'We mourn our pets like a part of our family'

A painted representation of animals leaving Earth and heading up to a better place. Artist unknown. Courtesy|Amazon.com

I was standing just inside the entrance to Golden Paw Pet Rescue shelter on North Main when I overheard a woman donating some of her pet’s personal items — toys and accessories — to the shelter.

While I didn’t get this woman’s name, I did get the name of her dog — Penny. Clearly, Penny had recently died, because the woman’s emotions about her passing were still raw and evident. In fact, several times, she fought back tears. At one point she apologized, but the staff at Golden Paw were … well, “golden” to her and made her feel at home, saying over and over again how sorry they were for her loss.

On Wednesday, Golden Paw posted a picture to its Facebook page of that collection of toys — chew toys, tennis balls, tiny Frisbees, a hair brush, squeaky toys — she’d donated to the shelter in honor of Penny. The Facebook post read, simply: “All these toys and accessories donated in loving memory of Penny,” followed by a red heart emoji. I hope Penny’s owner goes online at some point in the near future and sees this post. Hopefully, it will help the healing process.

Right before she left, Penny’s owner told Golden Paw employee Leanne Cooper that, at some point down the road, when she could be around other dogs again without tearing up or thinking of her furry beloved, she wanted to volunteer at the shelter. It didn’t sound like she was in favor of bringing another dog into her household because Penny had been so special, and she’d be so hard to replace. Heck, I’ve thought the same thing over the years, time and time again, but eventually the wound scabs over, and there’s enough room left in the beating red ticker to accept another furry friend. But if Penny’s former owner can’t, volunteering time to spread some of her human love to other dogs and cats waiting to leave for a new forever home is honorable. Even though I don’t know her name, it’s nice to run across such good people, given what I do for a living.

Of course, when we lose a beloved pet, our thoughts often turn to the afterlife — at least mine do. I wonder where they’re at and what they do up there in the mists, waiting for their “humans” to come up there to be with them forever. After my Lady died, I had dreams about this — but nothing horrible or terrible, nothing that resembled a nightmare, surprisingly. They were good dreams. Pleasant dreams. Sure, they made my soul ache when I had them because I wanted Lady to be there at my side as she’d always been, and somehow, I knew that couldn’t be the case. Still, the dreams have stayed with me all these years later. Though some the details have been washed out and have gone a bit hazy because of the years, it will be a long, long time before I forget the gist of them. The dreams went something like this: I guess I’ve died. And I guess I’m in heaven. Whatever you call it, it’s a green field. A bright day. Sunny. The sky is filled with those fat, puffy clouds. It’s not too hot and not too cold — the perfect late spring or early fall day. This field is filled with soft grass, and there are trees nearby. The field isn’t flat, but rather I’m at the top of a slight rise, looking down. And that’s when I see Lady. She’s bounding up the slope toward me, those beagle ears flopping the way they do, and that frenzied howl fills the air. When she reaches me, I give her a hug, and I’m sure there are spilled tears. Then my other dogs who have all passed on arrive, either bounding up that hill toward me or bounding right into me, all wet tongues and poking paws — my beautiful black Velvet and my white border collie Bobo from when I was a kid. Each time I lay an eye on each new familiar dog, my excitement escalates a notch. It’s just a wonderful feeling. My cats are there, too — Tansy and Sassy and my boy Nemo. But there are no humans in this dream. My wife and my stepdaughters and my parents and everyone else are completely absent. Call it a selfish dream, if you will. It’s just me and my dogs and cats. And I’m quite happy with that.

I’ve been thinking about dogs and cats and death and souls and heaven lately, because the Rev. Frank Sierra of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church conducted the annual blessing of the animals on Saturday in Joplin, where he’s blessed everything from your traditional spaniel to a squirrel — even a snake.

Whether they bark or hiss, flick out forked tongues or live to lock horns, “we cherish the myriad works of your hands,” Sierra said during the ceremony I attended in 2017. “It’s thanksgiving for our pets. They are wonderful companions. We give thanks to God for them, and we bless them and bless us with them.”

Nearly 20 dogs — and a lone cat — made the journey Thursday evening to the outdoor courtyard behind the shelter at 140 E. Emperor Lane. The canines ringing Sierra during the ceremony came in all shapes and sizes: some small, some large, a few overweight, and one that was dressed up in its Sunday’s best. There were shepherds and Labs and hounds and collies.

When, in the Book of Genesis, God gave us dominion over the animals of the earth, “that doesn’t mean you can boss them around or use and abuse them,” the reverend said. “As you well know, you can have pets ... to nurture them so that their lives are rich and full, which makes our lives rich and full by their presence in our lives.” Ultimately, these “friendly beasts” give us “companionship, the laughter and the joy they share with us.”

“And when we lose them,” Sierra continued, “we mourn them because they are like a part of our family. We thank God for having them in our lives.”

Address correspondence to Kevin McClintock, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email kmcclintock@joplinglobe.com.

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