Absence

Our pets become such a big part of our lives. They may not have the same emotional gravity as people, but they also don’t have as much emotional complexity. Sometimes they can seem like a daily chore, but they radiate so much unfeigned welcome and warmth and friendship and mirth, and are so profoundly grateful for whatever ounce of attention they get from us.

We become like Adam and Eve; tending the garden, naming the animals. Or like Noah, sheltering them from the storms and craziness of this world. And they are so utterly grateful.

So when they’re gone the space they occupied is missing something…someone. That cool nose in the small of the back. The purring drooling cat in your lap. The noise of their nails scrabbling along the wood floor to greet you at the door. The tail thumping on the carpet (or coverlet). The muffled barks in their sleep.

Or, the cries of confusion, and whimpering of distress. As difficult as their last days can be you are their guardian. Their advocate. Their friend. Their family. You are the center of their world and you are so utterly grateful for the chance to have become this for them. Then you are faced with the “decision.” (Does being a guardian, an advocate, or a friend include euthanasia?)

And then the space they occupied in your life is cool to the touch, and silent. Absent except for the memories and mementos of their lives with us, and within us.

For Milo, Catty, Sunny, Wolf, and Black Cat.

Milo

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“DACHSHUNDS AREN’T REAL DOGS!”

I remember saying this to Mikala when I heard she got a puppy. And then I heard how brave he was (briefly) in the face of a litter of Jack Russells, and how he ran and hid between Mikala’s feet. Fated? Fait accompli?

When I met him he began to transform that canine ideal I had fixed in my mind. (The wolf-like profile of the Alaskan Malamute baying at the winter moon in the middle of the night.) Milo was nothing like any dog I had ever known. He was the opposite of the “alpha male” and pretty okay with it. He more closely resembled a hot water bottle in both shape and temperament. But…

…he was charming. Standing on his hind legs. Growling at you from five inches off the ground when he wanted something. Hackles raised, barking at turkey buzzards flying overhead. (How dare they!) Chasing squirrels. Slinking out of the room during football season. Running back when he heard someone in the kitchen. Gravitating to the most comfortable lap or the person who most needed comforting.

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Milo’s typical day? Wake you up by standing on your bladder and growling. Going outside for a quick pee, leaping across the threshold to eat breakfast, and then heading back to bed. (Burrowing under the covers of the freshly made bed.)

An hour or two later, whine at you to be let out, visit the Little White Dog across the street and pooping on their lawn. Another snooze, and up again to chase bunnies and doze on the deck (to chase bunnies in his sleep).

Back inside for another snooze. Barking at the mailman. Sniffing around the yard. Snooze. Dinner. Snuggling on the couch. Go outside to bark at the neighbors, and then back to sleep for the night, sprawled along the length of the warmest person in bed, until they’re balanced on the edge of the bed trying to avoid Little Mister Fahrenheit.

We miss you, buddy. Friend.