Why Empty Nest Dogs are So Important as we Transition to Life without Kids. No matter how prepared we think we are when the last chick leaves the nest, there is a void in our lives when they go. Many empty nesters fill that void with a pet, most often a dog. And that is a healthy reaction if not a permanent one.
I’ve had dogs all of my life. I love animals, and my pets have always been very important to me. Dogs especially. There is a reason they are known as “Man/Woman’s Best Friend”. Dogs are our companions, but often they are so much more than that. Think about the qualities you want in a human friend, lover, and/or child. I value loyalty, honesty, unconditional love, affection, respect, fun, playfulness, curiosity, humor, and being a good listener, among other qualities. Who fulfills these attributes better than a dog? As pack animals, dogs offer us unconditional love and constant attention. When our kids move out, our dog becomes even more important in our lives.
My house was always full. Full of animals and full of kids. Full of noise. There was always something going on at our house: play dates, slumber parties, after proms, and gaming. Our house was the designated hangout. It was often chaotic, but I loved every minute of it. We took groups of kids on vacation, out to dinner, and enjoyed relationships with our kid’s friends. When my youngest left home, it was like being in a tomb. It was so quiet and I felt absolutely bereft. I was missing not only my own children, but their friends, too.
We had adopted a dog when my youngest was in high school and my daughter was back and forth from college, a Golden Retriever I named Luke. Luke is a rescue dog, full of high energy and loping goofiness. When the kids left, he rescued me. Everywhere I went, he was right on my heels. He is so happy to see me, even if I’ve just gone to get the mail! We adopted another Golden Retriever named Lucy, and so we had our two companions, and I had “children” to take care of and enjoy.
You know, when we have children, we become the stars of their universe. Our children want nothing more in the world than to be with us. It is such a special time of life. Of course, children grow up, and they realize their parents are human. We are no longer their center, and when they leave the nest, we are still important, but we aren’t involved in their daily lives anymore. As all parents know, it is heartbreaking. Dogs might realize we are human, but our star quality never fades with them. We remain the center of our dog’s universe.
Life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes it really knows how to pile it on. Luke has been with me through the death of parents, emotional upheaval, and the life threatening illness and recovery of my husband (he had a double lung transplant in 2013). Always, through everything, Luke has been right at my side offering support, love and his physical furry presence. He and Lucy are always on my heels, and they even sleep in bed with us. Luke has been my comfort, always there for fun or for tears, wanting nothing from me but love, a walk, and playing in the pool. Just the sight of his big brown eyes and the feel of his silky fur means comfort to me.
But human’s best friend doesn’t live as long as we do. That is a sad fact. My Luke has been diagnosed with bone cancer. Yes, he’s 13 or 14 now, and one cannot expect a big dog to live as long as a small one, but he has been healthy his entire life. I’ve never had healthier dogs than my two rescue Goldens. The diagnosis was a knife in my heart. Luke’s cancer is at the distal carpal bones on his front left leg, and his limp is significant. He also has arthritis in his back and back legs which hinders him a bit. At his age, with his arthritis, we decided we couldn’t amputate the leg. Many dogs adjust fine to being 3 legged, but not old dogs with arthritis. We decided on Palliative care and some alternative methods. He has had two radiations on the tumor, an infusion of Zoldronic acid, and thanks to a friend on Facebook, he is in a trial from Yale University which involves shots. I give him Turkey Tail Mushrooms for inflammation, pain pills, large dose of Fish Oil and CBD oil. He has responded beautifully, and he is much better now than he was two months ago at diagnosis!
I know that this is a gift. I don’t know how long he has, who knows? Maybe he has another couple of years, maybe a couple of months. Right now, he’s feeling pretty good, and I am enjoying every moment with him. Luke is still playful, still goofy, and still head over heels in love with his alpha, me. I am going to bask in the sunlight while it lasts.
I recently read this in Psychology Today: “The death of a pet can be a truly traumatic experience and create a large void in our hearts and lives—comparable to losing a close family member or friend. As humans, we project onto our beloved pets our thoughts, emotions, and ideas: We see ourselves in our animals.” I certainly know it to be true.
Do you have a beloved dog or pet? Or have you lost one?
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