My family was not a “pet family” when I was growing up. And like most kids in an anti-pet household, I desperately wanted a dog. I wanted that instant best friend connection people had with their animals. Then, in second grade, after doing a report on bunnies, I convinced my dad to let me get a pet rabbit when I turned ten, my logic being that double digits would make me more responsible and able to take care of an animal—thorough reasoning, I know.
But I have a bad memory, and I forgot that this promise had been made… and so had my dad. It wasn’t until I was 11 that I remembered that promise, and I was technically in the double digits, which meant I was totally capable of caring for an animal. And when I brought it back up to my dad, he actually took me to Petland Discounts to look at the rabbits, for some unknown reason. My sisters affectionately refer to this as me pulling the “ultimate baby-of-the-fam card.”
That’s when I met my sweet baby girl, Jojo. She didn’t want to be picked up; she wanted to sit in the corner of the cage and eat her food, content by herself. When they finally got her out of the cage so that I could hold her, she ate my coat. I knew then that she was mine.
I told her that day I would protect her from anything and that we were going to be the best of friends. And we were best friends. She let me hold her however I wanted and dress her up in ridiculous hats for every holiday. She cuddled in my arms when I was sick or sad and celebrated every birthday and milestone with me.
Jojo made her way into the hearts of my entire family. The anti-pet household now had a picture of a rabbit under a tree as their holiday card. That was something we never would’ve done before. And the amount we spoiled her with strawberries and bananas as treats was ridiculous. But we did it because we loved her.
I was so incredibly lucky to have Jo in my life when I did. She got me through some rough years, and we grew up together. She saw me graduate middle school and high school. She got to send me off to prom and watched me leave for college. She was there through everything.
I found the tumor over Thanksgiving break my freshman year; it wasn’t until I got back to campus that the vet had confirmed it was a tumor. I was crushed. There was nothing I could do to stop what was going to happen, and I was so far from home. I was angry because I couldn’t be there for her like she had been there for me our whole life together. All I could do was watch.
But she fought, because she was my stubborn little girl. She fought for so long, for 62 weeks she held on with everything she had. But there was no stopping what we knew was coming.
I wasn’t there when we had to put her down. I broke my first promise to her that I would be there with her through everything and that I would protect her from anything that tried to hurt her. I was on FaceTime at eight in the morning sobbing as I watched them put her to sleep, knowing I would never be able to hold her again and it broke me.
But I couldn’t break because everything else was still going, the world was still spinning. My school work was still due, I still had class to attend and I just didn’t get how everyone could keep going without her.
There’s no words to tell you what it’s like to lose a pet. Yes, you’re prepared to be sad, but that’s natural with any loss. They don’t tell you what it’s like to have to put them down, or what it’s like to walk into the veterinarian’s office with them and have to walk out missing a piece of you.
They don’t tell you about how gapingly large the hole they leave behind is. It’s different losing a pet versus losing a loved one, because you know what your loved one’s thoughts were. My baby girl didn’t know what was happening; she didn’t have the awareness which humans are graced with. She didn’t know why I wasn’t there for her when it happened. And at the end of the day all I wish is that I could hold her one more time and dance around the living room together late at night when we’re the only two still up.
I like to think she didn’t want me there when we put her down, that way my last memory with her is still a positive happy one of her running up to me for treats. The decline was pretty rapid the two weeks after I left for this semester, and it brings me some comfort to think she didn’t want me to be sad when I think about my last time with her.
Every time I left for school I would say goodbye to Jo, just in case it was the last time. I would tell her I was ready and that whenever she needed to go it would be okay, we would be okay. Well I guess I lied, because no matter the time I don’t think I would’ve ever been ready.
To my sweet baby girl, thank you for helping raise me. Thank you for being there for me through everything the past eight years. I love you now and always.