Farm life exposes one early to some of the harsh realities of life and death. My dog regularly caught rabbits while we walked through the fields and woods behind my house. He wouldn't toy with them, as a cat does with a mouse. He would go right for the gut, and start chowing down. Eventually, I preferred to hike without a canine companion, because otherwise I wouldn't see any wildlife, or if I did it would be eaten before my eyes.
We had a couple of beloved collies when I was very young, and one of them walked into the woods, when it was old and started to feel unwell. My dad walked through the woods for hours and hours, calling for that dog, but the dog was never seen again. My father said that he had gone off into the woods to die. How sad is that, wanting to walk away from those who love you, so that you don't burden them in your final hours.
But the cat came back the very next day. We thought she was a goner, but the cat came back...
...and fed her kittens even though her skull had been split open by a car zooming down Dean Street. My parents brought the box of her newborn kittens out onto the porch and the tortoise-colored mother cat nursed them. The look in her damaged eyes told us that she knew the inevitable outcome of this summertime tragedy. My sister and I both looked into the box, but what happened afterwards is not a clear memory. My parents obviously had to ensure that the cat and her kittens were put to sleep. I can only hope that my dad drove all the way to the vet, and didn't decide to stop by the river.
These days, we'd be the type of family who would just happen to have a lactating wolverine on the premises. The kittens would thrive, being nursed by the vicious, yet motherly wolverine. We would become YouTube stars, and the unlikely bond between kittens and carnivorous beast would be passed around by multitudes on Facebook, including MY MOM!!
My favorite cat was Kittykins. I adopted her from a family, who didn't want her around, plus she was being bullied by the dogs in the house. I adopted her, named her "Kittykins" and she was with me for over ten years, traveling across the country a few times. She is still my only pet to have had her portrait painted. When she had to be put to sleep due to kidney disease -- aka old age -- I had to leave the room. I balled my eyes out. Kittykins wasn't coming back, nine lives mythology or not.
|Kittykins - her official portrait.|
Animal companions provide something that other humans are usually too busy to bother with. They'll sit with you when you're in tears, and ask what the problem is, sometimes with a furry paw gently touching your cheek. Dogs will walk in the rain with you, and protect you from predators. Cats will pass on their feline wisdom and then take a nap.
The animal tragedies of my youth are some of my most haunting memories. I never grew the hard-shell exterior that would inure me life on a farm, slaughtering rabbits on the weekend, and dealing with dead sheep in the pasture. I was just a sensitive boy, lost in his sketchbooks, in need of unconditional love. In fact, I'm still that boy.