We had some difficulty. . . . keeping our pets out of heaven.
Figaro, a pretty little Beta fish, a birthday gift given to Joyful from a friend died twice. Once when Joyful was away visiting grandparents. We cheated death, though. The fish store had one that looked just like him. Joyful never knew. However, he died one Christmas when we went to visit family for a few days. Figaro had enough food. Sadly, we learned never to turn the heat down below 65 degrees when you have a pet fish.
Cozzette, Copper, Nanna, Figaro, Cleo—all our pets have been named after literary characters. We’ve debated the non-literary name, “Memore” so when the boys ask, “Do you love Memore,” I can say, “Yes.” However, the name never makes it past election day.
We had one cat who kept throwing herself on the driveway when we pulled in. She was an indoor/outdoor cat. She’d rush to the driveway, lay down and stretch, just daring us to not stop. One Sunday, a week after Easter, she flung into her driveway dare, then finally moved when she decided we wouldn’t run over her. Pulling into the garage, we paused, thinking she’d run in like usual. Apparently she achieved her life long goal of throwing herself under the wheel.
She went to heaven.
However, one Saturday death came to call in a very surreal way.
It was a beautiful, autumn Saturday. We had been searching for Copper since the day before. Our neighbor thought our lassie dog, Copper, had been clipped by a car. We lived out in the country, so we let Copper have the run of the fields behind us. However, anything that drove down our dead-end road became part of Copper’s “herd.” He didn’t want it to leave his “boundaries.” He could run 35 miles an hour.
You know how John Wayne was a man’s man? Well, Copper was a boy’s dog. Not only did he keep our yard cleared of snakes, opossums, and unwelcome critters, but he was a great soccer player, too. A constant companion! A bouncing mass of joy that loved nature: the birds, the deer, a butterfly. He just loved!
He taught us humbleness with our neighbors. During his first Christmas, he brought us all our neighbors’ wreaths they had placed on their windows. If he’d just brought two more, we would have had enough for ours! I guess counting wasn’t one of his strengths.
When our children went anywhere, hiking into the woods, visiting a neighbor, he was 4 steps behind them—every time!
Faithful wanted to be a vet he loved him so.
Until that autumn day in Saturday. My husband had left to coach a soccer game. I loaded up the van to take the boys and meet him when I heard this faint cry.
The sun shined through the fiery red, pumpkin orange, and burnt yellow leaves, landing on a carpet of leaves. The floor of the woods was covered in these colors. Copper blended in perfectly. That’s why we’d missed him. He couldn’t move. I couldn’t figure out to move him.
I called the vet’s emergency number. It was a Saturday, so hours were short and time expensive. I was a bundle of stress. Joyful came in, pulling on me, “Mom! Mom! You gotta see this. You gotta see what’s coming out of the woods.”
I put him off. After all, I’d seen every critter in the woods so far—the snakes, oppossums, turkeys, raccoons, flying squirrels, turtles, toads. I needed to handle this crisis.
He just wouldn’t let up, “Mom! Mom!” He was 6 then. I had a baby buckled in the van, another waiting to play a soccer game I was beginning to suspect he might miss, a severely injured pet, and he was wanting me to see some piddly thing outside?
I finished the consult with the vet and took a deep breath. Joyful just wouldn’t give an inch. “Mom! Mom! You gotta see this.”
Finally, I relented. Shaking inside because things didn’t look good for Copper, frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to get him to the van, I stepped outside.
My jaw dropped. Stunned, I lifted the phone, hit redial, calling the vet’s emergency line again,” Hi, I’m the lady who just called with the injured collie. Well, I got an injured owl. What do I do?”
Standing by the open door to the driver’s seat stood a huge owl, mostly black, some white, its feathers all poofed out in disarray. One wing, apparently broken, seemed to be pointing to my driver’s seat, as if to say, “After you! Hurry and take me to the vet, too?”
At that moment, my neighbor’s drove by. I had fought asking them for help. It was their 50th wedding anniversary. They had out-of-town guests. I so didn’t want to be needy.
It was if God sent that owl to break me totally down. Only in the state of total broken-downness would I have asked for help. That’s a message that seared through my soul that day.
My neighbors helped put Copper on a sheet where we tucked him into the back of the van. We popped a tall, round wicker basket over the owl, nestled him next to Joyful. The owl never made a sound until the vet picked up the basket. Then you could hear the very distinct sound of his ivory beak clicking together.
The vet called later that afternoon. The state wildlife department would pay to fix and rehabilitate the owl. Copper wasn’t so lucky. They wanted $1,000 for surgery. They weren’t sure it would work. After much heart-wrenching discussion, my husband made the call to put him down.
We explained it to the Joyful and Faithful. Faithful wailed. He was nine. He got angry, stomping upstairs in emotional desolation.
Joyful followed, calling out from behind, “Mom and Dad say the vet will put Copper to sleep and then he’ll go to heaven.”
Faithful wailed louder. It was like Joyful was just tearing at his wound. It wasn’t like him to deliberately hurt someone. I called Joyful back. “How can you do that to him? That’s tearing him up.”
Then Joyful started crying. My heart just opened up. Joyful had been mourning. Only he didn’t wail, stomp, and snuffle about. Joyful released his grief through talking.
These two mourners needed to mourn separately, one emotionally pouring out their grief, one logically tackling their grief.
I learned a lot that day—about the differences in the ways people react to crisis, that making the decision to end a life is gut wrenching, and that God wants me to ditch my pride, to not wait until I reach rock bottom to ask for help.
The owl, though, he so puzzles me.