My dearest friend’s dog died yesterday. A loving dog, she had a productive, family oriented support role in their lives across 14 years, numerous house moves, hot summers and freezing winters, beach and mountains.
After multiple surgical procedures to remove enormous cancers, she had finally come to the end of the road, and will be buried in the garden of their home in Canberra.
Not unnaturally, it made me think of my own family’s history with pets, a history I am sure is echoed in many of your lives. It occurred to me immediately as I went for my morning walk today that the deaths of our family pets were by no means all tragic!
So to lighten the sadness of death, let me describe a few to you. The following example may leave you a tad nauseated, but bear with me, please.
I have four grown up children so of course we went through the whole repertoire, from guinea pigs to horses, and the death of Olive the Guinea Pig rates as a family legend.
Olive died. End of story? Well no. We lived in a very rocky area so the burial was tricky, and despite digging a grave and overlaying Olive with rocks, I looked out the window to see my dog, Clarrie, racing around the house. Yes, with something in his mouth.
Now a week had passed since the burial so Olive wasn’t in great shape, believe me. Around and around the house she went, firmly clutched in Clarrie’s mouth, until little remained of the poor little mite. I thought the episode was over, but Clarrie’s evening vomit of partially decayed guinea pig on our lounge room floor put paid to that theory! Luckily the floor was wooden, and I had a wonderful, strong stomach-ed husband to clean up the putrid mess. I was a nurse in a former life, and have a strong stomach but there was nothing like this stench, I assure you. We never told the children.
Then there was the rabbit, who was not a well bunny. At my daughter’s insistence I took her to the vet, who seriously and solicitously advised that the rabbit needed to have a gentle end. Now. He and I stood by and gently, reverently, did the deed, and bunny was wrapped in a nice cloth ready for burial. At someone else’s house!! I found an excuse to use a different graveyard this time for reasons elicited above! As we walked out, my eye caught that of the vet, and our seriousness was replaced by a barely concealed giggle at our careful respect for child and rabbit. The child didn’t notice, thank goodness.
But sweetest of all was an earlier guinea pig death, this time in much better burial conditions in Canberra. The four children, all under ten at the time, gathered around G.P.’s burial mound and sang the only hymn they knew. Away in a Manger. An endearing moment, to be sure.
Twenty years later, I miss the pets. Particularly the dogs, but also the cat, Yowie, who was just never a problem. No matter what we threw at her, house moves, changes of custodian, whatever, she lived a steady, wise life, and even in death waited till the family were all away and lay down under a tree.
It is possibly not the best time for me to get another pet, as my housing is unstable, and I am not sure I want to take on the requisite fifteen years or so of commitment, but what a huge place they have in our lives. Instead, at present I housesit and enjoy the animals in my care. It is a bit like having grandchildren… we can give them back to their owners.
Photo: Chriss Pagani