Photo courtesy of the Animal Rescue League of Boston
Outside of Boston, in the town of Dedham, Massachusetts, there is a pet cemetery known as Pine Ridge. Operated by the Animal Rescue League of Boston, it is the final resting place of many beloved pets, including Dewey the cat. We don’t know much about Dewey; he might have been a marmalade cat, or a tuxedo tom, or coal black, or a mackerel tabby. But we do know one thing: to the person who loved him, he wasn’t “only a cat.”
Anyone who has loved and lost a pet has likely heard some similar sentiment expressed by an acquaintance or even a friend. “The shelter opens at 8AM,” my pal Chuck told me after my beloved cat, Mieux, died unexpectedly. He meant well; but he couldn’t empathize with the depth of my grief and the real agony I was experiencing. The truth is, even though more than half of the people in this country own pets, those whose homes do not include them (and even some whose do)sometimes see a pet as a sort of accessory (I really like that ottoman, but I can always get another one once this gets too dirty. This is my favorite purse, but if the strap breaks, I’ll swing by Marshall’s on the way home). Still, for most of us who have a critter in the mix, they are as irreplaceable as any other member of the family.
While the concept of cherishing a pet is certainly not new (archaeologists have found pet memorials dating back thousands of years) society has, in recent years, begun to accept pet loss as a real issue and not simply wasted sentiment. (Some employers even offer bereavement leave when staffers lose a pet.) It is commonly recognized that pets aid in reducing stress and blood pressure, and may even boost the immune system. They watch for our return at the end of the day; they keep our confidences; they make us laugh. Many’s the loyal dog and cat who has served as a foot warmer on cold nights. Is it any wonder that we suffer when we lose them?
One of the most famous pet memorials is at Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, England. Lord Byron (George Gordon) inherited the property from his great-uncle and was residing there when his beloved Newfoundland, Boatswain, contracted rabies. Having had the dog since he was a puppy, Lord Byron (who reportedly nursed the dog until the end), was completely bereft. He interred Boatswain in a large monument and expressed his wish to be buried with the dog when his own time came. (Sadly, that was not possible: changes in fortune had demanded that the estate be sold before Lord Byron’s passing.) The words etched on this monument have become well known to people who love animals as well as those who love poetry:
Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains of one
Who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.
This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
If inscribed over human ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG
Who was born at Newfoundland, May, 1803,
And died at Newstead, Nov 18th, 1808.
As devastated as I was after the loss of my beloved cat in June 2012, I knew that eventually another cat would make a place in my life, my home and my heart. A brown tabby kitten with a white shirt-front and huge paws arrived from Kihei, Maui, that September and while I will always love and miss Mieux I am grateful everyday for my new companion. I make no apologies for mourning the loss of my other pets (among them cats, rodents and a cocker spaniel named Teddy) and know that one day there will be a Buddy-shaped hole in my heart. And that’s okay. It is a small price to pay in exchange for so much unconditional love.