On Dogs and Cats, and Unfortunately, Death

“‘It’s dreadful, isn’t it?'”

“‘What? Death?'”

“Yes. It makes everything else seem so horribly trivial. He doesn’t look human. When you look at him you can hardly persuade yourself that he’s ever been alive. It’s hard to think that not so very many years ago he was just a little boy tearing down the hill and flying a kite.'” (Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil.)

I just walked over to open my window as it was getting hot in my living room. I was all ready to start working; I had my coffee ready, a handful of stolen mini eggs from my kids’ Easter baskets had just been eaten, and all that was left was to let in some fresh air to counteract the effects of blind-less south-facing windows. And then I stopped. My dogs were sitting, or lying, in the sun, right outside the window. It was strange because they never sit outside that particular window. And so I looked again, closer this time. There was something else lying at their feet. Something black and fuzzy and – Oh My God!! It was a cat. Asleep….no, no, no, no. Shit. Not a sleeping cat. There was a ratty looking, but formerly fuzzy-looking, dead cat lying at my dog’s feet.

It was black, just like them. Well, it still is black. It’s weird. I want to speak of it in the past tense because it is in the past tense, now. Even though the body is still lying there, right at the edge of my dog’s paws, as if she’s keeping a hold on it, not allowing anyone or anything near it. It’s kind of creeping me out actually, the way my one dog has her paws just sitting on the back of the dead cat, as if claiming ownership.

Was she the killer? Is that dead cat at her feet her prize?

It had to be her. She is the younger, more spry dog. She is the one that takes off like a rocket the moment there is anything she thinks needs attending to outside. The other one, the older one, can hardly keep up with her arthritis and generally stockier body. Even before she got old she was not built for speed. There is no way my older dog could have possibly killed that cat. Besides, I don’t think she’d have it in her.

But I didn’t think either of them had it in them.

Maybe they are siting Shiva (is that how you spell it? Is it spelled the same as the Hindu god? Maybe I shouldn’t be throwing around religious terms I know nothing about. I just saw it on a movie once, This is Where I Leave You, where the family sat for a week after their father had died. Sitting together, in silence, surrounded by death. Okay, well, the silence part didn’t happen because then there would not have been a movie, but you get my point, don’t you? They sat vigil after a death. Which is exactly what my dog’s seem to be doing now.), watching over the cat’s soul as it transitions to its next place, its next life. I’d like to think they are honoring this poor, lost cat. I’d like to think they came upon its body in the back of the yard, up against the field, where it had been killed and attacked by some other wild animal. Maybe stomped by a Moose or bitten by a werewolf. Anything to suggest that my dogs, my sweet dogs that nuzzle me to get out of bed in the morning and look sad and pathetic when I dare pull out of the driveway and leave them behind, could have possibly taken another life.

I mean, we have a cat. Do they not recognize that? Do they not understand that they just killed Skipper’s (the cat) kin and in so doing, basically killed their own kin? Because aren’t animals part of a family and if these dogs are part of our family and our cat is part of our family that makes them fellow family members and therefore any extension of their species should then be cared for like family? Don’t they get that?

My dogs cannot be cold blooded killers.

What if that cat had its own family?

What if my neighbors are going to be calling for their cat and it doesn’t come because it is laying at my dog’s feet? Would Bella (the younger dog, the spry one, the only one that could actually catch a cat) bring over their cat and lay it at their feet in an act of apology? Or, perhaps, she’s still just watching over it until its owners come to find her. Perhaps they will pick up their cat and there won’t be anything wrong with it. Perhaps there would be no teeth marks on its neck or torn skin or injuries because my dogs have simply found it, lying there, dead from natural causes and couldn’t bear to just leave it alone.

That could happen, right?

Because, I cannot deal with the fact that my dogs have killed a poor cat.

Am I responsible for that cat now? For its death? Because I sort of feel like I am. I feel like I should mourn the soul that was ripped from its body far too soon, because of my dogs.

Again, my dogs who have never so much as snarled at our own cat.

How do I just continue on with my day now, when there is essentially, a dead body right outside my window? Do I just keep munching on my mini eggs, drinking my coffee with a shrug that says, “Oh, so goes the circle of life?” Because, I can’t.

I can’t just brush this off.

Something has just died.

How do you continue with your day when something, just mere feet from you, has breathed its last breaths?

This reminds me of when my dad died. Or, when he was lying in the hospital bed on life support, waiting to be taken off. I wandered out into the city, out of the hospital, and was completely stunned by all the people continuing on with their days. How could someone be hurrying by, worrying they’d missed their lunch reservations or carrying their latest purchases in a shopping bag, when someone, when my father, was about to die? Or essentially, had died?

How does that work?

I felt like the world should have stopped or something. I mean, only days before I had seen my dad, laughing and joking, and hanging about, and now he’d ceased to exist (in that form, of course, his soul would never cease to exist, but that is another post entirely, one I am not quite comfortable writing with my limited knowledge of that stuff). That just doesn’t happen, does it? People don’t just die while others worry about what they’ll be making for supper that night or if their kid finished their homework?

And yet, they do. Because time does not stop for death, or time would cease to exist. There are people dying at every moment while we drink our coffee and eat chocolates and have our own hearts ripped out from the pain of it. I mean, death happens all the time, at every second, which means it’s just so utterly common and yet, so utterly devastating at the same time. How could something that can cause so much pain happen all the time?

I’d heard about death many times before watching my dad experience it. But it didn’t mean anything to me except for the fact that it was sad and I had a moment of sorrow for whoever it was that was affected by it, but I had no idea what they were actually going through. The majority of my knowledge of death came from movies, where a character died an emotional but honorable death that was utterly essential to the story, and although it was sad, there was always that scene at the end where the hero’s life had moved on, changed no doubt by that person and their consequential death. So to me, it was this dramatically moving thing that seemed so utterly romantic.

Until I was caught up in the throes of it and realized that the scene at the end of the movie, where the person has moved on and is changed by it, is not as bittersweet as it seems. It’s hell and heavy and sad and that final scene never ends because you carry the loss with you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t end with the credits. Even if the lights come on in the theatre and you step outside to find the rest of the world whirring by, caught up in their day to day lives despite the fact that death is staring them in the face every single day!

And yet, you do change and time passes and you get caught back up in the day to day of it all and you do forget. Not that you forget the person you lost, the memory of them is with you at all times, stronger at some moments then others, but you tend to forget the preciousness of it all. Because you are healthy and happy and moving on with your life. You may be changed, but you still must continue, because that is the way of it, isn’t it. As shocking and breathtaking as death can be, it is still something that happens and, even though it feels like it at times, it does not have the power to stop time. At least not for everybody.

So, what do I do now? I am still on a schedule. I am still facing a precious few hours to write before the other responsibilities of my life come around. Can I give that up for a dead cat? Do I ignore my thirst, my hunger, because death is just outside my window? Or do I bless that cat’s soul for a brief moment and wish for it something better in the next life, and then thank it for having crossed my path? Be grateful for the reminder that life is truly precious and precarious and should not be taken lightly, even if we forget every once in a while. And then continue on with my day, because what else is there to do?

I’m not sure if the cat belonged to anyone or not, I really hope it was a stray trying to survive in the harsh wilds of our back fields and that my dogs have not broken anyone’s heart. No matter what, I do not take the loss of the cat’s life lightly, nor can I look at my dog the same way again. I may not be able to do anything for the poor thing, but I can take this as a sign not to waste another minute of my time on the stuff that does not matter.

So maybe getting on with my day is the most respectful thing I can do? Just as living my life is the best way to honor my dad. Perhaps death is so common because it is so easy for us to forget what truly matters and these little wake up calls are just the gifts we need to see all the beauty in life, to see how trivial some of it really can be.

Or maybe I’m just saying that to make myself feel better. Either way, I need to find something.

On another note, my dog has not left that cat’s side. Maybe she didn’t kill it, or at least, didn’t mean to and now feels just as bad as I do for that cat’s soul. Maybe she, too, learned a lesson today and will value life just a little more – at least the lives of other living beings. I can only hope so.

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