I didn’t use to be a dog lover, coming from a family that had seven children and entirely too many pets, I was never one to want furry creatures under foot.

I was reminded of this in August when my sister-in-law had to put their family pet to sleep. Max was old and it was his time, but that didn’t makes it any easier.

While sitting in the parking lot waiting to pick up my kiddos from school, I got a text from her telling me what she had just been through. I could hear the pain in her words and wanted to reach out, but what to say, especially in text. I hate it when people tell me that they are sorry for my loss, as if they had something to do with it. I also hate false sympathy. When it’s false the recipient usually knows. This was my dilemma that hot August afternoon, then it hit me…Cowboy.

Cowboy is the reason I am now a dog lover, and understanding comes from experiencing, so I began my text. It was quick and from the heart, because that’s where Cowboy now resides.

I told Mandy about the hole that developed in my heart when it was time to put Cowboy to sleep. The guilt I felt over making that final decision even though I knew it was best for him. The image I now have of Cowboy walking away with KC, so tired but so happy to be with his best friend, not knowing that this was the end. That image will haunt me the rest of my life. Even as I sit and type this story now, I can’t stop crying. Cowboy meant that much, and we lost him a little over seven years ago.

There is a happy side to this story though, and more than anything else that’s the part that I wanted Mandy to know. Once the pain subsides the good memories can come through in little pieces, so onto the good…

A few days after Cowboy was cremated we got a call from the vet’s office and  went to pick up a little brown box. KC and I couldn’t bring ourselves to open that box and so we put it on the top shelf of our closet. We weren’t sure of the right time to bury Cowboy. We knew the house we currently owned was not our forever home and so we waited. Cowboy needed to be wherever we were because that’s how he started out.

He became a part of our family in 1999 before our wedding. That winter, KC flew across the country to Charlotte, North Carolina to help me move to Seattle, Washington. We loaded my belongings into a U-Haul truck, hooked a car dolly onto the back of said truck, attached my little Geo Tracker to the dolly, then headed west. We met my parents in Oklahoma, halfway through the journey, and they gave us Cowboy. In some respects Cowboy could be called our first child so he holds a special place in our hearts.

I checked on that little brown box daily for a while and to console myself I went through all the pictures I had of Cowboy. I ended up using them to create a double page spread for the annual family scrapbook. It was a way to commemorate Cowboy’s existence. I can’t tell you how much it helped. It was the single best thing I did for myself and my family. It gave us an outlet for releasing the sorrow of losing him.

Four years after our loss, we decided to build a new home. Once the home was ready we began our move. Everything we owned was loaded into a Pod and carried away. When the Pod arrived at our new home some of our closest friends where there to help as box after box was unpacked. Upon getting to that part of the Pod which held the Master bedroom furnishings, our friend Doug stumbled across a small brown box still sealed with a plastic covering. It was a bit dusty, but you could clearly read the return label: Animal Cremation Services. KC looked at the box in Doug’s hand, smiled and said, “I see you’ve met Cowboy”.

So that’s my story, in our heart’s Cowboy is still with us, we even have his little brown box to prove it. For some reason we just can’t part with it, and since this isn’t our forever home either Cowboy will probably reside on the top shelf of our closet for a while longer. I kind of like having him there though, it’s his special place. Whenever I see that box I smile and say hello to Cowboy.

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