Saying an ambivalent farewell to a family pet

Got a text from my children’s father early the other morning. Where was my gray and white cat? Actually, I was petting “Kitten.” Good, he said, because a gray and white cat was dead in the road near my house.

“Whew, not OUR cat,” I sighed. After everything else unfortunate that’s happened in recent months, I didn’t want to have to tell my kids the youngest stray in our country drop-off collection was dead.

Walking across the front lawn later to get the newspaper, I saw what looked to be a dead raccoon in the road. Hmm. The reporter of the dead gray and white cat must be colorblind. But as I reached the road, I could see white paws and underbelly. Nooooo! It was Gibbs, the cat we’d had the longest. I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.

Because it’s a main road, the cat needed road-removing sooner, not later. So I returned to the house and awakened my son and daughter. “Good morning,” I said, “Gibby got killed in the road and we need to go get and bury her.” They groaned, but hustled to help.

It had been four years since we had last laid a pet to rest. Actually, it wasn’t a big difference from Gibby’s usual state – sleeping all day upstairs on the folded comforter at the foot of my bed. I hate that pets simply lounge all day, doing nothing except waiting for us humans to wait on them. Then when they die, we get to engage in aerobic hole-digging activity. Some deal!

I toyed with the idea of professional pet cremation, but since I wasn’t working, had an endless supply of elbow grease and an ample amount of property, plus an extensive selection of shovels, I dismissed the notion.

Experience informed me to choose a flat snow shovel for flat cat removal and a pointed camping shovel for grave digging. Connor volunteered to serve as pet cemetery sexton, but needed help selecting an appropriate grave site. I chose one on the practical basis of fewer tree roots. I donned latex gloves and headed to the road. Kate watched for traffic to prevent me from becoming collateral carnage.

As it had recently rained, the digging went surprisingly easily, aside from my son stopping after every shovelful to ask, “Is this hole deep enough yet.” He was angered I wouldn’t sign off on too shallow of a grave. I helped shovel in compromise. With each deepening divot, I couldn’t help but note that come burial time, even the smallest pets always seem twice the size they were while alive. Or maybe that’s just my aching shoveling shoulders talking.

I placed Gibbs in the just-deep-enough grave. At Connor’s insistence, I arranged her paws into a more natural, reclining pose. We made spectating Kate replace the dirt. Then I offended them both by stepping on the snow shovel atop the dirt mound to level it.

“That’s just wrong,” Connor said. Not as wrong as catching it with the lawnmower blades tomorrow.

Normally we deliver a short pet eulogy. What to say about Ms. Gibby? We got her from a couple who’d received her as a stray around when they’d both been diagnosed with cancer. Gibbs had lost the tip of her tail in a fight with a screen door, was nervous and flatulence-prone. It was just too much for them.

Connor named her after the NCIS television show character, “Gibbs.” She was an accomplished mouser, ground moler, chipmunker and batter, dragging prey onto the porch for our “oohs” and “ahs.” Although declawed, Gibby expertly disemboweled her victims and habitually left assorted rodent organs in the paths of unsuspecting feet. Ooh. Ah. YUCK!

Gibbs loved to snuggle, paws around your neck, face buried in the crook. When she’d suddenly tire of tenderness, she’d forcefully launch herself away. Ouch. The presence of “Kitten” had activated her deepest anxieties. Gibbs had started leaving him foul-smelling messages of displeasure.

Consequently, I was starting to mark her days. But the road had risen to meet her, defaulting me to the preferred role of tearful mourner, versus villainous executioner. It’s good to be Irish and blessed.

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