Michael Shook
May 31 · 4 min read

The dog food bag was too heavy

Not my girl, but very similar. This image is courtesy of skeeze via Pixabay

My wife and I had been married for a long time; almost 30 years. Many of those years were wonderful. We’ve got two great kids, five grandchildren, raised three canine family members, and we made it through almost four years of empty nest syndrome.

The day we came home from work and our son had left for Marine boot camp, something changed.

We just stared at each other without speaking. We went out to eat that night, not for a celebration, but because neither of us wanted to be at home without our son there.

My ex and I survived almost four years together after our son left on his life journey. Eventually, the weight of memories we carried from our years together became too great to move on from, and our time was over.

Things do change

We married young, 19 and 20, and standing up in front of the church; I did not take my wedding vows lightly. What I realized many years later was that we weren’t the same people we had been as kids. Our relationship was not the same, and neither of us knew how to tell the other we had changed.

But we had.

When we first knew we were going to split, life was amicable. We’d spent our entire adult lives together, and there was not much reason to start hating on each other. That situation changed too.

We used a mediator to avoid the ugliness and expense of a courtroom battle. On the advice of her friends, my ex engaged the services of a separate lawyer.

The divorce process went downhill from there.

We earned about the same amount of money and had the same amount of assets in our retirement accounts, so nobody was due any alimony. The biggest thing to decide about was our home. I signed a quit claim document, and she owned the house. I moved into my friend’s mom’s doublewide.

Then she dropped the bomb.

“Which of these fire-trucking dogs are you going to take with you? I can’t carry a bag of dog food.”

“Why would you want them to leave their home?” I asked. “This is the only place they’ve ever lived, and they love you.”

“Well, when you put it that way, there’s not much I can do about it,” she replied.

Six months later, when our divorce was final, I asked my daughter how her mom was doing. She looked down at the floor, cleared her throat, and scuffed her feet. “Mom’s doing OK,” she said without looking at me, “She had the dogs put to sleep.”

My mouth fell open to the floor. I was livid.

Burn the butcher block clock I’d made as a gift for our fifth wedding anniversary? Sure.

Pawn all the jewelry I’d bought over the years? You bet.

Kill living creatures who loved you as a parent? Karma’s going to be waiting for you.

I’ve discovered since then; this is not an uncommon thing in a divorce. I don’t think my ex hated all the dogs; maybe just one of them. The one I got for a Mother’s Day gift after she swooned over the pup’s photo in the paper.

That dog was a black lab with a heart of gold. She wanted nothing more than to spend each day curled up in our laps and following us from room to room. We named her “Schatze,” which is German for “Sweetheart.” Her nickname was Poke-a-Doodle because when we went for walks, she always lagged behind the other two dogs when we let them off the leash to run.

I have opinions about pets

I have strong opinions when it comes to pets. I think when we take them on; they become part of our hearts. They trust us implicitly to keep them safe and sound. That’s why we use terms like Furbabies and Pet Parents.

We adopt our pets, knowing they are going to pass away before we do, and that makes those relationships all the more sacred. Watching them pass away is a burden you take on when you bring a pet into your family. You don’t penalize your pets because they’ve become inconvenient or you’re mad at your ex.

I’m an exceedingly sentimental person. Knowing my ex had our pets put down because she was mad at me broke my heart. Leaving them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in a lifetime of hard things.

Since my divorce, I’ve sat with three members of my animal family as they passed away with honor, dignity, and love. I think those things count in life and death.

My Medium friend, Zulie, has penned some great stories about writing about topics that are close to your heart. This one is close to mine. Years later, I still shed tears.

Each day, when my little cat boy, Rico, is nudging my leg for a treat, or my cat girl, Inky, wakes me up at night snuggling next to my feet, I say a prayer of gratitude for their love; and a prayer of remembrance for my dogs.


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Michael Shook

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Writes honest words. Sees things differently and writes about them that way.

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