In the past year and a half, I have experienced the loss of three beloved pets dear to my heart. The first was Peanut, my orange and white rescue cat. Peanut lived to be 19, and died peacefully from kidney failure in August of 2016. The next was Simone, a beautiful long-haired white cat that I adopted from my sister’s vet in San Antonio. She died in April of 2017 from pneumonia at age 16. The last was my fiancé’s family dog named Flower. She died way too young from a cancerous tumor at age 8 or 9. I had grown quite close to her and she spent a large part of the last year of her life with me in my condo in Austin.
All of these losses have affected me deeply, especially Peanut and Flower. Simone spent a lot of time outdoors and was somewhat aloof. But she was just as special as the others.
I will have to admit that these deaths have affected me as much as the death of my own mother and even my beloved grandfather. At first I felt silly even thinking that. Or at least admitting to it. But it is true. Peanut spent just about every day of his life sleeping right by my head. We woke up together, spent much of our days together, and he was around long enough to witness my changing from a young man into middle age. He came when I called him, (not always the case for cats, as many of you cat owners out there know) He gave few other people the time of day. The closest he came to accepting someone else was Shawn, my fiancé. He grudgingly started allowing her access into his world. And then she took a large role is caring for him in the last few weeks of his life.
As much as their deaths affected me in a deeply painful way, the positive and uplifting aspects of how they affected my life mad that pain worth it.
Peanut was a constant, a reminder of being in the moment, of not sweating things, and unconditional acceptance. When I came home, he was there. He did not care what kind of day I had, or how much money I made, or even how accepting I was of him. Sometimes I was exhausted and needed a bit of time. He seemed to get that. Peanut was just there, content to meow at me (sometimes grumpily) and give me the honor of petting him. It was unconditional love in the purest of ways.
Later in his life he spent some time in the outdoors, but every time I came home I would call him and he would come bounding up, his slightly fat belly rocking back and forth at his steps.
Peanut was a stoic little cat. Once, he accidentally got locked in a hot closet for a day without food or water. I came home and called for him, and no Peanut. To my horror I opened up the closet door and found him. He sort of sauntered out and went directly to his food and water and then hopped to his usual spot on the bed. Oddly, he still had no fear of the closet after that, either.
It is as if he knew it was an accident and he trusted me not to do it again. I didn’t.
He had the prettiest green eyes. And he sometimes would bite me for no reason and sort of look at me like “I don’t know why I do that either”…..
He also was the last living pet connection to my mother, who died in 1998. She gave me Peanut in October of 1997. He was a very small kitten when she found him under a shed in her backyard in San Antonio.
I miss my mother often. I miss Peanut daily. He was a great cat. And at the end of his life, he got to know and be friends with Flower. I have a picture of both of them sleeping together one sunny afternoon. I treasure that photo and always will.
Goodbye Peanut. You gave as much to me or more than I gave you. Thank you.
Simone was a very skinny, somewhat neurotic 2 year old when my sister brought her up to me from San Antonio. Peanut, who was already living in the house, accepted her from the get go. She hissed at him a few times, but he never hissed at her. At the time I adopted her I had carpets on my floor, and the smell of pee (she was sneaky) in various corners of my place suggested strongly why Simone had trouble being adopted.
It didn’t stop me, as I realized it was time to pull up the carpets anyway. After she got more used to things, I let her explore outside and she stayed out there often after that. She would come in to eat and be petted. But often she ran from me when I approached her. Up until the day she died. When I had company, she would decide to get friendly and start meowing in a very loud voice (Peanut, on the contrary, had a very soft half meow, half bird call voice). She then would approach whoever was there and offer her best side, her butt. Right in their face.
I found that I could make this somewhat obnoxious behavior stop when I would merely cough. She would run back outside. But she rarely ventured far. And in the morning she would be just outside the door for food and a morning greeting.
People would comment on her beautiful white coat and my vet often wondered how she didn’t get picked off by some falcon or large bird. But she did fine outside, and even the raccoon who came over to try and eat would ignore her and her him. She wasn’t the least bit aggressive. She was just Simone.
Goodbye Simone. It is weird not seeing you outside my door.
Flower came into my life in a bit different way. She was the family dog of my fiancé, Shawn. When I first met her, Flower nearly bit me. I was visiting her at her brother’s house where she was staying. As I got out of my car in the driveway, I wasn’t sure if anybody was home. Then suddenly, out of the blue came this medium sized brown dog running up with teeth bared. Some dogs stop with a warning, but Flower wasn’t set on warning me. She chomped down, but I was quick enough to move my hand. Within a couple of seconds, her tail was wagging and a friendship was born.
Flower was a special dog in more than one way. The first thing I noticed is how smart she was. And how in tune she was to her surroundings. While still getting to know me, she was sure to come to me after making the rounds of all the family members present just to let me know I was accepted. She also could run like a rabbit, which she loved doing. She learned how to help Shawn corral her chickens in the evening.
While it took a bit (she wasn’t ready to even go for walks with me for a while), Flower and I grew close. After the tragic suicide of Shawn’s brother, I began taking Flower back with me to Austin for weekends and some days. She was a rock for me in those times, always smiling, always looking intently at my face for signs of what I was feeling.
We started taking long walks together and she became a part of my life. Sleeping on the bed with Peanut, she was a staple for over a year. We would go to the dog park here in Austin and she would be nervous but eventually get excited. Flower was a rescue as well, and you could tell she had a rough go of it early in her life.
But she grew into herself. And her unique personality shone through. She could be stubborn, even sometimes diva-ish, but she was a sweet, gentle, in tune dog that helped me through one of the most stressful times in my life. Seeing her sleeping next to me, I swear she was an angel sent by God.
Unfortunately, Flower developed a tumor on her back that required emergency surgery to even have a hope of saving her life. The way she co-operated with the process, all the pain, all of the inconvenience, was inspiring. The staff at Texas A & M Vet School fell in love with her.
Flower bravely fought her way back from the surgery. Shawn, my fiancé took care of her in Bryan the first few weeks after her surgery. The dog was in a lot of pain for much of that time, but she retained her sweet spirit. Shawn carefully took her to the backyard to pee, and Flower often took an interest in smelling the flowers and looking at the dog next door. On some days, she just wanted back in the house.
The first time I saw her after the surgery she was in her kennel that Shawn got for her. She whimpered upon seeing me, and I cried to see in her in such pain but also cried in gratitude that she was still with us. Flower took the myriad of pills and liquid pain meds with surprising cooperation, even though she hated the taste of some of them.’
The first time she came back to Austin she came we were nervous about the ride. When she saw my backporch area where she hung out so many sunny days, her first inclination was to chase my cat. We saw that as a good sign.
A few days went by and she still struggled walking. But one evening I took her out with her cloth support under her legs. At first she did her usual “I just want to go back inside”, but on this night I encouraged her to walk a bit more per vets instructions. As if to say “alright lets do this” she began to walk briskly around the back area of my condo, sniffing around as if it were old times.
The next few days and weeks saw steady improvements, along with the expected accidental peeing in the bed and having trouble getting up. You could tell this hurt her pride a lot, but her courage and good attitude continued to amaze and hearten me. There was so much pain and tragedy all around and seeing this, although hard, was also uplifting. By taking action in her healing I was healing myself.
One day Flower was ready to walk in the neighborhood were we took so many walks in the last year. Although still having trouble, she wanted to walk as far as I would let her. I cried again. It couldn’t contain it. Maybe she was on the road back.
Flower had a couple of months of good days after that, traveling to Houston with us to my new apartment there, sitting in the sun, eating heartily and laying by my new cat, Miriam. She had trouble with climbs, and her patented athleticism was not the same. But she was determined to enjoy her life. And that she did. She may have had trouble physically, but Flower remained Flower. Begging for food, being stubborn, being sweet, sleeping soundly with me.
After several months, you could see that she was having trouble again walking. We didn’t want to admit it, but the tumor, as the vet warned could happen, returned.
She travelled to Bryan to have a check up and it didn’t look good. But she did get to spend time with Shawn and her young adult daughter, Roise, whose childhood dog Flower had been. There are pictures of the girl with Roise and her then infant daughter, Lani. She still was happy to be with her people.
I took her back to Austin and things declined to where Flower could not get comfortable enough to even lay down. We tried upping her pain meds and giving her steroids per vets advice, but she still couldn’t lay down. It was sad, but it seemed like it was time to say goodbye and end her suffering.
The last day of her life I carried her around the back area that she loved and let her look around. She really did seem to understand what was happening. That day my vet came over and we had a Catholic tinged ritual with Flower there before she went to her next life. I still cry thinking about the gift of her life and yes, the gift of her good death. My vet and I carried her body to his van. Carrying her then lifeless body was very, very difficult but I am glad I did it. We laid her carefully down.
Flower was gone.
I truly can say, and I am not prone to hyperbole, that Flower helped saved my life during that difficult year and got us through the death of Shawn’s brother and the even worse aftermath of it. And I still miss the girl. Deeply. She was an angel.
Goodbye Flower. I miss you every day.
But the story didn’t end there. In fact, it started another chapter that surprised even me.
A couple of days after her death, I, still in shock and grief, went to the pet store to get a special cleaner to clean my mattress from the urine odor. Oddly, the odor offered me some comfort for a day or so but I knew it was time to clean it up.
I walked into the store, hot from the summer heat and purchased the cleaner. I was not in a good mood and things still seemed surreal. On the way out I noticed some kennels against the wall with some dogs up for adoption for rescue shelters around the area.
I made my purchase and was not paying attention to much when I made eye contact with a little white dog in his kennel. He looked very sad. He looked at me, looked down and then looked at me again. It caught my attention.
I had no intention to getting another dog. I knew also about the “don’t get a pet to replace a lost one right away” rule, which I though was a good one. But something made me turn around and ask the people at the front about the dog. His name on the kennel was “Henry”. He looked so small and fragile, but had these huge “bat” ears. He reminded me of me that day. Well, besides the ears.
One clerk told me that Henry had been rescued from a house where there was a murder and a suicide. Given that Shawn’s family had gone through a suicide (and quite frankly some metaphorical murders) I thought it odd to hear that. And it sent a chill down my spine. My heart immediately went out to the little fella. That pissed me off.The clerk then told me the manager of the store, Theresa, would have information on him. She walked up to me after doing some things with the rescue cats. I asked her about him. She seemed a bit skeptical and cool at first “oh, he is not close to being ready to be adopted. He is still somewhat feral and needs a lot of work”….I know something about feeling feral and needing a lot of work, so I said “what would I need to do?”. She said, still somewhat skeptical “you can come back and visit him and see how you two do”. I think she thought I wouldn’t come back.
Later that day, I was back. She gingerly picked the terribly frightened dog and told me I could pet him. He eyed me very cautiously. And as I petted him his eyes stayed wide open, as if waiting for a blow…Then I noticed the strangest thing. His back was shaved in a little rectangle area. “What happened there?” I asked. “Oh, he had a tumor on his back. But it was benign. It was a fatty tumor”. It was shaved just like poor Flowers back.
That scorching July afternoon brought on a pretty serious thunderstorm that for a bit made Austin look almost dusk like. It was surprisingly cool for a bit.
After waiting for it to pass, I got on my scooter, a little taken aback, and got a real sense that I was supposed to adopt Henry. And I would show Theresa how serious I was about that, whatever it took.
On the way home, I looked at the gray but clearing sky and saw a full rainbow facing east, in the direction of Flower’s place of birth near Bryan. It was beautiful and vivid. It was if Flower was saying, “You get it? adopt him”. Flower knew I needed Henry as much as he might need me. That shook me but also gave me a real sense of calm. Flower was still up to her tricks.
I called Shawn and told her the story. She laughed a bit. “Sounds pretty clear” she said.
So, every day, twice a day, I would go and visit Henry. At first I think he was wondering what the hell I was doing there. Theresa would take him out. He would be frightened, but he would cower in the corner and let me pet him. I just sat on the floor uncomfortable and sweaty. Occasionally, he would glance at me and look away. When she put him back in his cage, he would literally dash in there and look terrified.
I came the next day. And the next day. And the next….twice a day when I could.
Theresa finally started warming up to me and offered tips as to how to handle him. After a little over a week, she had me walk with Henry as she took him out to pee. Then I took him out (I was terrified I would freak him out) with her behind me. He would look back at her, very skeptically. She told me he would hold pee and bowel movements for days. He would only eat if no one was looking.
Eventually I was able to take him out daily. He started peeing, being very careful to stay directly behind me, out of my vision.
Then one day on the way back to his kennel he pooped on the sidewalk. Victory!
The day come when Henry came for a home visit the first time. I felt like CPS was coming over, I was so nervous. But Henry, once he found his trusty bed (that bed is his safe place. his world exists from there) felt quite at home. Shawn was with me that day. It was a lovely hot summer Saturdayafternoon. The visit was a success.
The next Monday I came to visit and Theresa very nonchalantly said Henry could go home with me on that Wednesday and she handed me his adoption papers to sign. She said“I didn’t think Henry was going to find a home. No one was interested after hearing how hard he was.” I passed!
Henry was gonna be a part of my family. The dogless, childless divorced guy who only could handle cats was going to be a dog owner.
Flower made sure of that. This part is too weird to be true, but as I was nervously taking Henry home for the first time, another rain storm came down on a steaming hot August day and produced, yes, another beautiful rainbow in the sky.
After seeing the second rainbow, I reflected again on how I needed all of my beloved pets as much as they needed me. They were family. I miss Flower, Peanut and Simone like family. They were a part of my everyday life. They showed me unconditional love. I could only hope that I showed me close to the same.
In this new year, 2018, I have had Henry for about five months. Each day he is becoming more like a normal dog and not like the scared, lost dog with the haunted eyes I met that July afternoon. He barks when he hears my scooter coming to the house. He growls affectionally as I walk in to greet him. When I ask if he wants to go for a walk, he gets so excited he starts shaking. But he still keeps a lot of stuff inside. It is the path of healing for abused animals as much as for abused humans.
As gets out of his bed, he circles around a few times, (still not quite sure what to do) and I put on the leash and he is ready to go. His ears are perked up now when we go outside, he stops everywhere to sniff around and even lifts his leg to pee now and again. His healing in a continual process. It is slow but steady.
His eyes, once so haunted, are softer now. And he stares at me intently with his eyes half shut. He still likes to stay in his bed, but he will put his chin on the edge and look around, taking much more interest in the world around him. I know that he sneaks out and steals dog toys and whatever else he wants to gather for his bed. Despite his rough road, his spirit and rambunctiousness are still there. It is amazing.
One day I looked at a calendar at the scooter repair shop I frequent. They still hadn’t changed the page from the month before. But the picture on the calender page was of a white dog with massive, bat like eyes and the unmistakable paws that Henry has. It was a French bulldog. Aha! I learned that Henri was part French Bulldog.
So, now, his name is Henri. Whereas he once bit me (and Shawn, too, we share that honor) when he is frightened, he now will stop at the urge when he is frightened.
It is so rewarding to see this growth. And it is rewarding to see my growth in caring for him. He has taught me to be more patient, more gentle, more accepting, more…..calm. And his reticence, even in the face of excitement has shed some light on my own history. A story in itself.
Pets are people. They share our lives. They show us love. They show us ourselves. The model for us how to be present and happy in everday moments. They are a part of us. And yes, how we treat our pets says a lot about how we treat each other.
I am thankful for my past pets, and miss them every day. I am thankful for Henri. And for the gift Flower gave me in choosing him.