Butch was amazing with animals. He could tame a feral kitty so completely you would never know they had been wild. When his office was moving, he was concerned that two wild rabbits that lived outside their building and were fed every day would die. He caught them and found a nice place for one of them to live in a complex where there were outside tables where staff would continue to spoil it. The other one he brought home. He built it a huge hutch. It progressively came to believe it was a cat and hung out with our two tom cats. He trained it to come and sit on your foot to get a carrot. It was cute but annoying. When you went outside it would follow you around sitting on your foot until it got that carrot. When we were first married, we had a parakeet that followed him around everywhere. It would sit on the shower curtain when Butch showered and sing and take its own shower. They ate chips and onion dip together each evening after work. His favorite cat would fetch balls he made from Kleenex and scotch tape. A wild robin once built her nest on our back porch and Butch got one of the babies so used to him that he got it to perch on his shoulder as he sat in the back-yard swing. He would get up each morning and stir the food around in the cat’s self-serve feeder so there was fresh food at the top. The cat would not eat until he did that each day. If Butch hit the snooze button too many times one of his cats would climb up on the dresser and start throwing things onto the floor until Butch got up and dressed for work.
He taught all our dogs to do crazy tricks. Our first dog together was an Irish Setter. It adored our oldest son and agreed to eat anything our son flicked off the high chair to avoid having to eat it himself. We lived on a chicken farm for awhile. He could walk the Irish Setter into the barn with thousands of newly delivered baby chickens and the dog never even looked down. To sit down, it would wag its tail and swish out a clear spot to sit without bothering one chick in the process. The dog would lay under the living room window and allow our 18-month-old son to stand on him as he watched for his father to come home from work. We had an American Fox Hound that would back up and sit on the couch. Butch taught him to sit where he pointed. When kids came over Butch would point to the space next to the guest and order the dog to go sit next to John. John would then be amazed that the dog knew his name!! We have had dogs that rolled over to the command Yoba Kimba and other bizarre combinations. One of his hounds would roll on its back when he asked it if it was a dead armadillo. It would then groan. spread all four legs out as far as it could, and turn its head to one side with his eyes closed and his tongue out of his mouth. He trained the dogs not to go out the front door. They would sit on the threshold forever but never step outside. A friend once came to visit and found the front door standing wide open. Our son, definitely not a morning person, rushed out the door half asleep to get to school and left the door open. She said the dog was sitting patiently at the door of the empty house. She would not allow our friend on the porch, but she also stayed behind the threshold to harass her. His best jeep buddy dog would wear a sun visor and kerchief as they cruised around town together.
My companion now is his sweet border collie, Olivia (known as Ollie). She plays soccer. She is the best defender in the world. Watching the ball with amazing intuition, you can rarely get a kick away that she does not block or catch. She dribbles the ball with her feet and nose like a pro, using bushes as opponents to make it more interesting. She throws her flat soccer ball up in the air for herself as she runs and catches it every time. When he went outside he would tell her, “Go get your ball.” She would find it and drop it at his feet. When I say that she sits and stares at me like I am out of my mind until I get the ball myself. She is a great therapy dog, offering consolation to my clients in times of distress on the days I take her with me rather than leaving her home alone on long days. He used to tell her to “Go check on Mom.” and she would come find me in the house and demand a quick pat or two before returning to him. Sometimes, when I would sit in the back-yard swing after he died, it seemed as if he was out there with her, still enjoying her as she played. When I would become especially upset she would suddenly stop playing and run over to me as if he was out there and sent her to “Check on Mom.” She misses him as much as I do. I think she still expects him to come through the door. I don’t know what it is like for a dog to lose someone they love that much. If it is possible for a dog to mourn, she is definitely in this with me.
Pets are a part of them that we inherit when they die. Becoming us without them can mean becoming us with their pets. If we have the option of keeping them, they help us hold onto an important piece of our loved one. While they offer us unconditional love and companionship, they also trigger memories, both sweet and sad. Their pets are one more part of the collateral damage that is inevitable when someone dies and someone else has to pick up the pieces. If we must let go of pets we cannot take care of it is like losing a piece of our loved ones again. It can feel like a betrayal of their trust in us to care for their beloved animals if we choose to simplify our lives and give them away. Watching their pets leave pours salt on the gaping wound that was created when they died. We just can’t give them more choices than we have.
If there are dogs in heaven, I’m sure one of them is now rolling over to the command Yoba Kimba.