I am twenty six years old, and I haven't had a dog since I was eighteen, yet I still find myself emotionally compromised at seemingly random intervals. I hope to find some form of closure here, though it seems like a long shot.
I was allowed to get a dog when I was eleven years old. My life revolved around dogs, I had my favorite dog reference book memorized cover to cover, and I knew exactly what kind of dog I wanted - a Shetland Sheepdog. My parents made a deal that if I could save enough money to pay for half of the purchase, I would be allowed to have a Sheltie. It was an expensive half-the-purchase to save for, and I saved for a long time.
When I finally had the money and was deemed 'responsible' enough to own a dog, I spent a long time scouring the newspaper, searching for a breeder. At last, I found one, and there were two puppies left - a boy and a girl. I wanted the girl.
She had mis-matched eyes that were half blue and half brown - no, not one blue, one brown, but literally, half was blue, half was brown, both eyes were just strange looking. Her ears were weighted with paste to give them the traditional sheltie 'dip', but after her first bath, the paste washed off and I didn't have more to replace it with. Her coat never really grew in, so she was short-haired; she wasn't terribly barky, unless goaded to it intentionally.
She was smart as could be, and she loved me more than I deserved. For years, my dog was my only friend - I didn't do so well with people, I was weird and had headgear and lazy eyes that drifted.
I spent a lot of time with my dog, until finally, my parents pulled me out of school and I began to make people-friends for the first time in my life.
When I was fifteen, I began to attend college. Not long after, I got a part-time job, and was involved in many clubs. I had a lot of friends, and less time for my dog... I began going out in the evenings, having sleepovers elsewhere, and not being home as much as I used to.
My relationship with my parents got rockier and rockier, as it happens in one's teenage years. I began to avoid being home, because any time I was home, I was invariably 'in trouble' for something. I spent less and less time with my dog, the truest friend I ever had - and when she was less than perfect, behavior-wise, it began to fall to my parents to deal with.
In the winters, it would rain buckets and my dog didn't like to go out in the downpour. Sometimes, she'd have 'accidents' on the floor, after ignoring invitations to go outdoors for her business.
I came home one night, and she'd had an 'accident' earlier in the evening. It wasn't the first time that week, but my parents went ballistic. They were already steamed with me for other reasons, so I was in for it anyway... but the dog pooping on the floor, and them waiting for hours and hours for me to come home and clean it, was the last straw for my pet ownership.
They made me get rid of her.
It was the single worst thing I've ever done in my life... I tried so hard to find a friend who would take her, a friend's family, a relative, someone that I knew would love her the way she deserved... I even tried Craigslist, though I didn't want to leave her to that den of serpents, but I got no responses.
Finally, I found a Shetland Sheepdog rescue in my area, and I brought her to them.
They looked at her - a fat, short-coated sheltie with an unfortunately timed skin condition - with disgust, and told me they'd contact the breeder, saying something about bad blood lines.
I was traumatized and devastated. Sure, maybe her breeding wasn't the best in the world, but she was my best friend... and I was leaving her in the hands of someone who clearly thought she wasn't up to snuff.
I still remember the look on her face when I left. My dog wasn't a drooler, but she could tell something was very, very wrong. By the time I left her in that kennel, she was just silent, loong threads of drool hanging from her mouth, absolute betrayal in her eyes.
For months afterwards, I felt... dead inside. I know that must seem like hyperbole, but I fell into a deep depression. I broke up with my boyfriend and felt nothing for it. I stopped going to classes at college. I almost failed an entire term, and jeopardized my scholarship. I would burst into tears at random times.
Eventually, I moved forward, though I didn't necessarily make great life choices - I dropped out of school not long after, I moved out of my parents house and in with a boyfriend, I got on with my life, but I never really forgot my dog. How could I?
Years later, I contacted the rescue, who gave me contact information for the breeder, who had taken my dog back. And years after that, I contacted the breeder, who was remarkably empathetic about the whole thing. She told me that my dog had been adopted by a wonderful family, that their son had desperately wanted to learn how to show dogs properly and how she'd taken first place with him in a junior AKC dog show event. She told me how my dog slept on the mother's bed every night, and she told me that the end had come a few years earlier... and that she'd been there with the family when they'd finally let her go.
In short, everything I could have hoped for and more had happened. She was well-treated, she wasn't abandoned to some dirty kennel, wasn't being yelled at by my parents while I wasn't home, wasn't made an outdoor dog largely ignored - she had a good life after I let her go.
But I still feel rotten inside, filthy and horrible.
Shelties are incredibly loyal animals, and there was never a more loyal one than her. For all my faults as a dog owner, for all my self-centered behavior as a teenager, I loved that dog at least half as much as she loved me.
I have random crying jags about this still, and when the grief hits me, it's like it never even began to heal.
I don't really have the right to grieve for her. From her perspective, I abandoned her, flat out. She couldn't possibly understand the circumstances that led it to happen - all she knows is that I was the center of her world, and I threw her away like garbage.
I don't know how to handle this. For years at a time, I don't even think about it... and then I do, and I can't STOP thinking about it. I feel like it's totally inappropriate for me to ask if I could speak to the family, but god, I want to. I feel like I've already made myself enough of a creep by contacting the breeder sporadically as I have.
I also think that it happened almost ten years ago, now. I shouldn't be reduced to insomniac crying jags over this anymore.
I took the best years of my dog's life, and then threw her away when she began to be old and inconvenient.
Now, I can't have a dog - apartment dweller and all that. But I have adopted an older cat from the Humane Society, one that I felt had less of a chance of being adopted. She's delightful and we love her dearly, but adopting one slightly older animal does nothing to make up for what I did to my dog.