Earlier this week, a friend of mine sadly lost the cat she had for 13 years this week. She had to come in to work for a meeting, and sadly, the cat had passed away by the time she got home. Apparently the cat was looking worse for the wear over the weekend, but she thought she would at least have one more day in her. Needless to say, it’s been a heavy loss.
It was stupid hot this week, so she had to put the cat in a rubbish bag and then in the freezer, until she could get it to a vet for cremating. And she was telling us how it’s weird to have a cat in your freezer, but by the time she got herself together to take her somewhere, her vet’s office was closed. I don’t blame her – it’s better than the cat roasting outside in a box or a garbage bag or something else. I would’ve done the same thing. Probably.
I’ve seen a few dead mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, and fish in my lifetime. The first time I saw a dead pet was when Shayne had a cage full of mice (his first and last adventure into mouse ownership), and one of them drowned in the water bowl. And then there was Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, the 3 albino guinea pigs that Josh and Mary and I got when we moved to Texas, who all died within a week of each other, about 2 months after we brought them home. Note to self: when you’re buying $10 animals from a weird pet shop, it’s not surprising when their life span is limited to 6 weeks. It was so startling to see them, lying on their side, kinda bloated, sometimes with the tongue hanging out. And so sad, and a bit morbidly fascinating to realise that they were just dead. Dead. That’s it. Mom would put a cover over the cage until dad came home, then we would have a proper burial*.
Those were just “little” pets. I really don’t know how I’d handle it if I found one of the dogs or cats dead, unexpectedly. Even now, when I come home and don’t immediately see Pancake at the door yowling for me, my heart races with the worst case scenario. Like when my mom said she found our cat, Panther, under a bed, where she normally hid, except this time she wasn’t moving.
I asked my friend if she was going to cremate the cat, because I knew a few people in the States who kept their pet’s ashes.
“Of course. I worked a vet clinic when I was in high school. If the owners didn’t want the pets cremated, then they went into cold storage, and eventually buried in a mass grave.”
“A mass grave?”
“Yeah, well, in the dump.”
That was sad to think. We’ve never cremated a pet. And I couldn’t help but think of them, and how they were just dropped into a landfill, decomposing, and becoming one with the soil. Except not really because they’d be in plastic bags. How long does the plastic bag take to break down? Do they ever really? Or do all the pets in plastic bags just keep getting crushed with new loads of deceased animals in plastic bags, forming layer after layer of plastic bags of dead best friends?
She laughed and said she wanted to be buried with the ashes of her pets, since they’ve all been together for decades. It reminded me of how they’ve found cat sarcophagi in the tombs of Pharaohs and rich people.
“What do you think happens when you get to Heaven?” I asked. “Do you think you cross the rainbow bridge and you’re suddenly reunited with all the pets you’ve ever had?” I had this vision of walking through clouds and seeing all of them – the dogs, the cats, the birds, guinea pigs, ferrets, the horse – and just having a nice time hanging out with them for eternity, taking naps, playing in the cloud yard, eating snacks. And, in typical Audrey fashion, I switched gears and thought,
what if hell is all the pets you’ve ever had all fighting each other for all eternity to prove once and for all they were the most loved and most favourite? What if real hell is being surrounded by all the pets you’ve ever had, their faces pressed against the plastic bags they were buried in, but now they can talk, and they ask you why you let them die/gave them to a neighbour with more time/let the police adopt them/didn’t pay them enough attention/replaced them with another?
I think a person has an infinite amount of love for pets. And it’s incredibly unfair that we outlive them. But, it’s not as if one pet replaces another. We’ve had so many pets come through our house. Some stayed from babies to old age, some didn’t work out and went to other families, some were $10 rodents that didn’t have a good chance anyway. But I loved them all, and mourned all of their losses. Just because I love the pets that are living now, doesn’t mean I don’t love the pets I’ve lost. It’s like what I imagine having multiple children is like – you love each of them more than the others and yet you love all of them as a whole more than anything in the world. “Having to explain myself to all my old pets in the afterlife” is inching its way to the Top 5 on my list of irrational fears.
My friend said, “I think Heaven will be a giant bed, and all my pets are just lying on there with me.”
“Even if you had to put them down, or had to give them away?”
“Or had to put them in the freezer?”
“Yeah! None of that matters in Heaven. It’s just a big bed.”
Well, that’s a nice thought.
I hope I get to Big Bed Heaven. Not scary confrontational decomposed doggies in plastic bags Hell.
*after the three guinea pigs died, my best friend and I watched Pet Sematary. My mom said we came in after the movie was done holding the shovel and a bible and asked if she remembered where the guinea pigs were buried. We got a lecture on letting the dead stay dead.