A dear friend recently said goodbye to her dog Bubba. My friend and her husband kept a vigil hour after hour during Bubba’s final time in this world. I know how difficult it is to lose a pet. Since childhood, I’ve lost many, and the anguish of that loss is almost unbearable. Here is something I wrote after my dog Cody died in July of 2009. The hope came from getting another dog as soon as possible to help relieve the terrible sense of loneliness:
In front of me is a small oak box. It sits on the piano and holds the ashes of Cody, the West Highland White Terrier I had for almost fifteen years. How strange that all that love, merriment, mischief, and courage from those wonderful years could be reduced to the meager contents of this little container. It is a feeling of astonishment shared by so many others who have lost ones they loved and who have wept over boxes and urns that held the final physical remnants of who was adored.
But the corporal remains provide only a kind of closure that creates the illusion that physical presence was the only thing. The box is no real comfort, except to remind me of the concrete reality of Cody’s existence. He really WAS. His spirit, however, remains in the countless reminders of his still unfamiliar absence. It remains in his favorite tartan plaid blanket, his food and water dishes decorated with tiny paw prints, in his favorite chair, on the brick path in the garden where he loved to sun himself and play.
His spirit resides even now in the barking of other neighborhood dogs, in the white fur that is left in his brush, in his collar, and on the leather leash that made him leap with excitement, even into old age, at the thought of a happy stroll with me. It is in the nose prints on the inside of my car windows, summoning again his insatiable energy, curiosity, and love of everything and everybody around. All that innocence, trust, fun and unconditional love can never be contained by a box of any size. It is all too boundless, and it is a part of me now and for however many years I have yet to live in this world. If there is a veil through which we pass into some other realm, I know that Cody will be there. Then whatever heaven there may be can be complete through the shared experience of his utter joy and mine.
Events after Cody’s death made me see something remarkable in the healing process (which continues). I contacted Cody’s breeder in Iowa to let her know of his passing, as she and I have kept in contact over the years. I asked if there might be any litters of Westies coming up. Her reply came as a huge but happy surprise, that she was going to retire from breeding and showing West Highland White Terriers but that there was indeed a recent litter with four pups. Three were spoken for, but there was one male left, which several people wanted. She said she didn’t know why she had hesitated to sell the dog to anyone yet, despite several requests.
The pups were born the very day Cody died (July 17, 2009), and the father’s name is Cody II . Can you believe how fortunate I was in this perfect timing? And what are the odds for these things falling together so well at just the right time? I bought the puppy and named him Dudley after an angel played by Cary Grant in the 1947 film THE BISHOP’S WIFE, one of my favorite movies.
Dudley was not ready to travel to Colorado from Iowa until late September, as he was at the time only three weeks old. Jim drove me there to bring Duds home. I was so grateful that all this happened. It was almost as though Cody’s spirit had somehow been involved and perhaps even resided in that puppy that I was meant to have. My priority continues to be accepting and nurturing of Dudley’s personality and traits without comparing him with Cody (a very tough act to follow).
People sometimes feel a strange kind of guilt at mourning their deceased cats and dogs. I don’t know why. Our bond with pets is extremely powerful and fulfilling. The extraordinary and unconditional love we receive in return for meeting their simple needs is surely one of God’s greatest gifts in this life. The most important thing, as it is in our bonds with the humans in our lives, is to appreciate and love our pets, giving all the care and attention we can, before the time is up, and we are parted. If you are lucky enough to have a cat or dog, embrace the gift of that wondrous bond in every way you can. Celebrate it every day. If you don’t have a pet but are willing and able to love and care for one, there are animal shelters everywhere with loving creatures waiting for your visit and ready to enrich your life beyond what you can even imagine. JB
IF A DOG BE WELL REMEMBERED
(written by Ben Hur Lampman & published in the Sept. 11, 1925 issue of the Portland Oregonian)
We are thinking now of a dog, whose coat was flame in the sunshine and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a mean or an unworthy thought. This dog is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam, and at its proper season the cherry strews petals on the lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree or an apple or any flowering shrub of the garden is an excellent place to bury a good dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy summer or gnawed at a flavorous bone or lifted head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in life or in death.
Yet it is small matter. For if a dog be well remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where the dog sleeps. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pastureland where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained and nothing is lost — if memory lives.
But there is one best place to bury a dog. If you bury him in this spot, he will come to you when you call — come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel they shall not growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he belongs there. People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth knowing.
The one best place to bury a dog is in the heart of his master.