Monday, 23 May 2011

saying goodbye to a pet

Why is it that when a pet dies, it can just break your heart?

I wouldn't even call myself a huge dog or cat lover, but I've shed countless tears over close pets. Even as I remember their names, their cute little faces flash in front of me: Sarge. Prince. Rutherford. Dexter. Carlo. All loyal, wonderful dogs, quirky in their own ways.

Each represents a period of my life, and the memories attached.

Carlo died last week - my parents' farm dog. He lived a good life, and survived several near-death experiences. We had cried and said goodbye to him before. But last week was a surprise.

It was heartbreaking to tell my daughters; their sorrow was so raw.

Carlo was a one-eyed dog - the eye was lost in a scrap with a protective farm cat when he was young. When my parents saw his one pleading, kind eye, they knew he was the one for them.

My daughters learned a lot from this one-eyed wonder. He was always so gentle with them, and so happy to see them. Carlo taught them playfulness, gentleness, and a love for God's creatures. His excited tail wagged right into them as little toddlers, sometimes knocking them right over because of his one-eyed periferal vision.

There was Bandit, the raccoon we kept in the barn for a summer (but in our memories it's much longer) who nibbled on strawberries right out of our hands, slid down the slide with us, followed us around the yard right at our heels, and climbed up onto my Dad's shoulders.

And Mrs. Boots, the cat whose water broke all over my bed quilt one afternoon, just before she gave birth to a litter of kittens. She was the only farm cat ever allowed in the house, and she saved those kittens from an awful storm by scratching on the screen door and meowing to be let in.

We've sheltered our daughters from the heartache of losing a pet by refusing to own one - until this past Christmas. Then a little guinea pig came home with us from the animal shelter, and she's since been wiggling and squeaking her way into our hearts.

And you? What pets have you loved and lost? How did you say goodbye?


  1. Poor Carlo! Of course I always felt affection for him because we also had a dog with a disability. Sam felt compelled, when he was two or three, to stick his leg in the leafblower. I'll never forget that phone call from Michael, who was alone at home for the weekend. "He's going to be ok," he said, trying to be composed, "but he'll look a bit different." It was amazing how quickly he adjusted to his limp and how he bounded three-legged through our bush pretty much the same as before. And I'll also never forget how he followed Allan and I on a run, twelve years old, all the way to the Conestoga Highway before we noticed him. Who is this guy she's leaving with, he was thinking. Allan ran home to get the car and I stayed with him, tongue-out panting at the side of the road. He was so proud of himself.

  2. If you go to the Shiloh schoolhouse in Eramosa township, you will find a whole graveyard of guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils. Little wooden crosses and circles of pebbles placed by loving children. I think the whole "circle of life" lesson, although difficult, is really important for children and having a pet is a beautiful way to learn it because they get so much more out of a pet, too. I think the hardest one for me was the dog (many of you will remember Waggs) I never got to say goodbye to. When we moved from Eramosa into Fergus, he disappeared. I still wonder today where he went, if he died a painful or lonely death, or if he was adopted by another loving family, if that family loved and cared for him as much as we did. The "saying goodbye" part is so important...

  3. Oh Sam... he was a good dog too. I can just picture him with you on that run, determined to watch over you.

    And Waggs - what a sad story. We'll have to check out that Shiloh schoolhouse - I've never heard of it. That'd be an interesting little day trip. Saying goodbye is important, but hard to watch their little hearts hurt.

  4. The Shiloh schoolhouse was my family home from age 2 to 14. Beautiful memories :-)
    I don't think you can visit it because it is privately owned, but it certainly is a beautiful drive. There is also Shiloh Ranch down the road, and at one point (um, I guess that would be almost 20 years ago now...) you could go horseback riding there.

  5. I had an experience like Waggs with my beloved cat Winnifred -- she disappeared shortly after I went away to university. My mom let her out one day, and she never came back. It was so hard not knowing whether she'd been hit by a car, taken in by someone else, or just what had happened.

    We'll soon experience loss with our kids -- our cat Petra is 18, has lost many of her teeth, is losing her hearing and I think some of her vision as well, and has started to walk as though she has arthritis in her hips. I wonder whether it will be a peaceful passage.

  6. So sad about Winnifred! What a great cat name too!

    And Petra - what a survivor. It's hard to think about saying goodbye to these little creatures who are so much a part of the family.

    The hard thing about this post is that it's making me think we should get MORE pets! Oh no.

  7. Hi Rebecca,

    Can you tell I'm moving backward in time through your blog posts? I'm enjoying it very much.

    I was always the kid that brought the animals home to my suburban family home. Because of me, we had a cat, a dog, and numerous guinea pigs and gerbils. I have continued that in adulthood, much to the dismay of my farm-raised husband, who was taught that animals belong outside.

    It is so hard to say goodbye to them when they go. We lost a sixteen-year-old diabetic, tinsel-eating, stubby-tail-wagging cat this spring. It never gets easier, but I say it's worth it. They add so much to our lives, and teach wonderful lessons to children and adults alike. My father, however, has disallowed them in his home, specifically because of how sad he was when our family cat died (yes, the one I brought home).

    One of my kids was having a difficult time during childhood, and we got her a guineau pig, Abber, that she loved with all her heart and confided in daily. She was incredibly traumatized when it died suddenly, and today does not remember ever having it. Was this experience good for her?

    And like Mara, we have a family pet burial ground out in the woods behind my parents' house.

    As adults, all of our kids either have pets or plan to once their living situation allows it, so I have to lean towards emphasizing the positive aspects of the pet-person relationship. I think it's that unconditional love thing that animals do so much better than people.

  8. Beth - I agree about the unconditional love that pets offer. They do add a lot to our lives. Sorry to hear about your cat. Sounds like quite a character.