Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – February 8, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – February 8, 2004 – I have loved animals since childhood. My earliest memory of having my ‘very own’ pet was a kitten named Mickey. I was three years old to Mickey’s 2 months. We should have grown up together, but it wasn’t to be.
My father accidentally ran over Mickey with his car when my kitten was about 6 months old. We had a proper burial and Mickey went to heaven. I was sure of this because I had a very long and serious talk with my mother about the fact that Mickey had always been a very good kitty, and deserved to be with God. My Mother assured me it was so.
A few weeks later when my Dad came home from work one night, he knelt down beside me and told me to look in his inner coat pocket. Snuggled against his chest was a beautiful calico kitten. She was for me. I called her Muffet. Over her long life – Muffet was fondly known as Grandma. She stoically shepherded her many charges – from hamsters to puppies, kittens, stray cats and dogs to pigeons and even a few of my wayward friends – over many years . Muffet lived for twenty-three years and when she was ready to die, she simply climbed up onto a stump in my parent’s back yard and fell asleep in the sunshine. Hers was a full life, well lived.
When I was about ten, my friend Don and I rescued a black lab from a sad, lonely life chained up as a gas station dog and Bomber moved from Toronto to Owen Sound with my family. She ran freely as most country dogs did at the time, and lost her life on the highway in front of our home. Bomber died when I was at a Saturday afternoon movie with friends, and my Father buried her before I got home.
I had no chance to say goodbye to her and that bothered me for a long time. I knew she was dead but I hadn’t had a chance for a final farewell, or to tell her how much I loved her. The ritual of her departure from my life was missing. Many people say to a child – “It was only a dog”. Fortunately my parents taught my brothers and me that pets were an integral part of our family, and were to be cared for and loved.
When I was in my late twenties I got a Doberman puppy and named her Majara. She was an elegant, beautiful, funny creature and I adored her. She was my stalwart friend during a very painful time in my life, and had an uncanny way of knowing when to sit silently beside me to comfort my sadness. When she was eight years old she got lymphoma. I took her to a specialist at the University of Guelph and he put her on a schedule of chemotherapy. He told me very emphatically that it would not cure her, but it would give her three or four more months of really good life.
He said I would know when it was time to let her go and he was right. In the time we had left together, we took long walks in the sunshine, and she had her favourite treats every day. I snuggled with her on the sofa in the den when I watched television or listened to music. One night when I was sleeping she came to the side of my bed and nudged me awake with her nose. I got up and followed her into the den. She was limping badly and one of her back legs was swollen to twice its normal size. I bundled her up onto the couch and lay down beside her. I fell asleep listening to her sure, even breathing.
In the morning I called Jane, the vet who was looking after her at the time. She came over about eleven o’clock in the morning and we carried Majara downstairs to the kitchen, and put her on her favourite blanket. I gave her a treat and she tried valiantly to eat it, but little bits of the cookie fell out of her mouth onto the floor. She was tired. She had stopped fighting. She was ready to go, and I needed to give her the gift of my help, as a last act of kindness.
Jane prepared the syringes and gave Majara the first injection which simply relaxed her body. I lay down on the floor beside her. She looked in my eyes, stretched out her soft nose and licked my hand. I looked up at Jane and nodded. I hugged Majara close to me, my ear against her side. I could hear her heart beating its strong, steady rhythm. As the second injection took effect, her heart beat slowed and finally gave a soft flutter. She sighed and I heard her final heart beat. I held her warm body as her life slipped silently away. Sharing the surrender of her soul remains one of the most sacred moments of my life. I had Majara cremated and her ashes are with me. Her short time on earth was a gift to me, and I owed it to her to have her resting place one of dignity.
A year later I brought Boadicea home – a plucky British Bull Terrier puppy. She quickly became known as Boadi, and she graced my life for fourteen years as a loving and loyal companion. I lost her to liver disease in 1999, and I was with her when she drew her last breath. Animals know when they are going to die. Some primal instinct tells them. Boadi, like Majara licked my hand, just before she died, as if to tell me it was okay to let her go. A last loving touch. Boadi’s ashes came home a week afer she died, and when I’m cremated I’ll have my ashes scattered to the four winds along with those of my precious dogs.
Pets give us their unconditional devotion, loyalty, strength, love and friendship. On occasion they give their lives for us. We owe it to them to be with them when they die and to ensure that their passing from us happens with kindness and dignity. Don’t think of yourself when it’s time to let a pet go – think of them.
Never leave them with a stranger in a sterile examination room while you rush out in tears. They understand sadness and fear too, so stay with them. It will make you a better person and I’m convinced it’s one of the questions God will ask you when you arrive at The Pearly Gates. I know that I will walk this path again with Augie and Ziggy – and as their caretaker and friend – I will be honoured to play my part.