A pet memorial garden sits among the trees in my yard. A sculpture of three happy old women on a wooden fence overlooks the gravestones of pets who have lived with me over the last thirty years. The “Grandmothers” were created by Kirsten Engstrom, an artist from Hawthorne, Florida. She also made the monk that guards one of the graves. I made polymer clay flowers and a Shambhala flag for the other memorial stones.
Prounce, a Siamese cat who came with me to Gainesville thirty years ago, got the first memorial in the garden. She’d been a birthday gift for my 6-year-old daughter Amy when we lived in Rochester, Minnesota. When I started living alone in 1981, she became my shadow, seldom leaving my side. If I worked after eleven at night in my office, she complained in the doorway. I turned off the lights and followed her to the bedroom.
Rosie, a Corgi mix, was my heart. My daughter Amy rescued Rosie in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she was a senior at Oklahoma State vet school. Knowing Rosie and I were probably a good match, she sent her to Gainesville by airplane. I had a cat, Charlie, at the time. The minute Rosie walked in the back door, they were friends—taking turns chasing each other around the house. Rosie went everywhere with me—on camping trips, on errands in town, and to meetings. When she died unexpectedly at age fourteen, I felt as though the fabric of my life had been torn and I didn’t know how to put it back together.
My cat Charlie was one of a litter of six-week-old kittens offered for adoption by Gainesville Pet Rescue. A vet friend suggested I get a yellow male tabby. They were the best, she said. Charlie did turn out to be the best. He liked to watch nature specials on TV, especially documentaries about birds. He sat at the foot of my bed with his full attention to the screen. When birds flew out of camera range, he ran behind the TV looking for them. Charlie taught himself to ring the front doorbell when he wanted to be let in. He sat on the kitchen counter and pressed the lever on the electric can opener to tell me he was hungry. Once Rosie escaped from the yard and wandered off. I panicked and stood in the drive yelling “Rosie! Rosie!” In the distance I heard Charlie’s loud call. He’d found her two blocks from home and was telling where to find her.
Tiny was a Boston Terrier I inherited from my daughter Julie who’d just had a baby and couldn’t handle the dog’s frenetic energy. Julie’s husband didn’t like dogs anyhow, so Tiny moved in with Rosie and me. Soon she calmed down and assigned herself the role of protector. Any unfamiliar men who entered the house or yard were at risk. Over the three years I had her, she bit seven men who came to make household repairs or do landscaping. Her preferred target was the butt (sneak attack), but she would settle for a thigh, arm, or hand. At each incident, I apologized profusely and stuffed a twenty-dollar bill into the victim’s pocket. I was never sued.
Tiny got a brain tumor when she was five. A veterinary neurosurgeon in Jacksonville implanted a stent in her brain to drain off fluid that was collecting and causing symptoms. The operation gave her five more months of normal life. At the end, she went quickly.
Savannah, an Australian shepherd, was ten when I adopted her from Gainesville Pet Rescue. She had a genetic problem with her eyes that made her appear blind and unattractive to adopters. She also had early signs of progressive arthritis. Every time I visited Pet Rescue, there she was in a cage, waiting for a home. I worried that no one would adopt her, so I did.
Savannah was a headstrong alpha dog—not mean, but clear about what she wanted. As her arthritis got worse, I became her servant. When she could no longer walk, she barked to summon me. It was my job to figure out what she wanted. Near the end, I had to carry her outdoors to relieve herself. When her joint pain flared up badly, I lay next to her on the floor and massaged her back and hips—sometimes over an hour. Finally, when she was fourteen, I took her to the vet to be euthanized. I held her through the procedure, and she was brave and gracious as always.
Now I have a 9-year-old Chihuahua-Beagle mix, Trudy. I’m 80 years old. I don’t want to add a gravestone for her to the memorial garden. It would please me to think we could both pass to the next level of existence at the same time.
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