Four and a half years ago, we moved to the US. “A permanent move!” we thought. We bought a house, found the right school for the kids (which turned into the wrong school, so we had to swap schools), bought cars, and got involved in a community (several communities really, but who’s counting?).
Then, last year, we moved back to Australia. Permanently. Or maybe not. Permanently enough for now. Again, we went through the house buying, the car buying, and the school finding. The community was less of an issue since this is our home town.
Moving house is stressful. Moving house across the world is even more stressful. Despite the intervention of professional movers, our move home was made more onerous by farewelling our old family dog, who was too ill to make the journey, and having to kennel our young family dog for four months.
It’s probably relevant to mention at this point that I’m an enormous sucker for animals. I’ve always had animals in my life (really… at one point we had two big dogs, ten chickens, two geese, and innumerable goldfish. That was before the guinea pigs and rabbit came to live with us). As a child, I once rescued a cat-mauled bird, carefully nested it in a cardboard box in my parents’ bedroom, fed it water with an eye dropper, obsessively checked on it every half an hour, and then shed wet hot tears of grief when it died of shock. I can’t imagine my life without animals, and I languish when we don’t have a pet.
Shortly before we moved home, I held our old dog as he breathed his last, then a few days later, farewelled our young dog into the arms of strangers who’d be responsible for her care. Australia’s animal import laws are strict and complex, and I don’t begrudge them. We’re an island continent with very few diseases, and an enormous potential for species extinction. None of that makes a separation from beloved pets any easier.
For four months I checked my emails incessantly, badgered US friends into visiting the dog on my behalf, and fretted. Even after a dear friend FaceTimed me while with the dog, I worried over her care (it was excellent), I worried over whether she’d survive the long plane trip (she did), and I worried over how I’d fare if something happened to her (we’ll never know!). When we finally reunited, it was joyous.
If there was ever any question about the role of pets in maintaining mental health, I am the living proof of their benefit.