As our family grapples with the unexpected cancer diagnosis of our beloved, dog, Lila, I am left to ponder pets and their place in our hearts and families. As I struggled to tell each of my children of this horrible diagnosis, I considered what Lila has provided to each of my children through the years. Lila was my daughter’s loyal confidant and roommate for many years and served as the guinea pig for her “dog fostering career.” Lila also had a fine tuned ear for my daughter’s self-proclaimed dialect and tone of voice that we lovingly refer to as the “Lila voice.” Lila is my oldest son’s “favorite family member” I am certain. She never nagged him about homework or reminded him of the perils of driving or held him accountable to clean up after himself. (I could have used some help on all of these fronts). Lila was the beneficiary of many late night meals with he and his friends. Lila loved him just the way he was – teenage warts and all. Lila was my next son’s dog – acquired to help him adjust to life after “Hurricane Katrina” and to help him sleep alone in this new strange land of Georgia. Well, we all know how well that worked – both the child and the puppy slept with Mom and Dad. For my youngest son, Lila was the trusted dog who would play nice with his cats, who would always be there when the house felt empty and who was the recipient of any unwanted leftovers. Lila has been our rock – beautiful and brilliant and smiley. We all think of her as a person – we are convinced that she is smarter than many people we have met. (Lila managed to figure out that dirty socks belong in the laundry room).
After I broke the news to the kids, I took time to ponder what Lila provided to me over the years. It became quite apparent that Lila was way more than just a pet to me. Lila has been my inspiration in some very difficult situations. Lila was the distraction for my children as we struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Getting a puppy after suddenly evacuating from your lifelong home seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time – how else do you distract four young children from the largest national disaster in 100 years? Lila broke a few arms (she is quite a fast runner), dug a few holes (she was trying to dig out of Georgia), ruined a few things (who needs walls or sofas) but all of Lila’s antics served as a great distraction for my children. Who can be sad around a puppy? So at a time when I felt pretty out of control as a mother struggling to help my kids through the trauma of Katrina, Lila helped me with that by often providing just the right love at the right time. She also empowered me at just the right time – I found Lila, adopted her, trained her and successfully inculcated her into our family. Based on that success, I thought I could do anything!
Our “Hurricane Katrina” fluff ball has turned out to be such a loyal and loving family member. Lila helped me through a divorce, she guided me through going back to work as a single mom (I could count on her to run across our frozen Minnesota lake as I was supposed to be leaving for court), she sat in the front seat of the moving van through a cross country move and she welcomed my new husband’s dog into our large family which already included 2 dogs and 4 cats. (That was no small task for Lila but her patience with her “crazy” step sister is awe-inspiring). Through it all, Lila has always had a smile and a joyful attitude. Lila inspires me – no matter what life hands you (hurricanes, divorce, relocation, crazy step siblings and now cancer) – smile, be joyful and love your peeps – even the crazy ones.