Why We Must Remember To Appreciate Our Pets While They're Still Here

by Amanda Epstein

Every year on my birthday, I made the same wish: I wished for a puppy.

Growing up, I had my fair share of hamsters and goldfish, but all I really wanted was my face licked, a wagging tail and a belly to rub.

When I was 12, my dream came true. My mom brought home an early birthday present for herself: an adorable white ball of fluff, a Bichon Frisé.

Although I was in favor of naming him Bailey (because I'm the most clichéd person in the world), we opted for Comet. And no, he wasn't named after the golden retriever in "Full House."

My dad said it was because he was our shooting star; a dog like him didn't come around that often. Oh, how true that statement was.

After the initial shock of having my lifelong dream fulfilled wore off, we all began to slowly drift back into normalcy. Comet became the constant companion in the background of our lives.

But that's just it: He fell into the background.

Of course, he was the best friend I ever had. He was the shoulder that was always there to cry on. He was the best part of my day, every day.

But, the one thing about a loyal and reliable presence in your life is that sometimes it gets taken for granted.

When you have more important things to do, they always take precedence. When you have nothing better to do, your dog is always an eager and willing recipient of your affection and attention.

As we continued to grow up, Comet drifted more and more into the background. My brother and I entered high school and were too focused on school, sports and friends to acknowledge that wagging tail.

In fact, I was barely home at all. When college came along, I was gone for months at a time, but the second I walked through my front door, he treated me like I never left.

If that's not unconditional love, I don't know what is.

Even though I loved him just as much, if not more than I did when I first got him, the excitement was gone.

After months apart, I'd go through my days petting him hello and goodbye, and leave him with my parents, who thankfully gave him the love and attention he truly deserved.

Thinking back, it's possible we got him at just the wrong time for me. I was too old to "grow up with him," yet too young and naive to truly appreciate what he had to offer.

Or maybe that's my guilt talking. Or maybe, that's just what happens with pets sometimes. Life seems to get in the way.

You all know where this is going.

A few weeks ago, the pink stomach I've rubbed for 11 years turned red — dark red. Comet was diagnosed with incurable blood cancer. That was the moment the regret started to set in.

"Just a few more weeks, please," I thought. I swore I would make up for every time I ignored that wagging tail and pushed his tongue off my face. If I could just have some more time, I could show him we needed him more than he needed us.

But, life doesn't work that way. Time will inevitably run out, whether you're prepared for it or not.

I don't think it's fully hit me yet, that within the next few days, he will no longer be with us. But believe it or not, there's a blessing to be found beneath the tragic surface.

Comet is rightfully placed in the foreground of our lives now. He comes first, not second, which is the way it should have always been.

When someone in your life is ever-present, it's easy to overlook how valuable he or she truly is.

Through this, we are reminded that nothing, and no one, can last forever. Comet will always be our shooting star, who will continue to shine brightly in our hearts, long after his time is done here.

As my dad wisely stated:

"What a rare gift of happiness borne out of sadness -- to truly appreciate people in your life that you love while they're still with you."

And that is my advice to you, whether that loved one has four legs, or two.