There is something cathartic about grave digging. I think if you have never done so, you should give it a try. I could go out and get an exact count, but I think this brings me up to nearly a dozen holes dug. We have two pet cemeteries here on the estate. The first one filled up and today I dug the fifth hole in the new site. Now before notes of condolences come rushing in – This hole is not for a recent loss of one of our animal friends. You see, it is getting cold out and soon the ground will freeze.
Welcome to Northern New England – The land of Yankee practicality.
Since the first time faced with needing to bury a pet here, some twenty-two years ago, we have understood that should such ill befall a pet a mid winter – your options are limited. For some time now we have made sure to have an open spot in two sizes before hard frost sets in – one sized for a dog and the other for a cat.
If you have ever dug much of a hole in such soil as is to be found in Maine – you know what a trial it can be. Roots, rocks and challenges abound. Digging a respectable resting place for a beloved pet generally requires great effort and affords one much time to contemplate life and what better time to contemplate life than while digging a grave. Todays task was a spot suitable for a cat. I already have a dog spot ready and thankfully have not had the need to use it for quite a few years now.
There are a couple of truths about pets that I have come to firmly believe in. The first is that there is no such thing as a free pet. Nearly all of our animals are, or have been, rescues or shelter adoptions. At the time of this writing we have four dogs and five cats (down from four dogs and eight cats – the high-watter mark). There have been a total of eighteen animals cared for since our life began here in Maine. To say our annual vet bills and food bills are stratospheric, is an understatement. The second truth is that for each animal welcomed into the house you can pause, look into their face and understand that you are looking at heartache waiting to happen.
In addition to the lesson of caring and personal responsibility, our animal friends have also taught us about life, death and that doing what is right is seldom easy. With only one exception, all of our critters have needed a little help when the time to move on had arrived. Each time (and there have been as many times as there are markers on the land) we have fully participated in the process. Hands on participation. I have held each one, stroked their fur and felt the last breath leave there bodies and validated their now still heart. Not easy. I think the hardest thing is waiting – Knowing that today is the day – that now is the time to act, getting it clear in your heart and mind and waiting for the vet to arrive. Thankfully, a good friend of ours is a vet – Tom is a large animal vet but has run small animal practices in the past. Tom understands this process. Tom is a good friend.
The reason that only one of the many has gone out naturally is that we have been unwilling to allow suffering. We allow sickness, and tend to our ailing friends the best we can but refuse to allow suffering. With cats it is most often kidney disease. This can be a long, long trial. With patrick, my beloved Scottish Fold, we administered sub-cue ringers 100CC each morning and night for two years. This fluid kept him alive for two years after his initial pronouncement of doom by our vet. I think that even they were surprised as to what extent we were willing to go for the little guy. We had become skilled at the daily routines and had sacrificed much flexibility and personal freedom as a result of the firm schedule of administrative care. This was a good lesson. The care of others first – something more than the self – a lesson in selflessness. We were willing to do this for him and do so without a moments reservation and administered the care lovingly. He knew it and we knew he did. We were not however willing to allow something so loved to suffer, and he let us know when it was time.
Now if only I could offer the same care and duty to my mother. For some reason (and yes, I know the reason, though do not agree) we behave differently when such matters of quality of life refer to humans rather than pets. Sorry. All life has soul. My mom has passed the mark where there are any qualities of life worth preserving. Yet – there is not a thing that can be done other than wait and watch her suffer her fate. A fate she had expressly stated great fear of. I can still hear her say ” Don’t ever let me get that way”. Sorry mom.
As for my little animal friends, I do my best – will go to whatever extent within my means to keep you happy safe and healthy and when such time comes that you are no longer able to live the life you deserve, I will do the hard thing and be there with you until the last breath leaves your body. And then, I have a spot picked out for you – prepared with much care. It is a quite spot, we have a bench where we can sit and reflect, and we have prepared it with a view – a place where you can forever look out to the forrest near by and watch the birds, and squirrels, and the land you loved. So today marks another time on this grim task though today I do not find it grim at all. This task, as in all tasks from the heart, provides a lesson to the person willing to accept it. It was a beautiful day today. The first real snow of the season had just fallen the night before, the sun was out and we were busy with last minute tasks such as bringing in last minute things forgotten from summer and fall – and for grave digging.