There is no way to measure what a pet means to a family, nor is there a way to measure what a pet means to each individual in the family.
But one thing is for sure, pets are family members. For some people, pets are their only family. So, when a pet gets sick, it becomes an unexpected crisis for the people who love him or her.
We found out this past week that our beloved dog Bella, a five-year-old chocolate golden doodle, has an aggressive form of cancer. After the crying was over, we had to put every option on the table and discuss it as a family.
Option one was to do nothing and simply give her pain medication to keep her comfortable. Option two was to do chemotherapy or radiation, just like you might do for a human being and hope against the odds for a couple of good months.
Option three was to amputate her left front leg where the tumor and the cancer seemed to be localized. Option three gave her the best chance of survival in addition to an immediate respite from the pain in her leg that she had been living with. We chose option three.
It wasn't any an easy decision, and it was one that had to be made fairly quickly in order to get the best possible results. We felt like we were in very good hands at the N.C. State Veterinary Hospital. The doctors there told us she was a good candidate for amputation because she was young, thin and otherwise healthy.
They also told us that dogs are amazingly resilient and can cope with the loss of a limb very well and are able to adapt in a short period of time. We are hopeful that her recovery will be swift and her adaptation to her new body will be successful with our love and support.
What the whole experience has made me realize is that in many ways we are defined by this simplest of love - the love of an animal. They don't talk back. They demand very little of us, other than to be fed and occasionally walked. They love us unconditionally. And we, in return, love them to the point that we would do almost anything to keep them around.
Bella is our third dog, but she is perhaps the most special one because she is the first dog my children have nurtured from puppyhood. She is laid back, sweet, easy to be around, rarely barks, never jumps, never chews anything and is always available for a good cuddle session without protest.
Often, you don't even realize she's in the room because she has such a mellow demeanor. She is pretty much the perfect dog. But isn't that what all dog-parents think?
Fingers crossed that she will come home from the hospital and rejoin our family this week, which is a very good thing, because there's an empty spot under our table ...
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.