Keeping a Pet’s Presence Alive After the Animal Has Died

I’m not surprised to be reading that pets have become extremely important to young singles, who find that a dog or cat is less stressful than being with a lover (though in defense of humans, an animal, no matter how devoted, will never pick up the cleaning). There is now the phrase, “pets as partners,” which I guess should take the sting out of hearing a woman referred to as “a dog.” With U.S. veterinarians claiming that medical marijuana is a necessity for dogs in pain, there may soon be an expression for getting high with a pet, particularly since an animal isn’t always welcome at a bar.

I have a husband and son so a Tibetan Terrier wasn’t a substitute for family. But when Z.C. died, I was devastated. We all were. She was the only one in the house who never rolled her eyes in reaction to a story that had already been told. That’s the kind of acceptance you get only from a pet, which explains why singles are looking for love in animal shelters, instead of signing on to Match.com. Another perk is nobody shaves years off their age at the shelter. The three of us were sobbing as we stared at our dog’s limp body on an examining table, not sure how to respond when the vet asked, “Do you want her cremains returned to you?” A cremation urn wasn’t the way we would choose to remember her; it would focus on her death. We looked to one another, each of us indicating, “no.”

Opening the door of the apartment, we were immediately struck by the eery silence. Each time we came home, Z.C. would be at the door, greeting us as if she were the host of a talk show and we were the unattainable guest she’d finally succeeded in booking. Morose, we plopped down on the couch, the one that had been recovered after Z.C. had torn into it one night while we were out, sending its stuffing everywhere. Reading about a Purina study that found 90% of owners talk to their pets, I remembered trying to scold her. Though she understood “sit” and “heel,” “time out” meant nothing to her. I opened a photo album and we flipped through the 11 years she’d been with us. “Aw,” one of us would say, seeing shots of Z.C. the first day we’d gotten her or looking at her playing with a ball on the lawn of the San Diego Hilton, and others of her demonstrating to my mother-in-law’s new puppy how to go through a doggy door. Singles aren’t the only ones who come to regard their animals as family.

I turned a photo of her sitting on my desk chair into my screen saver, pleased to find a way of keeping her nearby. Pictures reminded me of the good times and helped cope with the loss. That inspired me to experiment with ways of including photos in my mosaic work so I could create a personalized vase with Z.C. looking out at us in a black and white vase colored to replicate her coat. It remains in the kitchen and never fails to bring a smile to my face. Memorial vases and urns can be seen (and ordered) on my site, www.personalized-urns.com.