Pets I Have Loved
The very first pet I can remember having was a dog. Her name was Lily and she had beautiful long black hair. I was only a kid, and no one ever ‘identified’ her to me as any particular kind of a dog. She wasn’t allowed in the house and was kept on a chain out by the garage. In retrospect, I don’t recall that she even had any kind of shelter. My sister and I loved her very much. One day someone stole her. It had to have been very easy. We were heartbroken.
After that a variety of pets came in and out of our lives. My sister didn’t have too much of an interest in them, but I always enjoyed them and took care of them: hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, the occasional rabbit, anything that could live in cage. As the family grew, though, stray cats got to be the order of the day. They’d wander in and out and get fed on the porch. Anything else was too much trouble what with 11 children in the family.
When I married, my husband and I entertained a rather large lizard for a while but traded it in for a Saint Bernard puppy because when you are living in a 3rd floor walk-up what you need is a gigantic dog, right? Then I got pregnant. Then we got our own house. Then we got a Husky because… I have no idea what we were thinking.
So, there we are, in a couple of years, with two small kids and two decently sized dogs and my husband comes home from work one day with a dying Irish Setter that he’d found by the side of the road. He’d stopped at a veterinarian’s office on the way home and had arrived with orders for the setters care which meant, essentially, “This is what you have to do to save this dog, because, after all, I have to go to work.”
I took good and constant care of the dog, and he became devoted to me in a way that no other creature, including that husband and my next one, ever did. That Irish Setter loved me. He would have killed someone — or tried to — if he’d felt he needed to save me. Even the Avon lady was highly suspect as far as he was concerned. He and the husky and the Saint got along very well and I got very used to being with dogs and I found them to be, for whatever reason, more emotionally rewarding than the cats I’d known, fond as I had been of them.
The dogs seemed to sense my state of mind with incredible accuracy and seemed to “offer” themselves as a source of comfort in a way that the cats I’d known never had. Not that the cats didn’t climb up into my lap from time to time, but it always seemed to me to be their decision and their need that directed them there. I never knew them to ‘sense’ that something was off with me or got the impression that they were comforting me. Maybe they were and I just didn’t get it… perhaps their subtle ways were lost on me. The dogs were never subtle.
When I met my current husband he had two cats, both of which had sort of claimed him — and his house — after he began feeding them on the kitchen porch. One of them was about as aloof as a creature can be; she tolerated everyone. The other — he seemed to be her brother — was far more sociable in the way that cats are sociable which always seems as if it’s on ‘their terms.’ I liked him a lot. More than any cat I’d ever known. When he became old and began dying he still hung out with us, unlike his sister who’d simply, slowly, and elegantly strode up the hill into the woods to disappear forever. It was perhaps the most moving approach to death that I have ever seen. We’d never been close, she’d never have allowed that, but, in that moment,… I was in absolute awe of her composure. I hope that I will approach my own death in the same manner when that time comes.
Her brother, though, as he approached death, which was not long after hers, he did everything he could not to go. For days I held him in my arms like a baby and walked him around the house. He’d stopped eating and was drinking very little and finally, on my daughter’s advice — “He’s only staying for you,” she’d said, “You have to take him to the vet so he can put him to sleep.”
I realized that she was right. I had become so attached to him that I was thinking more about me and my sadness than about him. I did as I was told and when the Vet shaved a spot on his belly so that he could properly place the injection, he gasped aloud and looked up at us, “I don’t know how this animal is alive,” he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
I felt ashamed that I might have prolonged his pain because of my selfishness at wanting him to stay, that perhaps he had felt my sorrow so acutely. He loved me like a dog. Nothing aloof about that cat. I miss him still. We’re in our 70’s now… and my husband feels as if we are better off without taking on another pet but I am not so secretly hoping that one will show up on the porch, just as Nipper and his sister did… y’never know. Fingers kinds crossed…