--by Mike Murray
It’s many a pet owner’s nightmare. You try to do the right thing: You fence your yard (if it isn’t already) before adopting. The enclosure is secure, the gate sturdy. Still, you worry. All it takes is one careless moment.
And then it happens. A contractor (or a meter reader, or a child, or a neighbor) passes from backyard to front – and fails to close the gate behind him or her. A short while later, your companion animal, a beloved member of your family, wanders out.
Such slip-ups are often uneventful. Your pet, intrigued by unexpected opportunity, seizes it. He or she leaps at the chance to explore the outside world – unfettered by leash or human direction. Perhaps a passing squirrel or rabbit entices, initiating a spirited chase. In such cases, a domestic animal will usually meander a while and then return.
But sometimes he or she does not. Hours pass. You become anxious.
And just like that, your life is turned upside down. You call police departments and local animal shelters. You frantically search the neighborhood, stopping all you meet to inquire, and to spread the word. You prepare signs and fasten them to poles and bulletin boards all over town. You take out ads in newspapers. You visit web sites. You post desperate pleas everywhere.
Most times, things work out okay. If you’ve secured an ID tag to your pet’s collar or implanted a microchip under its skin – and the animal hasn’t been snatched by someone with malicious intent – your telephone will likely ring one day. Happy news from the other end will elicit joyful noise. If the period of separation has been especially long, otherwise stoic souls might sob uncontrollably in their relief.
But other outcomes are also possible. Tears sometimes fall for other reasons. Sad reasons. An animal unused to making its way through traffic comes to a bad end crossing a busy street. An elderly or ill animal becomes disoriented, and strays very far from home. It strays beyond, even, the wide search net cast by its worried human family.
As uncertainty stretches beyond a few days, stress increases exponentially. Is the animal alive? Is he or she in severe distress? Is he cold or hungry? Is she sick or injured? Has the critter been found by someone who doesn’t know that you are searching desperately, that you ache with each passing hour of deprivation?
Has your beloved friend been scooped up by an animal-control officer in a town that lacks an extended-stay shelter? Is he or she confined in a public facility, one in which the clock ticks relentlessly? Has your companion wound up in a place where 72 hours are all that separate life from death?
As the days pass, the odds for a happy outcome diminish. Though you will never give up hope so long as there is any possibility of reunion, you find your priorities shifting with the growing number of Xs staring back at you from the crossed-out days on your calendar. As much as you yearn for the safe return of your precious friend, you desire something else even more: to know that he or she is not suffering.
Your love for your companion is supreme. It takes you beyond the fulfillment of your own desire. Your devotion to your friend is such that it leads you to seek that which is in his best interest. It is her welfare, not yours, that most concerns you now.
And so, as much as you long to reunited – as much as you always will – you pray most for your dear friend’s safety. Hard as it is for you to imagine your companion living among new family members, that outcome discomforts far less than the thought of him or her wandering the streets alone – starved and scared. If your friend cannot return to you, your wish is that a compassionate stranger has offered loving sanctuary.
Even death, as awful a result as that is to contemplate, is preferable to some alternatives. The image of your friend out there somewhere, enduring a painfully untreated (and grievous) injury is just too much to bear. A merciful end would be preferable to that.
Worst of all is the uncertainty. As weeks turn into months, you seek closure. You have reached a point where at least knowing what has become of your friend would offer a small measure of comfort. But you are denied even that.
You will never forget your loving companion. You hope that he or she never forgets you. And you hope something else, too: that others escape the misery you’ve known. Misery that could have been prevented by one simple act: closing a gate.
Copyright © 2008 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.