She showed me a picture on the front page of the brochure, asking what I saw. The folks who sent the fund-raising pamphlet wanted me to see the child in need of a place in this world. I saw the cat the child was clutching in his (or her) arms. My apologies for seeming uncaring about the child, but my mind was taken away, without my permission, to the day, nearly twenty years ago when we came home from work to find her lying nervously in our yard. I’m referring, of course to the cat, the doppelganger of the prop in the photo the Lovely Lady had pushed in front of me. We didn’t know where she came from, but since she wasn’t inclined to move from her spot under the elm tree, we put some water in front of her and found her a little food. She stayed.
The cat didn’t do anything to earn her keep (a trait she shared with most other cats), so we dubbed her “Useless”. She lived up to the title. I really don’t understand why we get attached to critters who serve no function, but we grew to love her. Late at night, with the house quiet and everyone else asleep, I would make my way outside, onto the wrap-around front porch of our old Victorian home, with a cup of coffee in hand; to sit and contemplate the day’s events and prepare for the new day to come. I like to think this was the favorite time of day for Useless. She would jump up on my lap, purring and flexing her paws against my legs as she perched there contentedly. I would stroke her head and under her chin, enduring the sharp claws as long as I could before lifting the paws away from the leg they were piercing. She put up with us for eight or nine years, barely surviving a dog attack during her last year with us. The vet sewed her up and she healed enough to move around, but she was never the same; terrified of any dog that passed, trembling at the slightest bark she heard. A year later she succumbed to a mystery infection and we cried.
There has been a seemingly endless parade of pets, each of them leaving us with the same tearful result. Oliver, Olivia, Poppy, Molly, Caspian, Clueless, Tessie; all of them just memories now; to be reawakened without warning. Along with the happy memories come always the sad ones. Animals don’t live as long as we do. The tears are inevitable when pets are involved. In spite of this sure knowledge, we will always feel the need to take them in, to make them our friends, to love them. And I’m guessing that’s as it should be. The need to love and be loved is part of who we are.
That’s about it for this time. No big moral. No preaching. Just a little food for thought. I’ll leave you with a poem from Rudyard Kipling. It will continue the stream of melancholy thoughts a little longer, but the truth is unassailable. It may seem foolish, but our lives are better because of these four-legged friends we are privileged to love.
The Power Of The Dog
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
But…you’ve given your heart for a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?