Animal Writes
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From 23 January 2005 Issue

Where's Daddy's Baby? - A Tribute to My Lost Children [January 25, 2004]
Copyright Jim Willis 2005 - [email protected]

[Cross-posting/publication on or before January 25, 2005 will be greatly appreciated. If you like, please light a candle in their memory or do something extra special for an animal; please give a rescued animal a good home if you can. Thank you.]

You had come from everywhere, on two continents, and you had come from every circumstance: neglect, abuse, apathy, human boredom and irresponsibility, human “inconvenience” (e.g., “we’re moving; a new baby; career changes”), medical issues, elderly, handicapped, blind, deaf, psychic pain and behavioral problems. Almost none of you could have been described as “well-behaved” and I counted myself lucky if you happened to arrive housetrained and without aggression. You cost me a small fortune and I had started with far less than a small fortune.

I knew from the beginning that you would become the “too many” and that I would be subjected to some criticism, especially from those who do too little, too late, or from the “theorists” who never provide a practical application. I hadn’t been “schooled” in how to rescue animals – almost nobody is – so it was a lot of “learn as you go.” I did learn, over three decades, and you became my best teachers. I accumulated some academic accolades that should have proven that I knew what I was doing, but you were always the first to embarrass me in public and prove to the world that I didn’t know how to proceed. My only “house-rules” were that you were allowed to destroy furniture and carpets – which you did gleefully – and that you weren’t allowed to harm each other, which you complied with admirably. Hundreds of you went on to wonderful lives and permanent homes with compassionate people. Some of you stayed behind with me, even after my human mate of many years abandoned us, because in most human opinions, you were the “unadoptable.” The truth is, I never could have endured parting with you.

Parting with fourteen of you on the afternoon of January 25, 2004 was forced upon me when our home burned to the ground and took you away from me. Not a day has gone by since that I haven’t thought of you, what you meant to me, and how much I miss you…how much I learned from you. I could write a chapter on each of you and how you had thrived with love and good care, a homemade diet, maybe a little bit of tough love and positive-reinforcement training that added some stability to your lives and set some parameters you could depend on. It had become my mantra that I would never betray your trust and that you could always depend on me. I rarely left you for longer than an hour per day, but as the fire marshal told me the evening of the fire, if I had been home, I wouldn’t be here now. I have no doubt that is true, because my first impulse would have been to try and save you as I’d once saved you. I will live with that regret forever, and the evening of the fire, I didn’t want to be in this world any longer if I couldn’t be with you. However, a half dozen of your brothers and sisters survived, and I had to continue on for them and for whatever reasons our Creator decided I should remain behind.

You were feline and canine and lupine, but you were never less worthy than me and never less than my children. Despite the respective tragedies and disappointments of our lives, and our emotional baggage, we somehow formed a family. I remember and still miss dispensing vanilla wafers at bedtime and rolling around with you in the snow, and having my eyeglasses slurped off my face…cleaning cat vomit out of my computer keyboard. I always knew that you had done far more for me than I had ever done for you.

People, even religious people of different faiths, often ask me if I equate animal life with human life. What a silly question. Do we not all bleed the same red blood, suffer the same pain and fears, and breathe the same air? Aren’t we all looking for the same safe environment and companionship we can trust? Are we not all marvels of Creation and biology? Have most humans ever, personally, visited a slaughterhouse, or their local “kill-shelter’s” euthanasia room? What an utterly silly question with such obvious answers.

Humans, who I like to call the “blind species,” need to be forgiven, especially by those of us who have achieved enlightenment as a benefit of sharing our lives with you and your kin. Most of us consider it one of the blessings of our human lives and we all need to help educate other humans while helping to save more animals. To lose one furred, feathered, or scaled companion who has shown us nothing but unconditional love is heart wrenching; to have lost fourteen such in one day has approached the unbearable at times for me. But God and you have shown fit to have blessed me with wonderful friends, human and furred, to make sure that I do go on, especially to go on and speak for those of you who have no voice.

If you’ll allow me to single out one of you, it will be “Cleo,” the American Staffordshire Terrier who arrived at seven months old, starved, abused, a product of a Pit Bull fighting dog breeder, and who was deranged and uncontrollable from her experiences. She was biting inanimate objects to the point that she knocked out two of her bottom teeth. For the first three days, I wondered if I would have to finally, after all the years, violate my own ethics and beliefs and have a dog euthanized for behavior, for being “unredeemable,” when I continue to insist that even biting is natural behavior and a form of communication for a dog. I held to my beliefs, Cleo settled down and then blossomed into one of the most beautiful and well-behaved dogs of her breed I’ve ever met. We were smitten with each other. As she ran around the yard, swam in her pool, and took numerous foster dogs under her wing and showed them the ropes, I was amazed at how much a “crazy” dog can teach a “crazy” human. In fact, she seemed to gravitate to the most down-and-out “basket cases” I took in, and she managed to give them the gumption and assurance that I, the fallible human, could not. Every evening, before your dinner, I would call, “Where’s Daddy’s baby?” and Cleo would come tearing across the yard and jump into my arms, all 65 pounds of her (and one time she nearly broke my nose). Old habits die hard and to this day, whenever I feed your current brothers and sisters, or the foster animals who have passed through our new home, I whisper – but now it is, “Where’s Daddy’s babies?” Plural.

Of course, I know where you are, and while it may be customary to wish that you rest in peace, that wouldn’t be fitting. You never allowed me to “rest in peace,” and I sincerely doubt that, despite your obvious charms, you have added much to the peace of Heaven.

On the anniversary of the tragedy that took you from my good home to your new great one, I want to tell you, Otto, Pongo, Cleo, Tina, Gaston, Gabriel, Amadeus, Danny, Danube, Tara, Tawny, Lucinda, Lakota, and Willow, that you are not forgotten, that you are remembered daily and missed, and until we see each other again, you always will be.

Love and more thanks than I can adequately express,
Your human dad, Jim, and all your furred brothers and sisters
[Our new address: P.O. Box 99, Langeloth, PA, 15054, USA]

P.S. To everyone who sent messages of sympathy and support, and donations over the past year, you have our most sincere gratitude.

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