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A Song has Ended

January 13, 2014 — 60 Comments

lyric christmasSix months of life with someone you love, is too brief. Far too brief.

Only last June I invited you to share our joy with the adoption into our family of Lyric, a border collie mix.

Tragically, last night the precious girl passed away. And our family is now dealing with the shock and grief that are such a painful (but inescapable) part of loving the pets who join our families.

After Lyric had been with us for several months, we saw evidence (excessive salivation and frantic, happy racing around the house) of a health concern. When we later witnessed a seizure that lasted just a minute or two, it was nearly as traumatic to us as it was to her. That feeling of helplessness is horrible, isn’t it?

Visits to the vet resulted in the suspicion that it may have been caused by the mushrooms that grow abundantly in the Pacific Northwest forest where we live. (This has been a particularly favorable year to all forms of fungi, and this is a fairly common cause of canine seizures.)

We took precautions to minimize her exposure to that source, but she had several more seizures, weeks apart. Our two vets said that if she experienced a “cluster” of seizures, there were some drugs we could try. However, we never saw any indications of that, so we remained in a monitoring status.

Tragically, late last night, while lying beside me as I was writing, she began what became a relentless series of attacks on her system. She briefly stabilized between each seizure, but they grew longer and more severe. Finally, her strong heart (mercifully) surrendered, and she was gone.

C.S. Lewis was writing about the death (and resurrection) of human beings in his essay “Some Thoughts,” but his words about the alien nature of death resonate with what I am feeling today.

Of all men, we hope most of death [as in, not being the end of all, but a passage to an even more real life]; yet nothing will reconcile us to—well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.

Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.

Animals, of course, don’t share humanity’s souls. But when you gaze into those love-filled, adoring eyes of your dog, only someone spiritually blind would fail to recognize there is a precious spark within.

I have written in the past about the possibility of God restoring our pets to us in heaven. I won’t belabor that possibility here. After all, it’s merely conjecture. But, in these moments of grief, many find some small comfort in the possibility of God restoring to life these beloved, and innocent, victims of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden.

I began my first post about Lyric with these words:

Last night a new member joined our family. Her name is musical. We didn’t choose it; her previous family did. But we think it fits and she’ll live up to it.

It was for far too short a time, but Lyric definitely did live up to the beauty of her name.

Newest Pet Craze

July 11, 2013 — 23 Comments

aye-aye 1Have you seen pictures of these delightful little creatures? They’re called Aye-ayes, and they are widely distributed across the jungles of Madagascar. (Any genetic link between aye-ayes and Gollum remains unconfirmed.)

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified these harmless mammals as “Near Threatened.” So, helping them reproduce, as an aye-aye breeder, may also keep the species from becoming extinct.

Actually, I don’t believe you can import Aye-ayes as pets—unless you’re one of those rich or famous people to whom the laws for regular people don’t apply. But, if it is possible to adopt an aye-aye, I offer the following pros and cons for your consideration.

Pro: Some people think they look cuddly.

Con: Some people think they look creepy.

Pro: They don’t demand attention all day long.

Con: They’re nocturnal and might keep you up at night.

Pro: People will think you’re on the cutting edge.

Con: People will think you’re one odd cookie.

Pro: They have tiny mouths.

Con: They are omnivores, and eat other animals.

Pro: Most people consider them exotic animals.

Con: They clearly resemble devilish gremlins.

Pro: Daubentonia madagascariensis are lemurs.

Con: They’re not nearly as cute as their lemur cousins.

Pro: In an emergency, they’re edible.

Con: In an emergency, they’re edible.

Pro: Aye-ayes may reveal God’s imagination & humor.

Con: Aye-ayes just may have a less heavenly origin.

aye-aye 3The picture to the right, a close up view of the aye-aye’s “hand” lends credence to the last conjecture, above. It also evokes nightmarish memories of a story that traumatized my youth, “The Monkey’s Paw.”

You can either read it here, or view a recent treatment of it here.

C.S. Lewis acknowledges the danger posed by possessing too much love—an idolatrous affection—for pets. Of course, there are other things we can love that way with even less justification than an animal.

There is a reaction at present going on against the excessive love of pet animals. We have been taught to despise the rich, barren woman who loves her lap dog too much and her neighbor too little. It may be that when once the true impulse is inhibited, a dead poet is a nobler substitute than a live Peke, but this is by no means obvious.

You can do something for the Peke, and it can make some response to you. It is at least sentient; but most poetolaters hold that a dead man has no consciousness, and few indeed suppose that he has any which we are likely to modify. Unless you hold beliefs which enable you to obey the colophons of the old books by praying for the authors’ souls, there is nothing that you can do for a dead poet: and certainly he will do nothing for you.

He did all he could for you while he lived: nothing more will ever come. I do not say that a personal emotion towards the author will not sometimes arise spontaneously while we read; but if it does we should let it pass swiftly over the mind like a ripple that leaves no trace. If we retain it we are cosseting with substitutes an emotion whose true object is our neighbour.

Hence it is not surprising that those who most amuse themselves with personality after this ghostly fashion often show little respect for it in their parents, their servants, or their wives. (“The Personal Heresy: A Controversy”).

Yes, as Lewis so ably points out, it’s far more important to care about the personhood of our neighbor today . . . rather than a departed writer. (Coincidentally, Lewis would object with equal eloquence to Lewisolatry.)

If we cannot express our goodwill to other people, it’s better directed towards dogs and aye-ayes than someone departed from this world.

Which brings us back to the subject at hand. These furry little creature may not be the objects of the latest pet craze now, but it may be possible for you to initiate a new fad!

To make that possibility a bit more likely, allow me to close this column with a picture of a lovely aye-aye in its natural habitat. Now, that’s an animal one could easily consider cute and cuddly (as long as it keeps its paws to itself).

Ksukol ocasatý (Daubentonia madagascariensis)

lyricLast night a new member joined our family. Her name is musical. We didn’t choose it; her previous family did. But we think it fits and she’ll live up to it.

Her name is Lyric.

We adopted Lyric through the agency of DRAW Rescue.

The picture above shows black and white Lyric at her first meeting with her new sister, Foxy. (We didn’t name Foxy either; she joined our family when we “rescued” her from a California shelter six years ago.)

The two girls are getting along quite well their first full day together, but those of you with more than one pet know that it takes a little bit of time to sort things out when a new member joins the family.

Lyric is our third consecutive rescue pet. Although she’s younger than the others who came to us in the past, adopting a rescue dog isn’t the same thing as getting a puppy. You don’t enjoy the same cuddly acceptance. Many rescued dogs are quite wary of human beings—especially men.

It takes time and patience to bond. To let them know that they’re safe and they are now in their “forever home.” Some, like Lyric, benefit from interim stays with gracious foster parents. But their move to your home is still just part of their unstable life until the day when they “forget” about all the previous transitions and just know they are home.

C.S. Lewis talks about this longing for a home in Till We Have Faces. Psyche is describing her desire to find that place where she truly belongs.

Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home. . . .”

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing— to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

Although the myth he’s retelling in this book has nothing to do with adopting pets, the following passage also relates (by dramatic extension) to the situation of “rescued” animals who join you with a legacy of previous relationships (not all of them good).

“Where shall we ever be safe if we’re not safe here? This is my home, Maia. And you won’t understand the wonder and glory of my adventure unless you listen to the bad part.

If you are in a position to share your home with a pet, I probably don’t need to tell you there are many, very many of them who need homes today. If you’re up to the extra challenge of adopting a rescued animal who comes with often unknown “baggage,” just contact one of your local rescue agencies.

These organizations are almost always run by volunteers who are motivated solely by their compassion for these innocent creatures who can no longer be cared for by their owners or—more tragically, have been discarded by those who should have cared for them. (Some, of course, are strays who were never in a human family.) I’m proud to say my nephew and his wife provide a foster home for rescued dogs in Seattle.

Whatever their background . . . the “bad part” of their story, you can be instrumental in “rehabilitating” them. And, trust me, they will reward you with more love than you could ever imagine.

Now, even if you’re not prepared to take in one of these lovely creatures, you can still help. Your local rescue organizations and shelters welcome any contributions you make—either in kind or in cash. You can check your phonebook for local rescues. Or, check out one of these websites which can connect you to many of these groups.

Adopt a Pet

Petfinder

Rescue Me (Dogs)

This column turned into more than I intended it to be. Originally I set out to simply celebrate Lyric’s entrance to our family. Now I realize that her blessing just may encourage the adoption of another cat or dog. And that would be a wonderful thing indeed.

In closing, let’s consider another passage from C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia. In a letter he wrote in 1955, he mentions the importance of home.

As Dr. [Samuel] Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour.” (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter; 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.)

These words remind us that the happiness we know in our earthly homes is only a foretaste of the joy we can know when we ultimately take our place in the eternal home prepared for us by our Creator.

Perhaps on that day we’ll be welcomed not only by our loved ones who have preceded us, but also by the pets we have loved during this mortal life. That would certainly be a magnificent thing . . . but that’s a discussion for another day.

When the internet throws unsolicited information at me, I do my best to ignore it. Yesterday I failed to duck at the right moment and Wikipedia suggested to me a “featured article” I found irresistible. It featured the earliest reference to a named dog—Abuwtiyuwwho died more than four thousand years ago and was buried in Giza in accordance with the wishes of the unknown pharaoh he guarded.

He was almost certainly a Tesem (“hunting dog”), an ancient breed resembling modern greyhounds. (Curiously, a 2004 DNA study found greyhounds are more closely related to herding breeds.)

We contemporary dog lovers understand how a pharaoh could love one of his canine companions enough to have him mummified and buried in an elaborate ceremony. In the image above, our border collie mix is juxtaposed to a hieroglyph tesem. If you’re interested in the subject, you might enjoy one of my February blogs entitled “Pets in Heaven.”

C.S. Lewis was also a dog lover. Pastor Bruce Johnson wrote a delightful article about eight of his dogs, entitled “All My Dogs Before Me.” You can read the brief but thorough article here.

Johnson walks us from Jacksie (who provided Lewis with his “adopted” name of Jack) to the friendly Ricky who was ever “anxious to be friendly.” In between, the author’s family included Tim, Pat, Mr. Papworth, Troddles, Bruce and Susie. Lewis spoke fondly of all of them, with the exception of Bruce, who possessed a predilection for barking through the night and was terribly spoiled by Mrs. Moore.

I also recommend a fine post about one of Lewis’ dogs which appeared on A Pilgrim in Narnia. It’s entitled “The Society of Tim.” The author of the blog is Brenton Dickieson, a Canadian professor and Lewisian scholar.