Members of the family
I don’t remember how old I was when Butch died but I remember that I was devastated. He had been my constant friend and playmate and filled the hours during the summers and after school.
I remember him being a bulldog but black and white photos found recently reveal that he was some mixed version of a pit bull. My mother cried too even though she always maintained that she didn’t like the dog.
My dad buried him next to the dog house in the back yard where, I suppose, he still lies, unbeknownst to the current occupants of the house where I grew up.
I lost other pets through the years and each took its toll. One of the more painful was a gray Weimaraner I had in my late teens who finally became ill and feeble enough that she had to be put down.
I rode that long last trip with her to the vet and held her close and cherished every final moment until my dad took her inside the vet’s office. I remained in the car. I cried that day too.
My youngest son had a pet dog that included some poodle. Even though it wasn’t “my” dog (I always maintained that I didn’t like poodles), we walked around the neighborhood together every day for years.
When my son was on a church mission trip with the church youth group to Jamaica, I noticed that the little dog was struggling on the daily walk — in fact, she couldn’t complete the walk and I carried her home and then rushed her to the vets.
It was raining hard when I buried her in the backyard so no one could tell I was crying that day. But when my teenaged son returned home from the mission trip and I broke the news to him, I understood why my mother cried when Butch died so long ago.
Over the years, I have heard people comment that they don’t understand how people become so attached to pets. When I hear that, I wonder if they have ever had pets themselves.
I understand why fish and snakes don’t elicit tears with their passing. I have had both and they are emotionless creatures (at least in my experience) that are interesting to watch but are always at some distance.
Dogs — and cats, too — snuggle, follow you around, sleep with you if they can, play games (I currently have a cat that plays “fetch” with me), and slowly work their way into our hearts.
Pets have been known to save the lives of their owners or alert parents when a child is in trouble. A child once asked me if pets went to heaven when they died.
I told him that I knew God loved animals because he made so many of them. When He created a Paradise, He filled it with animals in a Garden called Eden. The Book of Revelation depicts heavenly horses and other marvelous creatures.
In the end, I told him that I couldn’t prove in the Bible that animals went to heaven — but I couldn’t disprove it either. I hope so. I choose to believe so.
Pets become members of our families. They offer affection, loyalty, friendship, and companionship. Generally, all they ask in return is food, water, a warm lap, and an occasional scratch behind the ears. People who have pets, it is said, live longer than those who do not.
This week, Taz died. Taz was a member of my oldest son’s family for over 13 years. He was old, had become feeble, and had lost much of his hearing and some of his eyesight. On Sunday, he slowly made his way to the back yard to lie in the sun and warm himself. It was there one of the children and her mother found him.
When my son called to tell me the news, he was choking back the tears. The four children, raging in age from 2 to 15, cried too.
Taz is buried in the backyard, near those who loved him, but his memory will linger for a lifetime. That’s the way it is with members of the family. They are never forgotten.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]