Bittersweet Memories: How We Keep Our Pets in Our Hearts Forever

Shoveling a garden
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Every time Dr. Marty Becker sees a shovel, he thinks of his beloved childhood dog, Luke.

Do you have a certain object in your home that instantly brings back memories of a beloved dog or cat? A yoga mat bearing the imprint of puppy teeth that makes you smile every time you use it? A chewed-on baseboard that you tell the floor installer not to replace? A patch of sunlight on the floor, now empty?

I do. It’s a shovel. Whenever I use one or even see one, it reminds me of Luke, our family’s Black Lab, who was my boon companion while I was a young boy, a teenager and a college student during my frequent visits home to southern Idaho.

Special Memories

Luke was my shadow. Everywhere I went, he went. He would chase the motorcycle as I rode out to check the irrigation or crops. He’d follow the tractor up and back, up and back, until he got tired — then he would lie down and follow me with his head until he was rested and ready to begin the chase again.

To the chicken house, hog pen, haystacks, dairy barn and beyond, Luke and I were a team. I’d yell “Load up!” and Luke would jump clear over the tailgate into the back of the pickup. When we got to where we were going, he’d follow me around as I walked with a shovel over my shoulder to set plastic dams, cut corrugates, move sprinkler pipe and check on the cattle.

Luke never left my side. Often, when I was down in a ditch, Luke would be standing on the bank, eye to eye with me, and I’d tell him what a good boy he was and how much I loved him. His tail would wag so hard that it would lift alternate back legs off the ground.

As Luke grew older, his time following the tractor before napping shortened. He could no longer jump over the pickup tailgate but needed to have it lowered. Later still, I lifted him in and out. But Luke never stopped following me as I walked around the family farm with a shovel over my shoulder.

Paths of Grief

To this day, I think of Luke every time I see a shovel. It can be one I’m using in the garden or at the horse barn or one I see in a store or a photo.

Remembering a beloved dog or cat is painful at first. It brings tears and that tight, choked-up feeling. We feel like the ache of loss will never disappear.

Grief takes all of us down different roads, and we memorialize our pets in different ways. We may light candles for them, bury them on our property or at a pet cemetery or save their ashes in a special box. Eventually, months or even years later, we can speak of them with a smile or laugh at remembered antics, but there will always be a little tear or a misty eye.

The memories of past pets haunt us — in a good way. They are a reminder that our hearts can never be too full. They are home to all those we have loved throughout our lives, even years ago. The heart’s memory is a chamber where we can visit old friends and relive the good times — and store new memories of our current pets.

I will never forget Luke. And one day, when I’m gone, I want my daughter, son and grandchild to know that the last shovel of dirt that lands on my grave honors my loyal Lab, Luke.

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