For Linda, and her Heidi
“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude,
then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
~ James Herriot
With the exception of my years away at college, and the first month living on my own, I have always shared my home with pets. Dogs and cats, and one gerbil. All of my pets have been long-lived (except the poor gerbil), and I think they were, and are, all happy lives. I know my own life has been forever changed by the animals who have been such an integral part of my time on this earth. They are special. They are family.
All our pets have been healthy, with just a few unscheduled vet visits here and there for various minor illnesses; occasionally something more serious. Our two previous cats, Merlyn and Tully, lived to be 19 and 10 respectively. Both developed kidney disease in their later lives; the 19-year-old better able to cope with the disease physically and mentally than the 10-year-old eventually did. We treated each of them to keep them comfortable and maintain a good quality of life. When it was time to let them go, they did indeed let me know, and our blessed, compassionate veterinarian came to our home to help them gently go, comfortably and peacefully.
“Animals have a much better attitude to life and death than we do. They know when their time has come. We are the ones that suffer when they pass,but it’s a healing kind of grief that enables us to deal with other griefs…”
~ Emmylou Harris
It’s something of a shock to find the years have gone by swiftly, and I find we have “senior” pets living in our home again. Everyone is healthy for their ages, and living their lives happily. But once in a while, I’ll see a little more gray on a muzzle; a little bit slower step; a little hesitation before jumping up on the stool beside me as I write. And I know the time will be coming again to say “goodbye”, and always sooner than I am ready to deal with.
But I’ve just returned from a semi-emergency trip to the vet with Murph, and those thoughts are making my heart ache.
We’d been visiting my Dad on the Gulf shore for a week, and our regular trusted cat sitters had been taking care of the kitty-kids (our dog goes to Puppy-Camp, aka, the kennel). The evening we’d returned, Murphy seemed out of sorts, but I chalked it up to him being miffed we’d left for a week. The next morning, however, I knew something was wrong: he kept shaking his head, somewhat violently at times. And the sneezing fits! At one point he lost his balance and had to sit down abruptly. Then the indignity of having kitty snot on his whiskers and bib was just too much, and he ran and hid in the bedroom closet. When he finally did settle to sleep for a bit, he wanted to be under the covers (unheard of for Murph) and wanted my hand to cradle his head. Once he fell asleep, albeit fitfully, I used my other hand to reach for my phone and called the vet.
“Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation andresponsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.”
~ James Cromwell
Because he is a “senior” kitty now, our vet wanted to do some blood work to rule out some of the nastier possibilities, and because I worked at a vet’s office once upon a time and saw some of those nasties, I concurred. Fortunately for us, it is “just” an upper respiratory infection. A shot of antibiotics, some IV fluid, and now home to rest. Murphy is sleeping peacefully on the living room sofa — his “lookout” to keep tabs on the rest of the family. I am grateful. And I am sad.
I know it is greedy of me to want them here with me forever. I know it’s not realistic. I am most afraid I’ll cross the line between helping them living comfortably and forcing them to stay past time for them to have gained their rest… but I won’t. I can’t. And I will be there at the end, telling them it’s ok to go, and holding them long past when their mighty hearts stop beating. And I will cry. I will mourn. And my heart will break into a million pieces, and yet somehow still so full of the love they gave me unconditionally. And I will be a better person for having them share my life. My precious pets have been with me through all the chapters of my life; good and bad, awesome and horrible, and everyday. They keep on loving me EVERY DAY.
We have always adopted from shelters, and I don’t ever see that changing. And one day, I won’t feel the grief to be so stifling. And I will eventually feel that “tug” on my heart that leads me to one of the animal shelters our community supports. And I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be a furry someone who looks at me and says “There you are! I’ve been waiting for you. Let’s go home!”
“It’s difficult to understand why people don’t realize that pets are gifts to mankind.”
~ Linda Blair
Until then — and ever after — I will love and cherish our furry family here with us now. I will embrace their aging with as much grace as I can, knowing we outlive these marvelous creatures only because they come into this world already knowing how to love unconditionally, and that’s what they are here to teach us. Everyday. If we would just watch and listen and learn.
“…I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me…”
~ Betty White