Losing one of our own

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By: Rebecca Xu <rxu@hilite.org>

They sped down the road. Her mother instructed her to press a towel against the dog’s wounds to stop the bleeding and keep still. Gidget, a blonde, medium-sized, poodle and Pekingese mix, was still tilting her head and looking around with glassy eyes. Little did 4-year-old Bridgette Carter, now a junior, know it would be one of the last times she would see her pet alive.

Like the Carters, 60 percent of all American households have a pet, according to a survey done by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). And like many other owners, Gidget was considered a part of the Carter family, which is why the loss of a pet can be so difficult. Bridgette’s father, David Carter, is a veterinarian of 25 years, and he has witnessed a lot of cases.

Dr. Carter said people get pets depending on each individual’s specific needs. Humans domesticated dogs 15,000 years ago and cats 9,500 years ago so that they could help in hunting. Today, however, most people decide to adopt a pet simply for the love and companionship they provide.

He said people are willing to go to such extreme measures for their pets because they often provide the love and companionship that would otherwise be missing in an individual’s life. For this reason, Dr. Carter said that pet death often affects elderly people the most.

“(Elderly people) often live alone. Their pet is the only living body they share their lives with. Their pets often remind them of people and events in their lives. It frequently is a significant loss for them,” he said.

Bridgette said, “Animals are so important, because they provide a haven of unfaltering love and loyalty that is rarely seen in people.”

The day of Gidget’s attack was a sunny, breezy one. Dr. Carter was at work, and Bridgette’s two older brothers were at school. Bridgette, her sister and their mother decided to go to the supermarket to do some grocery shopping. The girls spent a happy couple of hours in the store, but they returned home to find one of their dogs missing.

“We had left Gidget in the backyard. When we got home, there was a hole in the fence and blood on the door,” Bridgette said. “We went into a total frenzy.”

Moments later, they found Gidget, covered with blood and animal bites, in the backyard neighbor’s yard. Bridgette’s mother wrapped Gidget’s body in a towel and carried her into the minivan and the girls got in. They laid the injured dog on her side.

“I felt extremely shocked and sad that this horrible thing was happening to my precious dog. I remember sobbing and wanting to hold her,” Bridgette said.

Bridgette’s mother drove to the veterinary clinic where Dr. Carter worked and he began to operate on Gidget as soon as possible. After about half an hour, he came out saying that he could do no more to help Gidget. She responded poorly to the surgery and struggled during the following days. Dr. Carter assumed that a coyote attacked the dog, knowing that the neighborhood had a recurring coyote problem. Gidget died two days after the surgery.

“I was sad. I was angry that another animal had jumped our fence and attacked our dog,” Dr. Carter said. “It was sad.”

Surgery for a pet was rare a hundred years ago, but today it’s a common practice. In fact, according to a 2003 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) survey, 73 percent of pet owners say they would go in debt to provide for their pets’ well-beings.

From medical concerns to luxuries like clothes and dog “spas,” pets’ statuses have risen dramatically, perhaps rivaling that of humans. In an extreme case, a real estate billiona=ire left her precious Maltese $12 million in her will and requested to be buried next to the dog, while two of the woman’s grandchildren received nothing.

The Carters didn’t spend millions of dollars, but Gidget was honored like a family member. On the day following the death, the entire family stood in the backyard and held a funeral service for the beloved pet. “I was really sad. I still remember standing underneath our trees, with wind blowing through the leaves. It was a summery day,” Bridgette said.

The family said prayers, talked about memories of Gidget, and everyone expressed feelings they had when she was alive.

The death affected young Bridgette perhaps more deeply than her other family members. She remembers sobbing. “I felt a really close connection with her, I was young, and it was ‘Gidget’ rhymes with ‘Bridgette,’ and we’re both blonde,” she said.

As a pet owner, Dr. Carter said he thinks of his pets as family. As a veterinarian, he said that no matter how the owners perceive their animals, he would still treat their pets the same. He said, “I would like everyone to treat pets as family members. But people have different beliefs. I have to respect that.”