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January 8, 2009

This Wonderful Life

The lesson of loss The weekend after Christmas, we were visiting my brother and sisterin- law in their suburban Boston home. Posey and Bee had made the trip with us, but our grown-up son Xerxes stayed home so he could hang out with friends who were home from college, as well as watch after the house and the pets.

Saturday night, we had just finished supper when he called. Our Sheltie Sassy had gotten out, and he couldn’t find her. Now, it has happened before that the drafty front door of our mid-1800s house has blown open, and our dogs have taken themselves on a little walk. But they’re confirmed homebodies, so I fully expected her to show up on the doorstep any minute.

An hour later, he called again. A neighbor found Sassy. She had been hit by a car. She was gone.

Pets add so much to the life of a family. When I was growing up, we always had pets. My very earliest memories are of crawling across the kitchen floor with our marmalade tabby cat, inspecting the world from our shared vantage point.

We always had at least one dog and a couple cats to care for. As a parent, I’ve always thought it was important for my children to have pets.

Pets teach responsibility in a way that nothing else can, with the possible exception of children. They need you. They depend on you. They don’t eat if you don’t feed them. (Unless they can find their way into a tasty trash bag, that is.) And to be honest, pets can be a pain. They wake you up early with requests for food or walks or trips outdoors. They bark at menacing things such as chipmunks, passing cyclists and falling leaves and snow.

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