ENID, Okla. — Editor’s note: This column was first published Feb. 6, 2004.
“Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” — George Eliot.
A colleague recently had a death in her family, and nobody from our office attended the funeral.
Actually, there was no funeral, no wake, no public display of respect and mourning.
That’s because, instead of losing a spouse, a parent or a child, this lady lost her dog.
He was old, and nearly blind, but had been in reasonably good health until he woke her in the middle of the night. She thought he had to go to the bathroom. Instead, it seemed, he simply didn’t want to spend his final minutes alone.
He was having difficulty breathing, and didn’t want to leave her side. As his breathing worsened and the lady watched her longtime companion struggle for every breath, she prayed his suffering would end. In a few moments, her prayers were answered, and he breathed his last.
She was unable to come to work at her regular time the next day, in part because she got little sleep the night before, in large measure because she couldn’t stem the tears.
“I feel so silly,” she said when she finally made it to the office. “He was just a dog.”
Just a dog? There’s no such thing.
Dogs are always happy to see you when you come home, no matter how rotten a day you’ve had. They never say you need to lose weight, or get a haircut. They never criticize your choice of clothing or your television viewing habits.
They don’t ask much, just food, water, shelter and love. When you are away from home they sit and listen for your return, ears twitching at each neighborhood sound. They are the world’s best listeners. They will let you talk as much, or as little, as you want. They’re not much in the way of offering feedback, to be sure, but often their silence is comforting.
They have your best interests at heart. They are always ready to go for a walk with you to help you get the exercise you need. But if you prefer to lounge on the couch in front of the TV with some snacks, they are up for that too — so long as you share.
In the classic “Pollyanna,” Eleanor Porter wrote, “It’s funny how dogs and cats know the inside of folks better than other folks do, isn’t it?”
Cats are known as aloof, and indeed, they can be. They are affectionate, but only on their own terms.
“If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer,” wrote Alfred North Whitehead. True, cats often are looking out for their own best interests, but that doesn’t make them any less lovable.
Right before Christmas, one of the two cats that allow us to share their house became ill. Almost overnight, he went from being a healthy, active animal to on the critical list.
We went to visit him at the vet clinic. He was shaky, he was thin, he was dehydrated, he was yellow because of jaundice. But there was something in his eyes that could only have been love. And when I tucked him under my chin and stroked him, he purred. We left the clinic fighting tears.
Animals shouldn’t do that to us. They shouldn’t reduce us to helpless weeping. They shouldn’t rip our hearts out when their brief lives end, but they do. And everyone who lets an animal into their lives knows, in their heart of hearts, they will one day go through the pain and grief when their companion dies.
It is the price we pay for all the joy, comfort and companionship they give so selflessly. It is a high price, to be sure, but the gain outweighs the pain.
Our cat recovered, by the way, and is back to causing havoc in the household once again. We know we merely postponed the inevitable, but we are thankful for the reprieve.
Losing a pet does not have the impact of losing a person, neither does it bring with it the outpouring of public sympathy. That can make losing “just a dog,” or “just a cat,” that much harder to bear.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.͝