding that there’s a very good chance we will outlive them. I’ve never lost a “big” pet like a dog or cat before, but I know that when Raj and Emma pass away it will be devastating.

Pets take up a special place in our lives that we never knew existed until they came along. As I cleaned up after dinner, my mom, with a slight touch of sadness and wonderment in her voice, said I can’t believe how attached we’ve become to her. It’s just like having a child in the house.

Everything is one day at a time, and every moment is precious.

My parents have already talked about it, and they plan to get another dog soon after Cleo passes away. Even so, the experience has profoundly changed them. Even with the stress of Cleo’s illness, my dad has seemingly been reborn as a completely different person. What used to infuriate him and his short temper no longer does. His typical crabbiness has been blunted off, and smoothed over.

I saw my parent’s hearts breaking today, and mine broke along with theirs. I am also filled with amazement at the immense power that owning a pet can have.

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