The Death of Pets

LOGIE PHOEToday I could no longer put off changing the “about Kristin” page on this blog.  What I changed — and my heart slides to my feet as I say it — is the paragraph about sharing my life with Phoebe, a beagle, and Logan, a German shepherd.  Several months ago, they died within weeks of each other.  One moment I had my beautiful animal family, and the next, I didn’t.

Logan’s arthritis finally prevented him from getting up on his own, and he snapped at my husband, John, and me to stop us from helping him to his feet. Phoebe began to cough, and blood tests and x-rays revealed inoperable tumors. There was no choice but to say goodbye to both of our beloved dogs and face the loss.

It’s horrible when one cherished pet dies, but two was sad beyond measure. For weeks the house’s silence gnawed at me.  I hated washing lettuce, the dogs’ favorite treat.  I went to the kitchen to pour kibble into a bowl, and I carefully crossed the bedroom at night so as not to step on paws — and then I remembered my dogs were gone.  Tears slid down my cheeks.

To me, putting down an animal is the hardest task there is.  Though it was my last way to show my love, the guilt for killing what I so deeply loved was overwhelming.  Knowing I did the right thing didn’t help.  All I could do was wait for my heart to process the loss and replace my grievous mental picture of the dogs’ last breaths with memories of happy times.  Now I think of Logan’s prance across the lawn to catch his Frisbee, and Phoebe’s gleeful chomp into her freshly broiled chicken.

For comfort, I remind myself of the beauty in their deaths — the end of suffering, the freedom, the moving on.  I remember the kindness of supportive friends.  Cards and emails poured in.  Kathy and Brad invited us to sunny California.  Elizabeth brought flowers from her family, and Marielle and Bill arrived with memorial rhododendron and camellia bushes to bloom each year on the anniversaries of Logan and Phoebe’s deaths.

I know that life goes on, and other dogs will find their way into my heart and home.  Certainly, life is all about love, which chases us down and catches us, guaranteed.  When I think of the universe’s vastness of space and time, I marvel that my life intersected with Logan and Phoebe’s and we were allowed to love each other and be a family.  That was huge gift.  And our love lives on.

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Cat Symphony

Since Father’s Day, it’s no surprise, I’ve been thinking about my father.  He was a symphony conductor and composer; and before he died when I was 23, I enjoyed going to his concerts and waking in the mornings to his piano playing.  He instilled in me a love of music – and of animals.  My father refused to go to Spain because of bullfights.  The only time I ever saw him cry was when Travis shot Old Yeller.

He would have been as thrilled as I at the video I want you to see:  “The Catcerto for Nora the Piano Cat,” composed and conducted by Mindaugas Piecaitis, and performed by Lithuania’s Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra and Nora, a gray tabby.  In a video shown on a screen above the musicians, she brushes her paws over piano keys in a most elegant manner, and Piecaitis’s composition enhances her soft, lovely notes.  Their music woven together is charming.  It’s a triumph of spirit. Continue reading

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Animal Friendship

Two weeks ago I went to Austin, Texas, for my high school reunion, and the blessing of friendship has been on my mind.  My new friends often marvel at the number of my old ones, three of whom I’ve known since nursery school.  Then there’s Tina from kindergarten, Leila from first grade, Bunny from third, Julie and Louisa from fifth – and the list grows through junior high and high school.  After so many years, I’m grateful and amazed that we’re like siblings and we all love each other.

When we get together, so much doesn’t have to be said because we know each other well.  We remember cooking together for Girl Scout badges, playing duets at piano lessons, guarding each other in basketball games.  I can’t hide much from friends who were there when my parents fought or who visited me when I languished in bed with mono.  Our connections run deep and strengthen me more and more as I grow older. Continue reading

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Learning from Animals

Last summer I told you about Logan, my German shepherd, who had major surgery for a ruptured tendon in his knee.  For four months my kitchen was his convalescent hospital, and now he has a weekly swim to rebuild muscle and a monthly laser treatment to ease arthritic pain.  Though he sometimes wobbles, he prances on the lawn with his Frisbee; and I rejoice at the wonders of veterinary medicine.

Still, I wish I could stop the clock on Logan’s aging, which is most visible in his weakness and the salt emerging on his pepper muzzle.  At age 11, he’s a geriatric, and I grieve at his inevitable decline.  When I mentioned it last week to my friend Gloria, she said, “In the time you have left with Logan, you need to learn what he’s meant to teach you.”

What might it be? I’ve been wondering.

The lesson that keeps elbowing all others out of my mind is “courage.” When Logan stands his ground and stares at you, he’s so clearly brave that you would never think of crossing him.  But he’s also brave in more subtle ways, such as gathering grit to climb the stairs to the bedroom each night, or enduring acupuncture needles whose purpose he doesn’t understand. Though Logan is not fond of swimming, he bravely walks down the ramp into the pool and paddles with the fortitude of an Olympic medalist.  And he’s met adversity with courage like none I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

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Avenue of the Giants

In December I had the good fortune to travel along northern California’s Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile scenic drive that runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  The “giants” in the name refers to the coastal redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, that towered above me in silence.

This photograph may give you a glimpse of how magnificent the trees are.  The tallest now living is 379 feet, comparable to a 30-story building, possibly the tallest living organism on earth.  Redwoods can grow to 26 feet in diameter, large enough for a car to drive through their trunk.  The most ancient known redwood is thought to be  2,200 years old – a mature tree before Christ’s birth. Continue reading

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Dormouse Snoring

         Last year I wrote a blog about a victory for dormice in South Wales, where a bridge was built across a bypass so they could travel safely through their habitat.  Yesterday I learned that this threatened species has also had a victory in Surrey, England.  Officials of the Surrey Wildlife Trust have built a thousand nesting boxes in twenty-two woodlands for dormice and are monitoring them to make sure they breed and survive.

My friend Elsa sent me a video of one of those Surrey dormice snoring away in someone’s palm.  The hibernating mouse had been taken from her nest, weighed, and checked to make sure she had enough fat reserves to keep her going till spring.  Apparently, she never woke during the procedure.  That’s serious sleeping.

And it’s no surprise.  Dormice get their name from the Anglo-Saxon dormeus, which means “sleepy one,” because they hibernate up to six months a year.  In the video you’ll never see a creature so zonked out or hear such loud snores from such a tiny mouth.  The adjective “cute” must have been invented just for her.  Look at her curled fists!  Enjoy!

Posted in Wildlife | 13 Comments

Flowers Opening


  This morning I came across Kate Knapp’s poem, “Seeing in Three Pieces.”  Her last stanza grabbed me:

When a bulb burns out

we just change it –

it’s not the bulb we love,

it’s the light.

Knapp is reminding us that nothing lasts forever.  As we know, we’re born, we burn out, and the next generation replaces us as easily as light bulbs.  This rule of evolution applies to everything from the lowliest flea to the loftiest king – and even to our sun.  We’re all slowly fading.  The only constant is change.

Given this universal law, I think two things are crucial.  One is to “shine” the best we can.  The other, to love all that’s “shining” on us.

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Posted in Garden | 8 Comments

A Murmuration of Starlings

 I have two videos I can hardly wait for you to watch.  Wildlife cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter made the first one as he was sailing around the U.K. in an 18-foot boat; and the video shows a murmuration of starlings.  In case you’ve never heard of a murmuration, as I had not, it’s the starlings’ personal noun for “flock.”  Just as crows come together in murders and owls in parliaments, starlings gather in murmurations usually right before dusk and search for their evening roost.
The flock of starlings in this video is thrilling because there are thousands of them — darting, bobbing, swooping, rising, and zigzagging like a perfectly choreographed dance troupe.  One at a time, birds take turns leading, and the others follow.  The miracle – and mystery – is that the starlings never bump into each other even though they change direction in less than 100 milliseconds and they’re flying at 20 miles an hour.
Posted in Wildlife | 10 Comments

A Grizzly and a Penguin

Several years ago on an assignment for Reader’s Digest, I followed a grizzly in Montana for a week.  Her name was Lacy, and wildlife biologists were training her to stay away from people, garbage cans, and orchards. If she’d continued marauding around Kalispel and not learned her lesson, she’d have had to be killed.  But her manners became impeccable.  I fell in love with her.

So you can imagine my horror when she lumbered out of her den the following spring and a hunter shot her in the back and killed her. She’d been running from him just as she’d been taught. Though my article still appeared in the magazine, I was beside myself. And the same kind of loss hit me last week.

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The Rufus Towhee

Three times this spring I planted my snow-pea patch. Three times! That’s 90 seeds that went into the ground, and I couldn’t understand why not a single one sprouted.

Until I looked outside one day and saw a rufus towhee standing on the barren soil with a look of triumph about her. Then I understood that she’d been eating each seedling just as it raised its delicious green head from the soil. I couldn’t help but resent her.

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Posted in Wildlife | 8 Comments