We all know that cats don’t really have nine lives. If they did there’d be a lot of much happier feline lovers about, my best girl-friend, Sarah, for one. And dogs? Well, they’re better known for their loyalty during the one life than their cunning at extending their presence on the physical plane to eight more, fabled or otherwise. But how do we, who are almost inevitably bound to outlive our animals, barring unnatural demise, cope with the phenomenon of loss as they get old. I find that the older they get, the more I think of how my life will be diminished without my two delightful Westies, Pippin & Merlin (that’s them in the picture above when they were only the doggie equivalent of teenagers). I have to put the thought out of my mind because it’s really quite disturbing.
I didn’t talk about this to start with. Well, you don’t do you. It’s not like you can just throw the question “and how are all of you lovely people coping with the question of your pets’ mortality?” into the queue of waiting customers at the checkout while you’re in Sainsbury’s, is it! For one thing they’d probably all ignore the nutter asking it and find some urgent email on their smart phones in need of an immediate reply. For another, you don’t want to force them to realise this phenomenon any quicker than they have to. Gradually I began to voice my feelings though. First to Sarah, who looked at it quite philosophically, though with her usual kindly empathy, and it wasn’t until she’d had the misfortune to lose Hector (that’s him in the picture directly below), the younger of her two cats, that I saw just what losing a much-loved pet can do to someone.
It’s a strange thing, pet mortality. If your spouse, a sibling, or a friend dies, you have full and authorised recourse to the whole grieving process. In fact, it’s expected! Maybe not to the Victorian extent of wearing mourning weeds for a whole year, but allowances are made for someone suffering such a human loss. When it’s a pet you’ve lost, only other animal lovers and owners can possibly understand the depth of sorrow and pain that the loss can plummet you into. Everybody just seems to expect you to get on with life without ever a backward glance. Of course, each person’s emotions are triggered uniquely, as are our responses to events, but amongst those who are not animal lovers there really isn’t a lot of compassion out there for people who are grieving for animals rather than humans. It’s as if they’re thinking “well, it’s only an animal”.
Then there’s the question of whether or not to get another pet. You miss the pet who’s recently gone, and the house is so cold and unwelcoming to come home to now that they’re not in it any more, but can you put yourself through all that again and again? Can you get another pet to replace the one you’ve lost without feeling the most awful guilt at doing so? My oldest son, Jay, and his fiancée, Kirstie, have two German Shepherds: Kiera, who’s a very elegant old lady, and Mr Higgins, who’s not yet 3 years old (people years, that is!). Having two pets, whose ages are staggered in this way has its advantages: it takes the pressure off in regard to the question of whether to get another pet, as there’s always one that’s still there after the other one has worn out the natural leash of its life, so it’s not quite so lonely; and older pets are priceless when it comes to teaching new baby ones the household rules.
But it can also open the door to another more supernatural circumstance: Kirstie asked me one day if I thought the unexplained phenomena they had been experiencing in the house since they’d brought the puppy home could be due to their fairly recently deceased dog, Jerry-Lee, raising his own objections to this new arrangement. I get asked questions like this all the time, on account of being alternatively spiritually-minded and trained as a medium. My answer was that if these noises and pictures falling off walls (yes, they were pictures of Jerry-Lee!) was indeed him, it would be in the spirit of welcome, not in outrage. They haven’t had any re-occurrences of an eerie nature since, but I believe that it’s as much to do with them accepting that they’re allowed to have the new pup, as it is that the spirit of Jerry-Lee is happy for them too.
From left to right: Jerry-Lee (RIP); Kiera (RIP 16-07-14) curled up on the couch; and Mr Higgins taking Kirstie & my grand-daughter, Catie, for a walk with him in the forest (he’s still a pup in this one, too!)
As humans, we experience something that animals aren’t programmed with: guilt! In fact, we’re programmed to feel it at just about every point in our lives, and it’s all too easy to project the emotions we feel onto the animals we live with. They do, after all, soak them up like little sponges and become like mini-me’s, so I think it’s important to remember that we’re the ones who carry the guilt, it isn’t reflected back on us from our animals, alive or otherwise. (I think I’m right in saying that we are the only species with the capacity for experiencing guilt. Please leave a comment and correct me if I’m not.) We shouldn’t give ourselves a hard time over getting another pet because we feel guilty for replacing the one that’s recently gone, we should instead bless the new additions and just love them, unconditionally, the way they love us.
My best man-friend, Simon, has two lovely cats. But not so very many years ago, I remember him being terribly upset when his previous cat, Nico, was killed by a car. I didn’t have Merlin & Pippin then, and I remember seeing him in real pain but not having the empathy to do more than say all the right things (at least I hope I did!), so I do understand how difficult it is for those who don’t own pets, and perhaps aren’t particularly full of empathy to start with, to understand what we pet lovers are going through when we lose them. Simon didn’t think he could ever handle the emotional roller-coaster of having another cat. But, Fortune is as Fickle a Mistress as is Inspiration (see “The Magic of the Tarot & the Hero’s Journey” for a full understanding of that reference!), and cats were destined to come once more into his life, this time in the form of Lenny and Leonora. He knew Leonora was coming, but he hadn’t bargained on her brother being in the box alongside her. Nobody wanted Lenny because his tail was broken and he’d been put in there in the hope that he wouldn’t be sent straight back; this hope was of course very accurately placed! So, not only did Simon muster the courage to get on the roller-coaster again, but this time it also had an extra passenger.
I’ve thought quite deeply about what I’ll do when I no longer have one or the other, or both, of my adorable Westies. I come from Scotland originally, but I was brought up by the sea in South-East Kent. One of the peculiarities of this area is that it has a thriving and expanding population of Indian Ring-necked Parakeets. I believe some escaped from their cages in the 1960’s (see the video below for what the BBC thinks!), and they’ve been breeding happily in the large woodland park areas ever since. When she still lived down there, I used to see them every day in my Mother’s garden. These birds are such a beautiful, vivid shade of green, with bright red beaks, and they have lovely long tail feathers that make them look so streamlined and elegant; they’re curious, social and happy birds, and they live quite considerably longer than dogs. I miss the sea, and the parakeets. I can’t move back to the seaside yet awhile, but I just might get a pair of parakeets when the dreaded time comes. I may just acquire a lovely Cockatoo called Max before that, if my friend Sue and her husband Norman can figure out how to get him here from New England. He’ll be a very welcome addition to the family, so Subscribe! and stay tuned for further updates on Max!
Brightest Blessings, as always,
PS: The next blog post scheduled for this category – My Family & Other Wee Beasties – will be “Four-Poster Pooch Palaces“, in which I’ll show you how I made the first one and update you on the progress I’ve made with the second one. So, don’t forget to Subscribe! using the box up there on the right, and I’ll let you know when it’s ready for your perusal.