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Mrs. Manor and I have always been dog and cat people, and when we married, I inherited a dog and a cat.  Sadly, the cat, a male, did not take well to another male in the house, and the last straw came when he pissed on the chest of my sister in law, who was in bed, sleeping at the time.  No, we didn’t shoot him; we just found him a more appropriate home.

That left Heinz, a cute little female peekapoo with a snub nose and curled tail.  A more charming little dog one could not find, and we loved her and she loved us for years, until her back went out, and no amount of therapy could fix the problem or stop the pain.  No longer able to do doggy things, no longer able to be a happy little dog, we sent her on to doggie heaven.

It’s a subject I addressed back in June in Do Dogs Go To Heaven?  I concluded that article:

Will Snookie, and my other animal friends be waiting for me when my time here is done? Yes. How do I know? I don’t—I can’t–but the fundamental nature of Christianity, of God, is love. It’s what he asks of us, and what he gives us in unimaginable abundance.

The greatest of these is love. Love abides. It precedes us and lives on when we die, and it remains with us forever.

hope to see Snookie again. I have faith I will, because my love for her has not lessened these many decades, just as her love never wavered. This faith harms no one, and comforts me. Can I be absolutely, provably, scientifically certain I’ll see my beloved little dog again? Of course not. But I have faith, and love, which are required–-and entirely voluntary.

I write again about animals, not to make a theological point, but because it’s much on my mind these days.  After we lost Heinz, we grieved long, and often reminisce what a good dog she was.  There is no finer canine epitaph.  We eventually replaced her with a cat, because with our then careers—police work for me, and handling a telephone central office for Mrs. Manor–cats were so much easier.  They’re much more independent, use a litter box, and once one understands them, are as loving and delightful as dogs.

Over the years we had several, but none lived longer than eight years, falling prey to feline leukemia, each early death heart wrenching, each loss the flight of a unique personality.  Finally, a few years after we settled in Texas as teachers, gone all day, we opened our hearts once more and set out to the city animal shelter.

Almost immediately, a female brown and grey striped kitten, obviously with some Maine Coon ancestry, locked eyes with us and asked: “what took you so long?”  We took her to the vet where she got her shots and treatment for ear mites, and when we got home, I lay a fluffy towel in my lap and having had a hard day, she rolled onto her tiny back, all four paws in the air, and slept for three hours.  I grabbed a book, didn’t move and let her sleep.

When her eyes opened, she looked up, fixated on my face, imprinted and that was that: she was and is, ever after, daddy’s cat.  She loves Mrs. Manor too, and when she wants to play rough, she goes to Mrs. Manor, but when she needs reassurance, when she wants someone to tell her how pretty and special she is, when she wants a lap on which to sleep, she comes to Daddy.

We often say she allows us to live in her house as long as we keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed, which is very much a cat attitude.  Cats train us, but we have taught her many dog traits.  She comes when called, has learned to vocalize her emotions and wants in unmistakably different vocalizations appropriate to the situation, and has a devilish sense of humor.  Let cats be cats and the rewards are endless.

She has turned 16, a long life for a cat, and we’ve shared our lives with her far longer than any furry companion we’ve loved.  She always came to greet us when we’d been out of the house, but recently, that stopped, and we noticed she wasn’t seeing very well.  That progressed to seeing not very much at all, and probably not hearing much at all, though she remembers the house well enough to navigate successfully–though even that is failing–but without the feline grace of her youth.  She navigates, she just doesn’t see or hear us coming or going.

Then there was the arthritis, diagnosed a year or so ago.  Jumping up on chairs that would have been a piece of cake not long ago is now a real production, or a failed production no longer attempted.  Getting up and laying down is difficult, the slow, creaky fits and stops of old age, and walking is difficult to watch, though it doesn’t appear—yet—to be too painful to bear—for either of us.

Now, when I’m reading in my favorite recliner in the library, where she has always slept on my lap, I have to lift her up.  She can’t make the leap, and can barely raise her front paws up to the arm to make it easier to lift her.  Sometimes she misses.  It annoys, and increasingly frustrates, her.

She never used to like brushing, so we did it second hand with the vacuum: cat to carpet, carpet to Dyson.  But in the last year, she’s come to relish it.  She needs the reassurance, and she’s needing it more and more every day.  When she comes to the library, she loudly and insistently lets me know she’s there and it’s time for brushing and pets.  She knows what she wants, and knows who will give it to her.  Temporarily satisfied, she goes about her increasingly slow kitty business.

What breaks our hearts is she can no longer tell if I’m there.  She’ll lurch into the library, into an empty room, and ask for reassurance that isn’t coming.  I do my best to make it up to her later.  Mrs. Manor does her best, but she’s daddy’s kitty, and it really isn’t the same.  It’s her house, but it’s not the same without us, and we’re fading from her present reality.  Still, she believes I’m there, so she tries to find me when she needs me.

It won’t be the same without her.  That’s our hard reality.

In the last week, she’s begun vomiting several times a day.  We fear she’s not able to keep her food down and we’re watching closely.

Do animals go to heaven?  I don’t know; I can’t know, but it comforts me to believe they do, to believe I’ll once again feel those happy, furry, warm little bodies, and once again experience their unconditional love, love so easily satisfied with a loving caress, a bit of tummy scratching, brushing, and words of affection, words that fall easily, sometimes embarrassingly, from the lips of the biggest, toughest man.

Heaven for animals?  Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, my believing that neither picks anyone’s pocket nor breaks their leg.

God created it all: us, cats, dogs, all the animals we love, cherish and protect, giving them lives of leisure and adoration they would not have without us, lifespans they would not have without our care.  Sure, they take money, time and attention, but they give so much more.

That’s on purpose, because God created them to make us better people.

We don’t have to take care of animals. We could simply eat them, and in some cultures, people do.  But God had a better plan.  He always does.

As children, we learn to care for animals, to share, to give affection, to recognize the importance of other lives and to give of ourselves to care for them.  We refine those lessons as adults when we begin to understand the full measure of the commitment we make to our pets.

And all along, they teach us responsibility, gentleness, kindness, how to take the time for the small things of life, how to play joyously and without guilt, not to take oneself too seriously, and above all, how to love unconditionally.  And it teaches us how to grieve, how to live through loss.  We’ll have to do that, again, soon.

My slightly younger sister would say the same about her relationships with animals, and her home is overrun with them, many bequeathed to her by children whose changing lives couldn’t accommodate the animals they acquired.  When we visit, I pet them ferociously, and tell them what a shame it is no one pets them around that place.  They do not correct that loving lie.

My sister now has three dogs and two cats.  One of the dogs, a perfectly lovely animal, has too much anti-cat instinct, so she must keep the two cats in the basement, always separated from the dog that would kill them.  When our cat, Mushi, dies we’re taking them out of the basement, and they’ll let us live in their new home, a home they can explore from top to bottom, never having to worry about being eaten.

That day is coming soon.

Nothing will ever replace little Mushi, but we’ll have two new friends, two new loves, to teach us more.  Even at our increasing ages, there is never a lack of things to learn, especially how to love more fully.

Animals—pets–teach us that.  Thank God.