Sunday, June 21, 2009

We had to put Rocky, our cat, down yesterday. "Put him down," which sounds like you have to let go of something you've carried around for so long, and refuse to do anything other than hold him near. It was hard. Mrs. Ditchman and I cried about it, she more than I. She's had him since she was a teenager, long before I came around. All his days, Rocky never let me forget this.

"He's a good cat, isn't he?" the vet asked, and of course he was. I wondered if the vet asked everyone this, or if he actually saw something about Rocky in his dying days that was remarkable, something different in this animal that the doctor rarely sees in all the pets that come through his office. Somehow, I doubt it. No one knows how special your pets are to you, especially people without pets. They think you're crazy for loving that dumb, voiceless creature. But even other people with pets usually don't get your connection with that animal. But my dog, on the other hand, my dog is a special dog...

We outlive our animals for a reason, I suspect, and it is so we can learn something about death and loss before the real significant deaths and losses come later in life, which they will. I thank God for this. Do our dogs and cats go to heaven? You know, of course, that they do. They are innocent and blameless, perfect servants of God's children, and in some ways, nearer to the angels than we. No good god would disallow them their rightful place in Paradise, and I believe God is good. See how your pets love you so? The evidence is right there.

I'm not kidding. I don't want to get too philosophical about it, but Man is not part of this animal world he lives in. Man was created apart from it, above it. But our pets give us a tether to this earth, so that we are not lost in some distant proud orbit. Something like the Grand Canyon reminds us that what God created is beautiful. Our animals remind us that what God created is beautiful and good. Now, if we could only provide those two things for one another. It doesn't exactly come naturally to us, but it does to our pets.

Rocky lived nearly twenty years, which is plenty long, and we watched him grow very old this past year, as if all those years had suddenly caught up with him. You just knew he met the children and thought, my work here is finished. Where before his hours of loud purring were relentless, his purr was no more. And this was when we knew it was time.

We buried him in the backyard yesterday, in that spot where he loved to lay in the sun. We did it when the kids were napping, and tried to do it without falling apart. Later, we sat the Little Ditchman down and explained to her that Rocky died. She had a quick, tiny frown, and it looked to me as if she wanted to avoid the feelings that were coming, but she caught herself and said, "Maybe we can get another cat." Maybe. Some day. Not today.

The house was a bit lonelier this morning, though we're not sure the kids noticed it. And it's sad. It's just sad. Mrs. Ditchman is handling it all with grace, dignity, and aplomb, as I expected she would. I had to bury the feelings, otherwise I would not have been able to handle the literal burying that needed to be done. It's what men do. But if I stopped to think about how every day, just after we married, when I would come home from work and see that beautiful cat sleeping so peacefully on the couch, and the little jump my heart made at the sight of it, every time, at how peaceful and beautiful and perfect he was, just laying there... He was an inspiration. And I'm glad he's not suffering anymore.