My dad once said to me “I swear, if there’s a stray animal within a ten mile radius, it’ll find you.” This was after an emaciated Irish Setter came crashing out of the bushes at my school bus stop and gave me a bear hug.
He said it like it was a bad thing. In my nine or ten year-old mind, it seemed like a very cool superpower I might have. Except that it never really worked out the way I wanted it to. The strays were usually allowed to stay temporarily, but then were once again banished unceremoniously. My heart would break every time.
I have always felt a deep love for the creatures. This brings me more joy than I feel worthy of and more pain than I can describe. I don’t feel like I own my pets. I feel I’m their guardian. I feel a certain responsibility to them; to well… guard their safety while they’re with me.
So, last month when my gentle giant, Smudge Cat went outside to enjoy a rare sunny day and dogs chased him down and killed him, my overwhelming grief was laced with a hefty dose of culpability. I knew the danger existed in the abstract. And yet, I indulged his love for bird “watching”. And the worst happened.
I spent days kicking the crap out of myself over that one decision. And although I’ve had to stop doing that, if I let my mind wander to the moments of his death, my throat tightens and my heart breaks open a little again. Because to me, Smudge was part of my family. I miss him fiercely and it haunts me that I could have changed the outcome of that day.
I’ve heard it said that animals abide so closely to spirit that when they pass, it’s seamless. That possibly, they don’t realize anything is different. I keep this idea in mind when I think of the animals I’ve “lost”; that maybe they are still here with me and wondering why I’m so sad. So, I imagine them and see them with my mind’s eye in the places they’ve always been. Sweet Smudge stretched out across my bed, raising his head with a yawn as I come into the room. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a lot easier than imagining them gone forever. And just to be clear… I think it is completely possible, if not probable.
This side of me; the part that feels so deeply for animals… is hard to share. It’s one of the things that it takes intestinal fortitude to admit. Because I’ve been laughed at for loving a pet so much. I guess this is my shout out to all the people out there who love deeply, feel profoundly the joy of being loved by a companion animal, and then way too soon, grieve so intensely. And it’s me honoring this part of myself. Taking back the superpower that was, over the years ~ shamed out of me.
The way I see it, this can’t be done by just anyone. You have to be a pretty strong soul to let your heart be broken so thoroughly so often.