We gave Milton away this past weekend. It was the right thing to do. Still, I'm brokenhearted. He was the perfect dog for our family–until I got pregnant with twins. I knew the twins would dramatically change my life; I just didn't realize how much. I thought I could successfully manage 5 children plus a dog. In fact, I took offense when anyone dared suggest otherwise. See, I thought I could do it all. But life didn't work out that way.
The change was gradual at first. Milton had become accustomed to daily walks and twice a week trips to the park. As my pregnancy progressed, these tapered off. When I was put on bedrest, Milton was my faithful companion–cuddling up beside me and resting his warm little snout on my legs.
Eventually, the lack of exercise caught up to us. Milton had too much unspent energy built up inside him. He fell into old habits of barking incessantly, jumping up on visitors and dashing out the front door when he spotted a passing dog. Before I was pregnant, I had been able to successfully train Milton. But after the twins were born, I was frustrated by Milton's flagging obedience. Sadly, I didn't have the time or energy to correct it.
When we moved to our new home, Milton's behavior degenerated further. I was busy chasing my newly crawling twins and keeping up with the older children's schedules. Milton got busy raiding the trash. He would drag poopy diapers across the house and out into the backyard where he'd tear them to pieces. He woke the babies with his excited barking. Worse still, he began wandering off. Kindly neighbors always returned him to us, but the sad truth was that Milton was becoming a nuisance. It wasn't his fault–it was mine. He had lots of energy and I didn't have enough.
One day we came home from church to discover that Milton had dug up an animal skeleton. Bits of fur, bone and mud were strewn all over the house. In the living room was the skull, under my bed was the rib cage. It was like something out of a horror movie. I totally freaked out. I ran through the house, screaming at the top of my lungs every time I came across a new bit of fur or bone. GERMS! DISEASES! RABIES!
Matt told me to go wait outside while he cleaned it all up. I went on a brisk walk around the block.
When I came back inside I had made up my mind. It wasn't fair for us to hang onto Milton if we couldn't give him time and attention. Milton deserved better. It was time for us to find Professor Milton a better home.
At first I met with resistance from the family. Matt felt badly because his own Dad had given away the family dog when Matt was a boy. Matt had dearly loved his dog and felt that his Dad's decision had been hasty and unfair. But our circumstances were different: we had all loved Milton and had cherished him for 3 years. None of us had foreseen how much our lives would change after having the twins.
The children protested loudly, too. However, these were disproportionate to the amount of time they actually spent caring for Milton. I was the one who always remembered to feed him, walk him, groom him. James occasionally picked up the poop. The children finally admitted they did very little for Milton. And because of this, I got the most voting power.
I voted in favor of Milton. He deserved better than what we could give him. When a friend referred me to Kelly, I felt hopeful. Kelly loved mini-Schnauzers and had spent many years rescuing and adopting them. Kelly was looking for a male companion for her 10 year old female, Sassy. We exchanged a few emails and phone calls. And when Milton met Sassy–maybe I'm biased, here–but I think it was love at first sight.
Milton was bounding around, sniffing, marking every bush in sight and chasing his ball. He put on quite a show for Miss Sassy. She surveyed him calmly and then promptly ignored him. Nothing could have been better for Milton. He was gonna have to work for her affection. He certainly had the energy for it.
Even though I was sad, I knew Kelly was the right owner for Milton. She felt safe. She had that special grace all true dog-lovers have–an inexplicable connection to animals and empathetic respect for the breed. My heart was at peace.
We packed up Milton's things and the children said their goodbyes. Jewel cried the most. She even wrote him a goodbye letter:
I helped Milton into Kelly's car and kissed him goodbye. The tears sprang into my eyes. I fought back feelings of failure and inadequacy. I wished I could have been the one to give Milton everything he needed.
Kelly saw my tears and instantly understood. I hugged her and thanked her. I never imagined I would come to love a dog so much. It's true what they say: pets become family.
As Kelly drove away with Milton bouncing around in her backseat, I thought of so many things I should have said.
But then I realized: Milton would tell her everything else she needed to know. After all, he had been telling me for a year that he needed a new home.
In the end, Milton was the one who taught me an important lesson about being human. When I decided to do the right thing for Milton I learned that it was OK to honor my human limitations. Milton's unconditional love helped me realize that my limitations weren't failures.
Sometimes love means accepting that we can't do everything.
Sometimes love means letting go.