Monday, January 28, 2008

Rounded with a Sleep

I meant to post this Sunday, but life intervened and put me here Monday night, thinking about this again and writing it to blog...It all started Saturday with a blog post here, where our correspondant - along with some delicately lovely pictures of frosted windowpanes - used the term "furkids" for her pets.

It's not the first time I've heard this, or the alternative version, "furbabies" (which for some reason grates on me harder). And I had to admit, in my comments on what was really a terrific, honest-as-hell post, that the pets-as-kids euphemisms are like fingernails on a blackboard for me. What was irritating was, for someone who prides himself on his capacity for rational thought, my inability to pin down the why. Why does hearing somebody describe their border collie as though the dog was enrolled in Portland French School and wore Groovy Girls underpants burn my biscuits?

It's certainly no skin of my ass what someone wants to call, or think about, their pets. If they are buying gourmet food (for critters that happily eat poop) or embroidered bedspreads (for critters who evolved sleeping on the ground)...well, fine. Their life, their pets, no blood, no foul, right?

And then I got an e-mail Sunday morning from our friend, let's call her..."Krissy". Her beloved kitty, who had been failing since December, had collapsed with kidney failure. He was in pain, and in the way of animals, unable to understand why his body that had served faithfully for so long, was betraying him. She took Kitty to the vet, who confirmed what she knew. She asked them to give him release, and they did.

She was brokenhearted, and, in particular, distraught over her role in ending Kitty's life. "I hate 'playing God'". was her term for it. I saw the time-stamp on the e-mail, knew she was home, and quickly called her. We talked (while the Peeper fumed that I wasn't serious about playing trucks...) about pets, and loss, and grieving. I reminded her that...well, I wrote it later in the response to her e-mail. Here's what I said:

"Like I said: you can think of this as "playing God" in the sense that you decided when to end P-----'s life. But you can also think of it this way: as a feral, P----- would have had the ultimate Hobbesean life; nasty, brutish and short. He would have been hungry most of the time, cold, wet, frightened, and the end would probably have come after a short, hard life in a flurry of pain and fear.

Instead, he had a long life, was loved and cared for, warm, happy, peaceful, and died in the arms of people who loved him, quietly, ending the suffering and pain he could never understand. That's a pretty good "God", for my money - better than the life and death the "real God" would have given him. Instead of hardship and fear, you gave him love and a warm lap and soft hands to hold him.

Grief is hard, and sure as falling rain. But grieve knowing that you did the right thing, now, and all of P-----'s life."

And this is where I come back to the original blog post and my reaction to it. Would you - or would I - would anyone - give birth, nurture, raise, love and care for an infant knowing that in ten or fifteen years you would be faced with the reality that that child was now a tottering, often sickly, old man or woman? What's more, one without the ability to understand their own illness, or debility? How would you deal with having to choose to end the life of your child or watch him, or her, suffer ceaselessly as you were helpless to comfort them?

Mojo and I had to do that. Once. With our own daughter. We don't ever want to have that choice again. Which is why we live in muted terror of all the things we know - choking, trips and falls, risk-taking, drunk driving, drug overdoses, fast cars, dumb choices - that our kids will do. But living and breeding means giving those hostages to fortune. So we do. In fear. In hope. We do.

But to stake that kind of love in these little lives that are so brief, like fireflies in the pull these small souls so close to you that that "God" moment becomes not just a wistful sadness but a gutwrenching, heart-shattering horror...

And I realized that what I feel when I hear someone call their dog or cat a "furbaby" isn't irritation or impatience or frustration.

It's the slightest hint of what I felt, like a sliver of crystal still ringing after the shattered vase has come to rest, when I held my own daughter and felt her tiny heart run down and stop.


Carolyn said...

That was a very powerful and insightful post, Chief.

I'm a pet lover (3 dogs, 2 cats, & a turtle) who has no problem distinguishing my feelings for our non-human and human animal family members. ("Hello, my name is Carolyn and I am a speciesist".)

I believe that pets can add so much to our quality of life, but the types of relationships that seem to be so in vogue now between (some)people and their pets simply borders on pathological, imho.

Having said that, I know first-hand how emotionally hard it is to lose a beloved pet. But to think of how it must feel to lose a child literally makes my legs feel weak.

Mrs. Vandertramp said...

Thank you for this. I am wise enough to know that there is a difference between humans and our pet companions, but I've gone through that same decision-making process you described for a cat who I honestly believe saved my life 13 years ago. I remember that final day wondering, with the pain I was feeling, how I'd ever be able to deal with a similar situation with a child.

With the current dogs, they've truly kept me going, allowing me to nurture something - anything - while I search for a path to parenthood. For that gift, I feel an extra debt of gratitude to them.

That being said, I know they aren't human, I don't load them up with accessories or manicures or anything bordering, as Carolyn put it, on pathological. Not that I feel the need to prove my continued sanity to anyone, but just to share... ;-)