Tag Archives: dogs

The Rainbow Bridge

I know that when pets die, it’s often said that they have crossed “the Rainbow Bridge.” It’s a powerful image, but I don’t know if it’s the right one.

The Rainbow Bridge is a euphemism or a metaphor for passing to another astral plane or a spiritual place – death or an afterlife. Some even believe that the Rainbow Bridge is where they will meet their pets when the pet owner dies. The phrase perhaps originated in a sentimental poem that is often given to pet owners on the death of their pets. Many people find inspiration and comfort in it. Those are good things. I wouldn’t take that away from the people who find solace in it.

I do, however, think that the poem and the metaphor “prettify” death. The death of a beloved pet can be tragic, but it is seldom pretty. I lost my darling Louise, a cat I had for over 20 years, a number of years ago. I held her on my lap. I counted the seconds between each of her last breaths until finally they stopped. I hope I gave her comfort in her last moments, and indeed throughout her whole life. She certainly gave comfort to me.

But, though her death was peaceful, it wasn’t pretty. One minute she was there and the next minute she was gone. I cried for days. Nine years later, I still miss her dearly.

She has appeared to me in dreams and when she did, I took it as a message that she and I had both moved on and it was time for me to find another cat to care for and love. That’s a pretty thought, but it was only a dream, and I don’t know whether I believe that dreams reflect reality or give us a vision of another realm. Mostly I think they are jumbled constructs that our brains make of memories, thoughts, and the firing of synapses in our brains. I know that doesn’t leave much room for deeper meaning, except that the memory of Louise was still deep in my thoughts when I had the dreams.

I know there’s theological disagreement over whether animals have souls. Many people don’t believe they do because animals were not created in the image of God. Other people do believe in animals’ souls because they are a part of Creation.

I strongly believe that animals are self-aware beings with emotions that resemble those of humans, though I know that there are people who disagree with that too. If it means they have a soul as well, I don’t know theologically, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they do.

But do all animals have souls? Sheep and tarantulas and trout and the surly hedgehog that my husband kept as a pet? Will they all go to heaven or meet us at the Rainbow Bridge? Do we imbue our pets with special attributes because we love them so? Are we projecting our feelings onto them or anthropomorphizing traits that we see in ourselves? I surely don’t know the answer to those questions, but they do seem important in some way. I will say that, if we believe that cats and dogs have souls, we should extend that dignity not just to our pets, but to all of them, feral ones included, even though we don’t develop familial bonds with them.

When I think about the death of pets, I also think about the subject of euthanizing them. I’ve seen a post go around the internet that pets shouldn’t die alone, and that it is a form of abandonment not to be with the animal when its last moment comes, that death at the hands of a vet is cold and unemotional. I do know that vets react with compassion to the death of a pet and to the owner as well. But they don’t prefer to have the owner present at the death. They’ll allow it if the person feels strongly about it.

I think the internet post shames people who cannot be present at the death of their pet. It says that there is only one right choice, no matter whether the person feels they are capable of being present at the end. They have their reasons, and I think we should honor them and their grief and pain without judgment.

So, is there a Rainbow Bridge? Do all pets or all animals go to heaven? We each have our beliefs, but whether or not they will be fulfilled is to me an open question. If, after I die, Louise is present for me, along with Django and Jasper and Anjou and Julia and all the other cats I’ve shared my life with, I will consider myself truly blessed. But will they be? I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.

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Who Would Spend Thousands on a Pet?

Me, for one. And quite a few other people I know. None of us is wealthy, but still we have laid out what some would consider extreme – even obscene – amounts on our pets.

First, let me say that these are regular cats and dogs, mostly rescues, strays, and shelter animals, not fancy, purebred show animals. The expense doesn’t come with the initial investment. Vet check, shots, worming, spaying and neutering – though shelters and local organizations sometimes offer lower-cost options on these – are just the cost of entry into pet guardianship.

Likewise, toys, beds, pet furniture, and other accouterments don’t need to be large investments. I’ve known cats that would ignore fancy toys to play with the plastic rings that come on milk jugs. Dogs can be amused for hours with a stick, tennis ball, or Frisbee.

No, the real expense comes with veterinarian bills. When I was a child, hardly anyone took pets to the vet, except to get the mandated yearly shots or to stitch up an injury from an attack by another animal.

My, how times have changed!

We know a lot more these days about heartworm, feline AIDS, urinary or intestinal blockage, fatty liver disease, kidney failure, and a host of illnesses that pets experience. We sympathize because we humans can get many of the same or similar ailments as well (though we don’t generally catch them from the animals).

So how do the costs scale up into the thousands? Well, veterinary training is as rigorous as medical school – perhaps more so because of the number of different animals a vet might be expected to treat. (A cow and a cat have different anatomy, after all.) Veterinary drugs can sometimes the same ones humans take, though usually at different doses. An x-ray is an x-ray and an ultrasound is an ultrasound. And you can expect to pay more for an after-hours emergency clinic visit than a regular office call.

Still, thousands?

Yes. We’ve been through it a number of times. When my cat Laurel had fatty liver disease, she needed, in addition to all the regular medical care, several weeks of intensive treatment – hand feedings, fluids, specially mixed vitamins. The vet actually took her to his home and treated her there for several weeks. I got a raise that year at work, and every cent of it went to that marvelous vet. He didn’t have to do what he did for Laurel – and I suppose not many people would have paid for the personal care. We did so willingly.

When our dog Bridget developed a tumor on her shoulder, the vet was honest. “We can operate on it, or we can do nothing.” Bridget was middle-aged, as dogs go, a formerly feral rescue dog.

“Do whatever it takes,” Dan said. “She deserves a chance.”

“She’s lucky to have you,” the vet replied.

Bridget came through the operation, never had a recurrence and died peacefully at the age of 17.

We’ve learned to give subcutaneous fluids to cats with kidney failure. We’ve taken them to specialty vets who have given them – literally – years of comfortable life with us. (Once we even had a parakeet that needed an operation – and pulled through.)

Every time we pulled out a checkbook or a credit card and paid willingly, though often with a wince. Some vets kindly allowed us, as long-time customers, to pay in installments.

But the question remains, why? Why do we spend this time, energy, care, worry, and especially money on maintaining the health of our pets or making them comfortable in their last days?

I don’t expect everyone to understand this, but these animals have become family to us. And as family members, they deserve our attention, care – including medical care – and love as long as they are capable of benefiting from it.

When the time comes that we have to let them go, when there is nothing we can do medically except prolong their misery, we take them to the vet for that final act of mercy, or let them pass quietly at home.

And the only cost we count is in our hearts.

Pets, etc.: Alternatives to Cats

I write a lot about cats. They are the most entertaining of animals, with the most befuddling actions, the most expressive facial and body language, and the most comforting presence. But we’ve had experiences with other sorts of pets too. They’re not as endlessly fascinating as cats, especially our new little guy, Toby, but here are a few stories so they (well, their owners, really)(1) don’t feel left out.

My husband is a cat person (and a dog person too), but he’s really responsible for most of the other kinds of pets who’ve lived with us. When we got married, he came with a set of hermit crabs that lived in a terrarium. They were a little disconcerting because they made odd clicking and scrabbling noises at night. Dan claimed they were constructing a secret missile base, and I can’t prove he was wrong.

That’s about all there is to say about hermit crabs. They’re really not all that interesting as pets go, though if they ever completed that missile base, I would have liked a tour.

Another terrarium-based acquisition was a hedgehog which he named Codger for his sparkling personality.(2) I believed Dan got him to punish me for taking a vacation to Michigan without inviting him along.(3)

On the internet hedgehogs are cute and wear adorable hats or curl up in muffin tins.(4) Codger was not adorable. He was a surly little bastard. His entire repertoire consisted of growling, snarling, and rearranging the furniture. He had a little hedgehog house and a ball to amuse himself with, but all he seemed to do was push them around.

Dan claimed that his spiky pet was so unlovable because he had not raised Codger from a baby. Apparently hedgehogs do better if you socialize them to humans when they’re young. I suggested that Dan try to interact with him, but Dan’s idea of interaction was poking him with a plastic fork. Dan explained that Codger had poked him enough times, so it was only fair.

Once our family included the hedgehog it became more difficult to find someone who would care for the animals if we went away for a few days. It’s relatively easy to find someone to feed and water and play with cats and dogs. It’s a little tougher to find someone who will feed a surly bastard live worms and clean out his habitat while threatened with poking.(5)

And now for the other most popular pet in America – dogs. Perhaps surprisingly, Dan and I both had dogs while growing up. Ours was really the family dog, not anyone’s personal dog. First there was Blackie, and then there was Bootsie.(6) They lived in the garage, exercised on a chain attached to the garage, and ate Gainesburgers. They saw the vet once a year for a rabies vaccination.

I know that nowadays this would be considered animal abuse.(7)

Dan and I once had a dog named Karma, a stray German shepherd mix.(8) We decided it would be karma if his owners found him and karma if they didn’t and we kept him. Hence the name.

Two of my favorite memories of Karma are the time he needed to go to the vet and we needed to provide a urine sample. Dan, always inventive, attached a glass jar to the end of a long stick and walked the dog, strategically placing the jar under Karma’s pizzle at the apropos moment. It worked beautifully.(9) My mother said that she would have paid to see that.

Karma’s other notable behavior was burying bones. You might think this is quite an ordinary thing for dogs to do, but Karma buried rawhide bones straight up and down, with one knobby end sticking up out of the ground, presumably so he could find it later. Our back yard looked like a rawhide graveyard full of tomb-bones.(10)

Our next, and current, dog is Bridget. She was a feral stray puppy that Dan rescued from his workplace when she was trapped and scheduled for extermination. We always tell people that her mother was a golden retriever and her father was a traveling salesman.

She never quite got over being feral. She prefers to live on our deck, where she can see into the house, but not have to interact with anyone inside.(11) (She has a dogloo with cozy blankets, a sun awning and a basement condo, which she hates, for icy weather.)

Dan tried walking her once, but when she saw another dog, she cowered and peed all over Dan’s shoe. We are the only people who can get near her.(12) Bridget once came within sniffing distance of Dan’s friend John, who was a master of the Zen technique of standing on the deck, smoking a cigarette, and Pretending There Is No Dog.

Bridget is getting old now, and has already had one operation for cancer.(13) When she goes, I don’t think we’ll get another dog, though of course that’s up to the universe. Karma, if you will.

What other pets might we have someday? I guess if I take another solo trip to Michigan, I’ll find out.

(1) Don’t get me started on whether we own our pets or they own us or they are family members or we are pet parents with fur babies and similar semantics. I would probably vote with Jackson Galaxy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Galaxy) that we are “pet guardians,” though I have been known to address various felines, even full-grown ones, as “Baby-cat.” Just not around people who have human children, unless I know them well.
(2) I would put a footnote here about pets resembling their owners – uh, guardians – but Dan wouldn’t appreciate it.
(3) I don’t quite know why I think a hedgehog is punishment for a solo vacation, but there you have it. I never said my thinking was always rational.
(4) It may or may not surprise you to learn that baked hedgehog was considered a delicacy by noted jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. We did not try this with Codger.
(5) In point of fact, Dan’s friend John was the only volunteer ever. I think they had snarling contests, or maybe decorating competitions. We had to supply the live worms, which I always liked to claim we got at the bugstore.
(6) Hey, we were kids at the time. Think of all the cats there are named Miss Kitty. I got better at naming later.
(7) Although I think the pendulum has swung a little too far the other way, now that we have refrigerated gourmet pet food and Kitty Caps toe covers.
(8) Mixed breeds now are just getting silly. “Labradoodle” is a funny word, but there is no earthly reason for a shih tzu-poodle cross, except someone wanted to call it a shitz-poo. (Which is actually pretty great when I think about it.)
(9) Okay. “Beautifully” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe “effectively.”
(10) Sorry. (Not really.)
(11) When the deck door is open a bit, she and the cats will play a round or two of “I’ve Got Your Ear.”
(12) Her ferocious-sounding bark scares off meter-readers, but if they come into the yard, she hides under the deck.
(13) We did have another pet once, a parakeet named J. Alfred Prufrock (see “The Bird Who Spoke Cat.” https://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/the-bird-who-spoke-cat/) We once got an operation for him when he was sick. Try to find a vet that will do that. There aren’t many.