All Creatures Great and Small

 

“He prayeth best who loveth best, all things great and small.

For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.”   Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

A guest blog, tonight, from my friend Jackie Widen.

 

I find I really don’t like people who don’t love animals.  There, I said it.

 

I find it very odd and strange that the bonds we share with animals; whether they be furry or feathered, do not far out-weigh all the inconveniences (and yes, destruction) that our pets bring to our lives.

 

When I moved to Northern California in 2001 my fiancée was flabbergasted that I was spending $2,300 to ship my 12 year old mutt Lady, our 8 year old orange tabby cat Leo, and a calico-stray-who-adopted-us kitty we named Amigo until we found out that Amigo was really an Amiga, but Amigo still stuck.  The thrifty accountant such as he was proclaimed that we could have bought “all new” pets for that price.  I looked at him in amazement:  you have never truly loved a pet have you?  He admitted that despite owning many pets he had never loved one of them.  Well, I said, that is going to change.

 

The animals were picked up by a courier at my home in Houston in their brand new carriers, flown at night to San Francisco (this was summertime and it was deemed too hot to fly during the day) and then transported by a hired driver from the Cargo area at SFO to our home 60 miles North.  I admit, the last part involving a hired driver was a bit excessive – but for $100 it sounded cheap compared to the other costs of my move; and besides, the 4+ hour drive round trip to San Francisco was not appealing.

 

So the trio arrived safe and sound and settled in.  The dog and orange tabby immediately claimed the new couch.  Amigo claimed my soon-to-be husband.  He was a goner as soon as the routine was established every night when he arrived home from work.  Amigo would meet him in the kitchen, and lead him to his chair where he would sit down and she would curl up in his lap.  He was enchanted.  And he “thought” he didn’t like cats.  I explained that the only people who didn’t like cats were those who hadn’t fallen in love with one yet.

 

Once we had some dinner guests; the wife was preoccupied during the evening playing with our two kitties.  Oh I love cats, she declared.  Really? I said, do you have any?  Oh no, she said, I couldn’t own one.  Why not? I was puzzled.  Because, she explained, if I owned one and it died I would not be able to handle the grief, so I have never wanted to have one of my own.   That conversation has bothered me and comforted me over the years since because there were certain truths behind it – logical reasoning – but the variable in that conclusion is that the love you feel for that animal sustains you after they are gone.

 

These three pets eventually came to the end of their days.  To that Rainbow Bridge as some call it.   For Lady, she had a series of old age maladies — she was 17 - and she struggled to do ordinary things.   I felt hollow as I sat there in the vet’s office when they gave her that final “pink” shot.  But what a good life she’d had; what fun times we enjoyed and what milestones she marked while my 4 children grew up.  More hound than Lab which the Pound had described, she was nevertheless a part of our family until the end.

 

Amigo would love and love until the cancer she fought was just too much to bear.   My husband was the most torn apart by her decline as her need to curl up on his lap was more to keep warm as she had lost most of her weight fighting the disease and it must have felt nice to be snuggled every evening.  When I called him from the Vet to let him know the “pink” shot  had been our only alternative he wept on the phone.   As devastated as I felt there was a piece of joy within because he finally understood the bond of a beloved animal.

 

Leo had the best cat life, ever.  In 2008 he rode in our car back to Texas.   What an experience!  After living 8 years in Sonoma County, roaming in our vineyard and laying in the vines, he was back to where he started.  He did have a couple of good years.  But then he too reached the end of his rich life and became very sick.  I took him into our Vet who was a very nice young woman, fresh out of Vet School.  She babbled on and on about maybe doing exploratory ultra-sounds to examine the mass in his abdomen that had prompted his weight loss and lack of activity.  Maybe we could do this, or maybe we could have a consult with a Cancer specialist.  I looked at this woman with tears in my eyes and asked “This cat is 16 years old, he has cancer, and he is sick.  If this cat was your cat, what would YOU do?”  She paused and answered “I would put him down”.  I told her that honestly that is the answer most pet owners want to hear – the truth – because making that decision is so hard, and it would be nice to hear the Truth.  She agreed.

 

Later the next year when I brought in some foster kittens that we had found, I talked to her again.  She admitted that she remembered our conversation quite well and it helped her to counsel her pet-owners better.  False hope is useless – and expensive.

 

About a year after Leo passed away I was ready for a new animal.  It was time.  On a cold Sunday in December, my birthday actually, I dragged my husband to an Adoption Event.  I had decided I wanted a Lab.  What God picked for me, instead, was a black Belgian Shepherd who was christened Zoey.  She is the love of our lives.  It is a remarkable thing,  this loving animals.  The colors of life seem richer.

 

So for all of those folks who have avoided the expense, the inconvenience, the mess, the destruction, the fur on the baseboards and poop and puk on the carpets, for all of those awful things that come along with the joy of owning a beloved animal, I say too bad for you.  I’ll take the chaos anytime.  How lucky for us.

7 thoughts on “All Creatures Great and Small

  1. So true!! I have owned many dogs & cats in my 66 years. Currently, my husband & I ave a rescue dog, Ginger (10 yr old), a rescue cat, Sundae (9 yr old), a Nanday Conure, Freckles (4 yr old), a parakeet, Pete (11 yr old) & an iguana, EZ (3 yr old). My carpets need to be vacuumed & shampood often; there are feathers occasionally flying around but their is much love & joy in our home from all these creatures.

    My husband’s parents both passed away from cancer a few years ago, within 4 years of each other. When he talks about them, he is very stoic. Ten years ago, his dog died. Whenever he talks about that dog, there are still tears in his eyes. Animals give us perfect love, expecting nothing in return. I feel sorry for anyone who lives their life without the love of a pet. I really love that husband, too. :-)

  2. I want to touch on three things here:

    1. Having animals in our lives gives us structure (in caring for and exercising them) and often unconditional love as well. Both vitally important in our more and more unconnected world.

    2. I have to really restrain myself when I hear people make statements about how they could never have a pet, or another pet, because it is so painful when they die. I am admittedly judgmental about those comments. Death and loss are, for better or worse, a normal part of life. When we insulate ourselves against risk we are often denying ourselves the experience of joy. (This is true for relationships with people as well as with animals.)

    3. As a veterinarian I feel that it is my obligation at times to gently raise the option of euthanasia. Clients are very often considering it and are just unable to bring it up themselves. When I speak about it that gives us permission to talk about it in an open and caring way.

    • I appreciate your professional perspective; too often we are so preoccupied with prolonging life for selfish reasons we don’t want to acknowledge their suffering. Their eyes tell us what we need to know – whether we want to see it or not.

  3. Terrific blog. I echo what Margaret said. We must be the ones to bring up this option as well as the others. Losing a beloved animal never becomes easy, but the joy experienced while living with them is what makes it all so worth while.

    • Thank you. This past year has been challenging for me and my family; having a loving animal has helped…. Often our daily walks included some good crying spells!

  4. I’m sniffing away the wet in my eyes, right now. You’re too right. “The colors of life seem richer.” So true. I’m glad your hubby opened his heart to your Amigo. It’s so hard when they go.

    My old orange tabby wheezes heavily and reliably pukes. I took him to a vet but after 2 x-rays, 2 blood tests, and $400 there was no definitive answer. Next step would be a sonogram, a trip to a facility that offers it, etc. I decided it was too much stress for him (and me). He’s still lording around, for better or worse, antagozing the dogs, letting me know when he’s pissed, and when he wants the affection I love to give him.

    I once had a blind date with a man who told me turtles felt no pain when cut. Total turn-off, whether it’s true or not.

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