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In their memory

by Jessica Rhodes, M.D.V.M. | December 19, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

The holidays bring a sense of nostalgia to our day-to-day hustle and bustle. In between gatherings, meals, gift exchanges, shopping, and watching Hallmark movies, we reminisce and remember those we love -- memories that help to shape us, and those we will miss around the table this year. The emotions of the holidays can be exhausting, but can also bring us comfort and warmth.

During these times, I also remember a few special animals I have been blessed with in my life. They were my "pack" -- family that saw me through times both good and bad. They are so embossed upon my heart that they influence my care and compassion as a veterinarian. I want to honor their memory in this article.

On a Christmas morning when I was 15 years old, a beautifully wrapped package sat beneath the tree. It had been there for days, and while I wondered what could be inside, I knew it could not be what I really wanted. I had been begging for a puppy for a very long time, but a puppy could not have been under that tree for all those days. I grabbed the package, pretending to be excited about its contents. "Careful!" I heard my parents say, "just lift the lid." When I did, this perfect, most precious little face popped up, complete with a red bow on her head. I named that little Shih Tzu puppy "Sasha." She was my most loyal friend throughout high school, college, and veterinary school. She moved back to Arkansas with me to start my first job. We were inseparable!

One of my first jobs was a position at our local veterinary office as a groomer's assistant. I would have done anything to spend time in a veterinary clinic! So, I gave baths, painted toenails, and made hair bows over the summer and on weekends. Doesn't that sound like fun? One of the groomer's clients gifted her with a Miniature Schnauzer puppy. She didn't feel she could keep the puppy, but she could see I was in love with that baby! So, the groomer offered her to me, complete with her first little schnauzer haircut. I had to sneak her into the house with my brother's help. I cannot say my parents were happy with me, but they quickly grew to love our little "Suzie Q." She was an excellent ballplayer, and had more personality than any dog I have known before or since.

I met "Lucy-cat" during a three-week externship my senior year of vet school. She was living in the vet clinic I was visiting as they tried to find her a home. For three weeks, she raised her eyes and meowed at me every time I walked past her kennel. She knew something I didn't; we were meant to be together! When I left that clinic to return to school, Lucy came with me! She always loved me best, and never truly bonded with anyone else, human or animal. She followed me and sat near wherever I was, but wasn't the lovey-dovey type. I remember when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Lucy would "make biscuits" on my belly. This was the most affection she ever showed. She loved my daughter, and considered her the next best thing to mom. It took a while after losing her to stop feeling the sensation of her jumping onto the bed at night after she thought we were asleep.

"Bella" was a golden retriever who was brought into the clinic where I once worked with a request for euthanasia. There was nothing physically wrong with her other than summertime allergies, so my colleague declined to euthanize her, but offered her owners that she would keep Bella and help find her a home. It would be easy to form a judgment of her original family, but let's not do that. Bella was supposed to be with me. It all worked out the way it should. That blessed dog joined us just before the birth of my daughter, and right after a tough loss of another great dog. She was a playmate and a babysitter for my children, helped me nurse animals in need back to health, and had the absolute sweetest heart of any dog in this world! She was golden indeed! I have so many beautiful memories and pictures of this dog. I am so very glad she came into that clinic on that day.

I would love to tell you more! I want to tell you all about "Smokey" and "Macy" and "Ginger" and "Jagger" and "Ellie and Coco." Then, there are the horses: "Patches, Sassy, Jag, and Dude." Not to mention my childhood pets that I still remember: "Sadie and Simon," "Freddie," and even the guinea pigs, "Speedy and Rex." My life has been so full with all of these beautiful creatures. I cannot imagine life without their unfailing and unconditional love. They have played a big part in making me who I am today. I will forever remember them, and have to look no further than the corners of my heart to find them again.

I hope your holidays are filled with love, family, friendships, beautiful memories, and belly rubs!

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