Oct 17, 2009

The Truth About Cats And Dogs

The night before I left to go on tour I stayed up late packing. Larry had gone to sleep and put Wally in his kennel. I was organizing my desk when Honey, my cat, jumped up and curled next to me. She placed her paw on my wrist, as she often does. She likes the late night best, when the dog is asleep and caged. It’s like the old days, before he was around to torment her. I forget that she used to be cuddly and sweet all the time. But she can’t be anymore; he has to watch for that canine on her back at all times.

One morning she woke up, sat in front of his kennel and hissed at him till her spit was dry. “I hate you. Why don’t you just go off and DIE!” Then Larry let Wally out of the kennel. Honey escaped to a chair. She should count her blessings: Wally is a corgi; he’s got short stubby legs. He will never be able to jump where she can jump. Except that she’s getting arthritis. I hope they make friends before she can no longer jump.

I left for the tour in early September, when it was still hot. Honey spent most of the summer outside. There’s a cool spot between the hydrangea and the house; she lies there in the thicket, away from the sun and the prying eye of the dog. We don’t like her to go out at night. We have a high fence, but one never knows how wily the coyotes are. She frequently slips out when Wally goes out to pee, so Larry or I have had to go find her. We know where she is. I’ll stand out there in the dark, calling for her a while. She doesn’t come right away. She wants to know for sure that Wally isn’t behind me. She also wants to know that I’m not just there to get her inside. She wants to know she’s wanted. She wants you to hold and comfort her. Eventually I see her dark gray shadow moving toward me, slow and dainty. And I will pick her up and hold her. The night before we left on tour, I found myself crying, “Don’t leave me. Not yet.”

Old cats can die when a puppy shows up. It happened to my sister’s cat when my parents got a pair of fox terrier puppies. Lucy was 14 when they arrived. She took great umbrage and died a few months later.

My sister and her husband got a pair of cats before they had children. A couple of years ago when the last one died, Nancy called to talk about her: how Uffie would sit on Phil’s shoulder and try to bat the food off his fork. Or how she was the only one else awake when Nancy got up. So many dawns with the coffee and the bible and the cat. So many memories a pet is there for.

I was living at home when my parents got those fox terriers. It was a rough, dark time in my life, and those dogs meant the world. Especially the boy, Patrick. He stayed close to me. I moved out six months later, but Patrick never forgot who I was to him, even if I forgot who he was to me.

Eventually Dad died and mom moved in with my sister. I was visiting them in Colorado when we had to put Patrick down. I held Patrick in my lap as the vet gave him the sedative. Maybe it was the altitude that got to me; or maybe I finally remembered all he had meant to me. A week later I was home in California, having a morning meditation/prayer time. I got an image of my father playing catch with Patrick, like in a field. But it was heaven. A few hours later my brother James emailed me about one thing or another. Oh, and he’d had a of vision of my father playing catch with Patrick. In a field. In heaven. The same day.

A couple summers ago, Nancy and Phill got another cat. Well, they got three. They were to stay in the barn and chase mice. But how can you keep cats in a barn when you have children who want them for friends? One of the cats liked to wander. She wouldn’t come in during the summer. One day Elsa didn’t come home at all. They called and called for her. Jonathan went out to the road and called all day and into the next. Late on the second day, Jonathan’s tears turned to shouting. Elsa came home.

But the following summer, Jerry and Elsa died of rat poisoning. It hit Jonathan and Emily the hardest. They’re both NF: Intuitive Feeling on the Myers Briggs test. Jonathan loves baseball and cowboys, but he feels things deeply as well. And Emily is a preteen girl. Her friends are her greatest prize. And she lost her first best friend. They buried Jerry and Elsa under their favorite tree. They read from Romans 8, how all of creation is waiting expectantly to be liberated from decay. It’s right there. All of creation liberated from death. Here I am sappily hoping that means that redemption will be true for cats and dogs.

C.S. Lewis believed that, in the same way God breathed his spirit into Man and gave him the capacity for eternity, so we could breathe the capacity for eternity into those we love, even our animal friends. Pets in the afterlife. When N.T. Wright says that God is going to restore this heaven and this earth, then I hope those creatures will be here. It’s up to me to love those creatures into eternity.

The tour bus stopped in Wichita. The following morning, my manager and I walked to an Episcopal church nearby.

It was the Feast of St. Francis; and pets were invited receive a blessing. The pews were loaded with animals: old labs, nervous poodles, dachshunds, a couple of cats and a caged canary. People brought them forward: A thick lady with her basset hound; a single mom with kids and dachshunds. A little girl held out her stuffed animal for a prayer. The rector gently blessed every one of them.

I could see how much these critters meant to the person who brought them, and how gently the rector treated them. I believe that God sees that too. I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s a kingdom I want to belong to; where everyone gets a shot at heaven, even the least of the least of these. I want to believe in a kingdom where God’s gentle, patient love can breathe eternity into a lizard. The same way he spoke and I existed.


Karen said...

Love this post, Susan. My love for animals is why I'm a vegetarian. "Loving those creatures into eternity...." I, too, hope that redemption will be true for cats and dogs.

Have you read "Dominion" by Matthew Scully? I interviewed him a few years back for Christianity Today. He's a Republican (used to be a speech=writer for Pres. Bush), but I forgive him for that because he's a Christian who believes in animal rights.

Thanks for writing this.

Jennifer Goertzen said...

Absolutely beautiful! Your post expresses perfectly the disjointed thoughts I've had on this subject for years.

Thanks from a new fan :)

bas24 said...

I am constantly being pestered about my love for animals. I have always said that if I could own every dog on the planet....I would. When I was little my family owned the greatest black Labrador mix; his name was Jake and him and I were nothing sort of siblings. I loved that darn animal so much that I often caught myself telling Jake things I would never ever tell anyone else. I have recently become a cat fan and my six-toed freak of a cat Velma is such a delight. It's funny how dogs will never forget you and it just makes you love them all the more; I would give anything to have my current dog Sammy with me RIGHT now! I also feel that God's grace extends to the rest of His creation and that perhaps one day, we will see our furry best friends again.

bas24 said...

p.s The Truth About Cats and Dogs is one of my FAVORITE movies. Janeen Garafolo is my heroin in this movie

Anonymous said...

Very sweet. My parents bought Siamese cats in January, and I was born in May. The oldest, Wally, lived until I was 16. He was my best friend. It was so funny... he was a mean old thing... the vet broke a needle in him when he was vaccinating him once... because Wally tried to eat the poor man. I loved how he always sat on my Grandmother's lap... she was deathly afraid of him... and she wouldn't budge... and he knew she wouldn't. Thanks for the post... made me think of an old friend.

Hope your tour is going well. I like keeping up with you on twitter... you are a hoot!

Jill said...

My cat of 13 yrs. passed away last Thursday. I miss her terribly. Thank you for this post. I like to think she's playing in a field too.

Susan Isaacs said...

Amen, Jennifer and bas24. I am counting on it.

Kathy Rockel said...

What a great post. I have been in Barbados with work for two years, away from my beloved Turbo, my 80 pound lap dog. He lives with my brother and yet I am still Mom when I go home to visit. Next month I am going home for good and I cannot wait to have him back because I miss him so much. I, too, like to think of my first dog, Bailey, running in a field somewhere, probably chasing the rabbits just like he used to before I lost him.

Fr. James Coles said...

I was directed to your blog today from a friend who reads us both. She found it interesting b/c I just posted on this same topic today. We lost our beloved Aussie this past January. And when a parishioner of mine's cat died this week he asked me, "Do our pets go to heaven." And while there is not an official Eastern Orthodox teaching I took a stab at it. Thank you for this post!

Post a Comment