THIS BLOG HAS THREE PARTS. TOGETHER, THEY WILL TAKE ABOUT 20 MINUTES TO READ.
It was 2013 when King Tut died. As you can imagine, by then I had a collection of pet ashes. We decided to have a Pet Funeral when the kids were with us for Thanksgiving.
I thought it would be nice to gather under the big mesquite tree under the dining room window and bury the ashes of Libby, Allie, and Tut there, and recognize Sunny, too, even though we had already buried her in the herb garden. Since Gene and I had taken care of stepdaughter Katie’s bunny, Miss Piggy, while Katie was a visiting nurse in California, we included Miss Piggy in the ceremony.
David suggested hanging pictures of all the pets from the tree branches, so I bought little black frames and ribbon, and the day after Thanksgiving we got everything ready.
My father, an Episcopal priest, had written a prayer for a friend’s dog in 1939, when Papá was in his 20s.
A Prayer for Taffy
O Lord, we pray thee to receive into thy
kind hands this, thy servant, a dog. Look upon
him with the love thou showest all thy creatures;
and, as thou art the final judge of evil and
the eternal reward of good, take this clear heart,
faultless in our eyes, under thine own protection,
making such provision as thou hast ordained for
him in thy goodness. For, as the temptation
toward evil and the opportunity for good were
both less freely offered to him than to us, thou
knowest, Lord, what little evil was in him and
what great good. Finally, we are grateful that,
having lent him to our imperfect affection, thou
takest him back again to thee. Amen.
A few days before the service, I asked Aidan, our oldest grandson, who was nine, if he would read the prayer for Tut. He said, “Well, Nonnie, Tut and I never really hit if off. But I’ll read the prayer for Allie!” Then I went to daughter Annie and asked her if she would like to read the prayer for Tut. She said, “Tut and I were never that close, Mom. Why don’t you ask Mamá?” So much for Tut being the favored pet.
The big kids hung the pictures, daughter-in-law Kim helped me bring out my clay garden animals and some flowering bougainvillea. We gathered around the tree, read the prayer for each pet, and shared memories of them. David dug the holes around the tree, and Gene poured the ashes into the tiny graves and covered them with dirt. Grandsons Caleb and Asher, ages six and four, collected rocks and decorated the little mounds. It was a sweet day.
And as I think about the animals that have been a part of my life, I am thankful for each one of them.
Whether it’s trust or responsibility or the importance of consistency and predictability or simple affection or biology, our pets are some of our best teachers. They are role models for unconditional love.
But it hurts deeply when we lose them. And sometimes we wonder if we want to take that leap again because we know what’s going to happen: we’re going to lose our greeting committee, our biggest fans, our quiet companions, our exercise buddies, those who love us no matter what.
And we usually take the leap, figuring the many gifts they bring us far outweigh the pain we know will come when it’s time for them to leave.
this blog has three parts. together, they will take about 20 minutes to read.
So, on to the pets our children had. We started with guinea pigs, then bunnies and hamsters and hermit crabs and turtles, and finally dogs. (Annie was allergic to cat hair, so we skipped cats.)
In the late-70s, Annie and Phoebe were small, and we had guinea pigs; they were a cute diversion. After we moved, Phoebe got a big, gray lop eared rabbit we named Cottontail. About that time, we also got our first dog, Chester, a Lhasa Apso mix. Annie adored Chester. He was just her size, with a cute little body and a face to match. Although he was small, Chester wasn’t a barker; he was a lover. And Cottontail was a sweetheart. Cottontail and Chester were great buddies, and used to chase each other around the back yard, going one direction and then the other, taking turns doing the chasing.
We moved to North Central Phoenix, and one day, Cottontail got out of the yard and was nowhere to be found. I heard the sheepdog next door barking loudly, and when I looked through the fence, I and saw that he had Cottontail up against the wall. The poor bunny had dug under the fence and gotten into the neighbor’s yard, gotten himself cornered and, not knowing what to do, sat in fear, shaking all over. I ran next door and got him, rounded up the kids, and we sat with him in a circle in the grass. I could feel his little heart pounding. I held him in my arms while the kids took turns petting him and after a few minutes, he stopped breathing. There were a lot of tears that day. I imagine Chester was sad, too
Phoebe had several Hermit crabs, which all died attempting to move to a larger shell. We had a red-eared slider turtle, who also died. That was probably my fault, as I didn’t really know what to do with him.
Eventually, we got a dear little Holland Lop bunny for Phoebe. His name was Charlie, and he was a character. Phoebe trained him to use the litter box in his cage, and he lived in her room, keeping her company and humping her stuffed rabbits. (Yes, really!) David loved taking him on a leash for walks in the neighborhood. Charlie lived to be about 10, when he succumbed to an infection.
We had two hamsters, Apply Dappley and Ralph. Ralph was given to us by my friend Nancy, whose boys had lost interest in him. He was a sweet guy, but like so many hamsters, did not want to stay in his cage. One day he escaped. Two days went by, and I woke up late one night and walked out to the kitchen. I could hear scratching under the oven. I pulled out a drawer and saw two beady eyes looking at me from behind the partition. He couldn’t climb out.
I went to my dresser and found a bandana. I twisted it, dropped it down to Ralph, and literally prayed to God to help him find his way up the bandana and out on the drawer guide. He slowly crawled up and barely onto the guide when he fell back down. I tried again, and this time, he made it. I can still see him carefully walking out on the guide and into my hands. I put him in his cage, locked it up tight, and watched him drink an entire bottle of water. I went back to bed relieved and happy.
Two days later, Ralph was gone! And we never heard from him again.
When David was about 11, we got a black lab puppy, and named her Libby. She became David’s dog, and they were inseparable. Libby, like so many Labradors, was a destructive puppy. She ate through an entire Haitian cotton sectional while we were gone one day. I crate-trained her after that, and she was a changed girl.
When she got older, she slept with David. Even though she was a Labrador, the only way to get her to swim was for David to dive into the deep end of the pool and pretend to drown. He would call to her, and she would run to the pool, hesitate for a moment, jump in, and swim to him.
Libby and Chester were great pals, dashing out of the house if we didn’t pay attention and running around our cul-de-sac peeing on every bush they could find, having a great adventure. As Chester got older, he began to get grouchy, and I worried he might bite one of the children who liked to come over and play.
One day, the two dogs ran out the door, but only Libby returned. David and his dad went to find Chester, and they did, but he had been hit by a car and had died. They wrapped him in a towel and brought him home. When we buried Chester, he took a piece of our hearts with him. But he died having a great adventure.
About that time, David, knowing how much I loved birds, gave me a lutino cockatiel. It was too young to sex, so I named it Sunny. Sunny later produced two little eggs. So, then we knew. The other tip-off was that Sunny never spoke, which is typical of female cockatiels. She loved people, though, and sitting on my shoulder.
In the mid-90s, we decided to get another dog. After much research, I decided on a long-haired Dachshund. Shortly after I began looking for my dream dog, a friend at work brought in a homeless Golden Retriever mix puppy she and her husband had found tied to a tree downtown. All my research went out the window when I saw Allie, and I took her home. She was my dog and my faithful companion through my divorce in 1996 and living alone until I remarried in 2001. She helped me feel safe at night and took me for three walks a day.
And I mean it when I say that she took me for walks, stopping whenever she wanted to and pulling me this way and that. I found a trainer to help me, a Marine veteran. He was a no-nonsense guy, and he made it clear from the get-go that I was the one he was training, not Allie. And it worked. With the help of a choke collar, she became a dream dog, and our walks were fun!
One weekend when Phoebe was home, she, David, and I went to the Humane Society to pick out a cat. I had my heart set on a tuxedo, but an all-black kitty with gold eyes, the most relaxed kitty of any we met in the Get Acquainted Room, won us over. I named him King Tut, and he was my baby.
Libby lived with David and his dad after our divorce. She was the sweetest dog you could imagine, but as she got old, arthritis set in, and she wasn’t able to get up anymore. When it was time to say good-bye, I met David’s dad at the vet, and we patted her as she slowly let go and died. David was 17 and heartbroken. I gave him a big stuffed black lab for Christmas, and I think it helped a little, but nothing could take her place.
I met Gene in 1997. We were married in 2001 and moved to Tucson in 2002 with a dog, a cat, and a bird. I had married a man who lived like a monk, with little furniture and no pets, and he had married an animal lover.
Sunny had trouble adjusting to our Tucson house. I tried putting familiar artwork near her cage, setting her cage near the deck so she could see out, changing her diet… But she began screeching incessantly. I took her to a bird specialist, who said it could be that being by the window seeing the hawks and other birds scared her. Or perhaps she missed her old surroundings. Or maybe she was needing more attention. I did my best by her, and she seemed to calm down once we moved her away from the window. She loved being held and talked to and lived to be 19.
Although he had sworn never to have another dog, Gene was incredibly good to Allie. She got Valley Fever in Tucson, and it weakened her terribly. Our house was a tri-level, with no doggie door (we didn’t want Tut to go out and be eaten by a bobcat or hawk or snake or great horned owl, all of which we had in abundance on our acre of desert). The only way for Allie to do her business was to walk down two flights of stairs to the ground level and wait for one of us to let her out and back in. She weighed 62 pounds, and when she got too weak to walk downstairs, Gene carried her down and back up, so she could be with us.
While I was visiting my mother in Seattle, Allie was bitten by a snake, and poor Gene had to be the one to put her down. He may not have wanted a dog, but he got attached to Allie.
Tut was the last of my pets to go. He and Allie had been great pals, sitting together at the screen door watching the birds, sleeping together, and simply being companions. I’m sure he missed his doggie friend. When he got to be 16, his kidneys began to fail. Gene, who adored Tut, set up a MASH unit in the laundry room for his IV’s. We gave them to him several times a week, and they did wonders initially. But after a few weeks, he finally began to fight the treatments, and Dr. Kaufman, our vet, said, “Sometimes they’ve just had enough,” and we let him go. He was 17 and my sweet little man.
This blog has three parts. Together, they will take about 20 minutes to read.
I’m thinking today about the pets that have paraded through my life.
Yesterday we lost our beloved granddog, Bear, a big, sweet golden retriever who was only nine. Bear was struggling with lung cancer and could hardly breathe. He left a family of five in a state of heartbreak, but grateful nonetheless to have had this sweet boy in their lives.
We had a host of large dogs when I was growing up. My father wanted them, loved them, but neglected to train and discipline them. (My mother put up with a great deal, and never complained in my presence.) There was a standard black French Poodle, Antoine “Tony,” who jumped up on everyone; a Weimaraner, Gyp (because he was the color of gypsum), who could jump over the fence and did, regularly; a Dalmatian, Buttons, who liked to show up at our next door neighbors’ house before they even got up, and peel the caps off their milk bottles; and a French Briard, Cyrano, who wreaked havoc on our home, but was utterly loveable.
We had several cats. When I was eight, we moved from W. Roma to N. 16th Avenue. When the movers finished packing the van and it was time to get in the car to drive to our new house, we could not find Tigger. We looked everywhere and left in tears, doubting that we’d ever see him again. We arrived at the new house, and as the movers unrolled a mattress, there was Tigger, fast asleep!
We moved again when I was nine. Sirikit was a seal point Siamese, who was smart, typically talkative, and loved to jump up and grab my arms with her claws, leaving me with red scratches which I ignored in favor of the game. Sirikit produced a beautiful litter of kitties. I’ll never forget lying on my stomach, head in the closet, watching them being born. It was like a magic show!
When I was 12, my father gave me a beautiful Maltese Persian he had found at the Humane Society. We named her Mrs. Wiggs, even though she was at least five and must have had a name. Mrs. Wiggs turned out to be one of those cats who can’t decide where she wants to be at night; in other words, she was neurotic. And it was clear that her place of choice was not my bed. She went in and out the window with my help, waking me several times a night. I was okay with that because I loved this kitty. But while I was visiting my great aunt for two weeks in South Pasadena, Mrs. Wiggs transferred her night-time badgering to my parents. And when I returned from my trip, Mrs. Wiggs was gone.
At some point, my dad bought a beautiful gray and white cockatiel and named him Mr. Bird. He was adorable, and although he didn’t talk much, he could say Hello and sing the first few bars of “Yankee Doodle.”
Mr. Bird loved my sister Alice’s hair, which was thick and curly, and he liked to ride around the house on her head. One day, Alice forgot he was there and walked outside. Away flew Mr. Bird, never to be seen again. Until one day, about 10 years later, I found myself in the neighbors’ kitchen, where I spotted a cockatiel in a cage. I asked about the bird, and Mrs. Johnson said, “Yes, it’s quite a story. One day we were sitting outside, and he landed in the pool! We picked him up and got him a cage, and he’s been with us ever since.” Lucky Mr. Bird.
My father had a host of aquariums lining one wall of his study. I loved the clown loach, the plecostomus, the corydora catfish, the red tail shark, and the Bala shark. I became his assistant fish-keeper.
We had seahorses for a while, which are very delicate fish, and Papá grew brine shrimp in a special tank for them, hoping to see the mating ritual, with male and female holding tails and promenading around the tank, followed by the laying of her eggs in the male’s pouch (at which point he seals it until the babies are ready to come out). I don’t remember that ever happening. But it was fun hoping.
When I was about 11, Papá was given a baby alligator he named Albert. Each night he would make a little ground beef meat ball for Albert, roll it in fine breadcrumbs, and put it on the rock in Albert’s aquarium. Albert would climb up and grab the thing, devouring it happily. Albert finally got too big to keep, and Papa donated him to the Phoenix Zoo.
We also had bettas (Siamese fighting fish), and it was fascinating to watch them breed. We watched the male build a bubble nest at the top of the breeding tank. Then Papá removed the glass separating the pair, and the male wrapped himself around the female until her eggs came floating out. He scooped them up in his mouth and put them in the nest. The female was then put in a different tank, while the male watched the nest. As the babies hatched, they fell from the nest and unfolded like tiny leaves. The male put them back until they could swim. And then dad had to go back to his own home.
The point of all this is to say that pets teach us so much!