Mourning of Companion Animals

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. – Ecclesiastes 3:19

At those times when Maynard is most like a puppy, rolling around on my lap, biting my fingers and his leg, coming when I call him, or following me around, I am rather happy that I most likely will not out live him. At 25 years old, he has a life expectancy of 60+ years, meaning he may be around for 35 more. Whereas I, even with getting my health into better shape, as well as my body, and working to get off medications, at nearly 60, may squeak out another 30 years.

Losing Maynard will be devastating, much more than other birds I live with. My first cockatiel, Palafox, lived to be 21 years old, and when he died, I went into shock. And while I have mourned many cats and dogs over the years, they always had the grace to give me some warning they were failing and it was time to let them go. Palafox just left. No chance to say goodbye, and a nagging feeling I had done something that caused his death. Several months after he died, I finally sobbed out to Mike that I thought I killed him, and thankfully he reassured me that I was mistaken.

Recently I have laid to rest two cats that were very dear to me. One reached the age of 16 years, and the other made it a month shy of her 21st birthday. I had the financial blessings of being able to have them cremated, and keep the ashes with me. With my dog Dusty, and with my daughter’s cat Ceo, we were not so well off. Nor did we have a large enough freezer. Dusty was the best dog I had ever had, Even her bad habits weren’t that bad. And the fact that we have not been allowed to have a dog since she passed makes it difficult to heal that loss.

We do keep our birds that pass on in the freezer, and once a quarter, as close to the solstices or equinoxes as we can, we have a bonfire in the pit in the back yard, and send them on the rest of their journey. I try to remember the names of each one each time, but often they were just chicks who didn’t make it or one of the budgies who looks exactly like two others.

Pet monuments is a big business. Even the humane society where I volunteer has tiles you can buy and have your pet’s name immortalized. The tiles are set into the pavement around the center fountain in front of the building. Los Angeles has a pet cemetery that started as a donation of land from a wealthy family to the SPCA in 1928, making it one of the oldest memorial parks for pets on the West Coast.

When Palafox died, I didn’t even think about finding a support group to help me get over the terrible grief and guilt. These days, there are wonderful people who understand the attachment between animal and guardian, and help those in need.
According to Uncle Wiki, people have buried animal remains with their dead for eons. The oldest pet cemetery on the East Coast of the United States is in New York, in what started out as an apple orchard. Hartsdale Pet Cemetery is also the site of the first memorial to service dogs who died in wars, starting with World War I.

In London, there is a beautiful memorial to animals who served in past conflicts, and if you click on the history link, you will see they remember not only the dogs, but also horses, mules, pigeons, “Elephants, camels, oxen, bullocks, cats, canaries, even glow worms.”
Poets have been moved to commemorate animal companions through their art, most famously George Gordon, Lord Byron. And while not a traditional memorial, the Hemmingway Home and Museum continues to nurture polydactyl cats there. The first avian memorial I found is a web page maintained by Planned Parrothood:

This page has memorial markers specifically for birds, and notes that most of the popular companion parrots have a longer life span than cats and dogs. They recognize that a deep bond and special relationship can grow between humans and parrots. That’s nice. And here are more recognizable bird stones:

Palafox is buried in the back yard at the house I now live in. I’ve always wanted to put a statue of St. Francis of Assisi to mark the spot. Growing up Catholic and loving all animals, I had an natural afinity for this holy monk. Statues of St. Francis often depict him with birds around his shoulders, and incorporate dishes for seed or water in the design. This site has a lovely bit of art showing him preaching to the birds:

I hope he had better luck with that than I do. See you on Wednesday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.