with Karli Larson
The transition from stay-at-home mom to divorced-and-working-full-time mom can be challenging, and sometimes very lonely. Throw in a few cats, an ancient dog and one very brave boyfriend, and life gets downright crazy. Join me as I talk through my thoughts and struggles, my miscalculations and my triumphs. We're in this together, you and I.
When I'm not writing here you can find me over at work on the TisBest Philanthropy blog.
In the faraway eras B.C. and B.H. (Before Children and Before Husband), I went through a particularly awful breakup back in 1996, when I was living just outside of New York City. My boyfriend of five years had just moved out. I asked my mother to care for my dog for a while. I begged her to take him back to Philly just for a few months, because the post-breakup depression was so intense. I felt like I could barely take care of myself, let alone another creature — this one in particular, the most soulful, sensitive dog I’d known, my very first dog, who sat beside me with a worried expression, pawing at my arm as I cried and worked my way through a bulk stash of Kleenex boxes. He missed my ex, too.
My mom refused to take the dog.
“If I take him, you’re never going to leave the apartment. If I take him, I worry what’s going to happen to you. As long as he’s with you, you’re going to need to walk him and care for him and go out to buy food for him. He stays with you. You need him. He WANTS to be with you.”
It was a wise move on my mama’s part. And so he and I would go on three, four walks a day — sometimes with me in my pajama pants, or in yesterday’s clothes, sometimes with me sniffling and gulping the entire way. I cried into his fur until he was damp. We drove to Philly in the middle of the night, when it was just the truckers and us on the wretched stretch of tangled highway between the George Washington Bridge and Newark. My dog and I listened to countless old mix tapes with the windows down, and I like to think that we left a lot of grief on the side of the highway at night.
My mom was right. That boy saved me. I rescued him from a pound as a puppy, but during his sixteen years of life, he did most of the rescuing. I still cry when I see a graying muzzle on a shep/collie/husky mix. What we save, saves us ten times over. I know this to be true.
My first boy, he died just before the storm of the separation and ensuing divorce. I haven’t been without dogs since, and they have all been rescued from the kill-list at NYC shelters. I try to imagine getting through the past few years without Nina, Eli and Fanny, and I cannot. Two friendly cats have also joined the fray: Carlita and Moe. Although the girls are now the main reason I rise in the mornings, I only have them half-time, and the weeks without them would be unbearably quiet were it not for the animals.
My mother has never fully understood my powerful call to have animals in my life. She tries to understand, but she has a point: animals complicate life to an extent, no doubt. Extra mouths to feed equals more money, which we don’t have. Kitty litter, leashes, vet bills — it all adds up. Leaving town is always a challenge — coordinating cats with Mom, sending dogs to kennel, finding the money to pay for kennel.
In the darkest days of my life, the dogs and cats couldn’t care less what I look like, how “proactive” I’m being, whether or not everything in existence my fault, if the children are involved in enough afterschool activities, if the house is clean. The animals are grateful for the companionship of me and the girls. They don’t mind that there’s not a man around, that I’m not part of a couple. A special treat, a patch of warm sunlight on the floor, a group snuggle on the couch, a hike in the woods behind the girls’ school: I’m saying they are grateful and living within that gratitude in a way that is beautiful, in a way that humbles me.
They teach me, daily, what it is to have enough, to be enough. We have each other, and that is so much more than fine. We are together, human, canine and feline.
The rewards outweigh everything else. As a single mama, these animals are my lifeline.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. If you’re on your own with your kids, and have often thought you couldn’t possibly handle a dog or a cat, PLEASE rethink. Consider adopting an elderly pet from a shelter or a rescue. Castaway elderly pets still have years of gorgeous life left in them. Their temperaments are steady, they’re housebroken, and their appetites are less than what they used to be. They have love and loyalty in abundance, but nowhere to call home. Yes, you’re busy. Yes, life will need a few minor adjustments. But still.
Read this article by the late Amy Espie, and see why saving even one life is so important: If not you, if not your family, then who?
If you’re not sure, but possibly willing, consider fostering an old animal until its forever home can be found (it might turn out to be you). Fostering animals allows rescue groups to continue pulling adoptable pets from shelters, especially senior pets with wonderful personalities. Older animals are frequently tossed away and abandoned like garbage “because they’re too old now,” particularly in the winter. Shelters have no choice but to euthanize them, sometimes within 24 hours of finding them, because the demand for older pets is so low.
If you can provide love, food and a warm bed for a pet in need of a forever home in its last years, the gratitude and affection you will receive will humble you, too, and teach your children what it means to truly share what you have with the less fortunate. If that’s not a way to celebrate Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.
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