With the latest two blogs I have written both have touched on the fragility of life. One about the way we live and the other of how death can creep in the night or any other time and take it away
I have been around animals all of my life and it doesn’t matter how long that when a life is lost, there is this intense feeling of sorrow and an overwelming urge to try to change something. In my case, it also brings tears even in the case of a cold-blooded fish that at no time had ever had any form of affection toward me. And yet, at the time of parting all of our compassion comes to the front and we find ourselves grieving.
I have lost animals to cars and traffic on my street, I have lost cats to coyotes, I had to have a horse put to sleep because of his inability to walk and another after having been bit by a rattlesnake, I have had dogs put to sleep because of old age or illness, I have lost animals in the operating room or in post surgery and for all of them I have grieved and shed tears. It is not easy at the time and doesn’t get any easier with each passing loss. By the way, except for the horse, all of these animals have a final resting place in my yard. I would have buried the horse as well except I couldn’t dig a hole deep enough in this rock.
Currently, I have five dogs and two cats. I used to have seven dogs and three cats but one dog had to be put down for old age, Sandy whose story is below and the other who had been with me for fifteen years, Manley, died in my arms of a heart attack. One of the cats, a big old fat cat was attacked by the dogs just after I brought a new dog into the group and subsequently died post surgery. One of the remaining cats is tail less for the same reason. Needless to say, the cats are shut into their own room when I am out of the house. What is really strange is that they all get on so well when I am at home. They even sleep side by side on the couch. They may be OK being left together as it has been at least two years since the last incident but it is better to be safe than sorry so I lock the cats up.
I used to have a whole family of Cocker Spaniels, a mother and her three daughters. These were the product of a controlled breeding with the view that all of the puppies except one would be sold or at least a new forever home found for them. The mother whose name was Samantha had a litter of six, three of which were subsequently sold. My wife at that time, fell in love with the remaining three and suddenly our family of dogs had grown from one to four. In order of size, these were named Fats for the biggest, Whiskey for the middle one and Henri for the smallest who was also the runt of the litter.
Of this group, Fats was the undoubted Alpha but the other two for their entire lives, could not figure out who was number two and number three. They all eventually went blind with the exception of Whiskey but it did not stop them from bombing around the yard and on the deck. They actually did pretty good job of getting around. One day I went out and gave everyone a cookie as I did before I left for work in the mornings. Everyone except Whiskey ate it as per normal. She pushed hers around and wagged her tail at me. What I didn’t know was this was the last tail wag that dog would ever give me. When I came home that evening, she had died exactly where I left her in the morning. About six weeks before, I had discovered a large growth under her chin. Subsequent surgery revealed cancer and I assumed that from this she died even though she made a good recovery from the surgery.
Henri who had now lost her scrapping buddy and sparring partner, you would have thought would have claimed her spot as number two dog. But, Henri lasted two weeks and I came home to find she had died. I could see nothing to indicate a problem and I firmly believe that Henri had died of a broken heart after losing her buddy, Whiskey.
Fats lasted a few months longer and went down fast. I had to have her put to sleep. Finally their mother Samantha, who had become famous in the Men’s Soccer crowd for her ability to consume vast amounts of beer, finally died in the garden.
So my family of four dogs were all gone within a twelve month period. Samantha was eighteen years old and the others, her babies were all sixteen.
All in all, it was a sad year for me as by this time, my wife had already left for greener pastures and I had no one to share the sorrow with.
Normally, when the fish die which they do at frequent intervals for various and different reasons, I am not usually affected and dig them out and usually dispose of them by tossing them over the fence to be re-cycled by other critters that are in need of nourishment. That is the way of life. Someone or something dies and life goes on for the rest. This is true both in the animal and human world. Our level of grief may be more for one or the other depending on the individual but the only constant is that life goes on.
I used to drive the same way every day to work at the University. One day, I noticed this big old mix breed dog standing by the side of the road. She wouldn’t come to me but I had my lunch in the car and left it for her. The next morning, I was more prepared and had dog food with me just in case she was still around. Sure enough, she was and came to me but not close enough to be caught. She looked very pregnant and that evening, when I came home and stopped she had a litter of four under a small bush on the side of the road. She still didn’t let me get close and so we went on like this for two weeks. In the mean time, she had moved her puppies to a safer place.
One day something came up and I was not able to feed her but when I stopped the next day, she came running up to me and when I opened the door, jumped into the Van. I quickly rescued her four puppies and took them all home to the pen that Zippo, my horse that was already in Horse Heaven, used to use. I managed to find homes for two of them and ended up with the mother and the brother and sister.
Subsequently, the brother died on the operating table of sheer fright triggered by getting Heartworm probably from his stay in the open. The mother, Sandy lived out her life with us for the next couple of years before I had to have her put to sleep. Her remaining daughter, Danielle or Danny for short is still a very active member of this five dog household.
I suppose, the reality is that these may well be the last animals that I have to share my life. The oldest a small dachshund, BeBe short for Beatrice, is now thirteen and very active, the youngest, another mid-sized dachshund, Richie is around five years old and is a real tearaway, in between are two others, Abigail, a standard dachshund who is a couch potato and Mini a Scottie of the same age, about eight that also likes to sleep a lot. Then there is Danny who is probably ten or eleven years old. Danny is a big ole hairy mixed breed, the others are all small.
I am seventy-five and in good health. I would like to think that I will out live all of my pets but I have no way of knowing. The beauty of having multiple pets is that the grief is so much less because the rest of them won’t let you dwell on the loss. Except for Henri and Whiskey, they barely notice that they are one less.
Bottom line is that this is what makes us human. Our ability to feel, our use of our senses, happiness and sorrow are what keep us apart from the animals we love and care about.
But I will still grieve and feel the pain…