I was a little too young for the Lassie movies. I was more the generation of Run Joe Run on Saturday mornings. While Pumpkin was not accused of a crime, he loves to play and he did run away. Despite his age, he still has a lot of puppy in him. All you need is a bouncy ball or a squeaky toy to lure him away from his designated spot. He's not a stupid dog. He's a smart dog with a weakness (and don't you dare say otherwise).
Pumpkin went missing over the Thanksgiving holiday. As soon as we realized he was gone, we sought him feverishly. We emailed (through HomeAgain) and faxed (through a friend) local veterinarians, pet shops, and shelters. We covered the neighborhood where he was lost with over 200 flyers.
This is not the first time he has run away. This is the third. With each time it is more and more devastating. With each time, hindsight punishes us for our carelessness and negligence. Each time, we don hair shirts cut from the knowledge that the situation was avoidable with just a few simple precautions. Simple precautions which for no other reason than sloth are not observed. So instead we jump every time the phone rings, hoping some good Samaritan has found Pumpkin and is eager to see us reunited.
We fall among those in the Harris Interactive Poll who consider their pets as members of their family - something unheard of to our own respective families. They wanted us to put our pets down when our eldest was born. My wife and I empathize with Lauren Slater. My wife calls Pumpkin her "baby." It was uncomfortable for me at first, but being an animal lover also, my adjustment was quick. People's strong negative reactions to Lauren's article surprised us. I reread her article thinking I had missed something. I couldn't find anything. It seemed like a sweet reminiscence brought about by the passing of a cherished pet.
The developmental benefits to children of pet ownership are well documented. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides a pithy list of these benefits. But Pumpkin is more to us than that. Pumpkin is a living record of my wife's and my bond. He entered our lives just slightly larger than her hand. He has grown as my wife's and my union has grown. From a puppy who was too little to jump up on the bed in our Brooklyn apartment to a peculiarly playful dog in our Manhattan apartment, Pumpkin has been witness and consul to our celebrations and our observances. To deny him his place in our family would simply be negligent.
There are many appropriations of the phrase: "Society is measured by how it treats its weakest members." The phrase has been attributed to a broad menu of historical figures, humanitarians and social dignitaries. In a Quoteland forum I found this one: "you can judge a nation by how it treats its animals." It had been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
I would like to add my own: "A family's bonds are judged by how it treats its pets." I believe it is the care and feeding of the most overlooked "members" of our family that best reveals how we relate and value to each other. We need to get better.
Happily, a good Samaritan did find Pumpkin. He has been returned to us and our family is whole again.