Pets teach us about death.
Death was once so common from contagious illnesses and the takings of war. But medicine has made disease a weak master and technology has made war such a horrible one we have to avoid it at all costs.
So in my life, death has become something that seems to trouble only the very old and people with terrible luck. No one close to my children or me has died.
But we’ve lost pets.
This week we buried the ashes of our small dog Marbles next to a foot-tall flat-topped wall that he used to walk on. He’d trot the length of it, looking at the patio below and our garden next to the wall. It seemed like a peaceful exercise for him and I can look outside and imagine his spirit doing it now.
I won’t say how Marbles died, but it was unexpected and terrible and I blame myself for what happened. We don’t know how old Marbles was because we got him from a Shih Tzu rescue agency, and they didn’t know either. But we do know — maybe it’s ironic — that he got two extra chances at life.
Before we adopted him we were told he had a huge bladder stone that was life-threatening and the rescue group gave him surgery to remove it. We had had him for about two years when the same thing happened again. We didn’t know how to prevent it so we didn’t see it coming.
We were prepared to put him down, given how expensive the surgery would be, but we called the rescue group and they said no… they would find a vet to do it cheaply. They did. He recovered. And we got to keep him. We learned how to regulate his diet and prevent it from happening again soon. He seemed to be doing fine for a while. But then he died.
We keep chickens and I remember one time we had two baby chicks. Sophie and a friend (they were little girls then) decided they should give them a bath, but by doing it they drowned them. That night we took them out to the garden for a burial as Sophie and Nicholas wept.
We had a young cat named Molly who was one of our cat Maya’s kittens. One night she got out and never returned. Nicholas insisted we print up fliers with our phone number and photo of Molly and post them on telephone poles around the neighborhood. We did, but I’d seen those kinds of fliers before. There are coyotes in the area and the fliers usually meant someone’s cat had become their prey.
We must embrace death as part of life. Today in California we have right-to-die laws that are supposed to make death more pleasant. People whose lives are full of choices think it’s only logical they should also be allowed to choose how they’ll die. Though I must embrace death I will not choose it. I only pray that death comes to me before it comes to my children.