This is a column that has honestly been very difficult for me. I want to start out right away by saying that my ferrets Todd and Caff-Pow are just fine. But we have suffered a terrible loss here in the Sargent-Colburn household. Our dog, the Noble Allis Chompers, turned 14 last year and it became increasingly clear that she was suffering from a variety of old-age illnesses. Her spirit was always strong, but it got to the point where her body was paining her more often than it wasn’t. We didn’t want, never wanted, to say goodbye; but it was time. Our vets are wonderful people. They came out to our house and gave her the mercy shot. Allis passed in her own comfortable bed in front of the wood stove, cradled in my husband’s arms. I can still remember the silken touch of her wonderful, oversized ears; the way she woofled softly in her sleep and chased squirrels in her dreams, paws twitching. I spent nearly a third of my life with Allis by my side.
Allis And The Ferrets
Allis suffered many ferret-related indignities over the years. Weasels in her food. Weasels in her bed. Kits playing chase the dog. She suffered it for many years with her customary quiet dignity until the day that she … didn’t. There came a dreadful occasion several years ago when a weasel toyed with her in an annoying fashion, and she remembered that she was a wolf. Wolves have teeth. Allis used her teeth, and my wonderful, small, friend Ping is He was mortally wounded. I brought him to his vet, and then to Tufts in Grafton, Massachusetts (the Mayo Clinic of the veterinary world that just happens to be nearby), but they could do nothing more than to help him cross the bridge. And I well remember the curve of his small, blunt ears, the sweep of his whiskers, his wonderfully dusty smell. I remember these things as clearly as I remember the soft weight of Alice’s muzzle resting on my leg. I miss Allis, I miss Ping, so very much.
I have made many mistakes in my life, but every now and then when it really matters I get it right. When Allis killed Ping is He, I got it right. Not because I am wise, but because my parents taught me a piece of wisdom early on. Animals are animals. They are not our children. They people our lives, but they are not people. And to view them as little, tiny people is actually to do them a disservice. Part of what makes pets amazing is that they can project their spirits across the border of silence and sentience, from forest and field, and into our homes and hearts. Could I do that, could you? Could we do what they do, every day? Could we speak without words, share our innermost feelings in silence? Allis did it. Ping did it. They both did it so well that I know I will never be quite the same without them. They lifted an eyebrow, wagged a tail, danced as if joy were easy. And they never spoke a single word.
I got it right when I forgave Allis. I cried, but I forgave her. She knew that she had done something that might get her punished when she used her teeth on Ping; that was clear at the time. She feared my short-term anger. I cried, but at that terrible moment I did for Allis what I would like to imagine she would have done for me. I appraised her not only with my love, but with my respect. I held her to me and accepted the fact that her bones were wolf bones, and that she would always have a piece of the wild in her; and sometimes wolves speak with their teeth. I like to think that we human folk are civilized. But how civilized would it have been to withdraw all my love from Allis at that moment, to condemn her for a transgression that a wolf would never, could never have understood? That wouldn’t have been respectful of the love and loyalty that Allis had given me for so many years. It wasn’t how I was taught. And it wasn’t how we lived, for the remainder of her years.
Please don’t imagine that the loss of Ping was a small thing to me, just a matter of critters doing what critters do. I will always feel a profound remorse when I think of him, my special boy, my clown. I will always wonder just what happened. Did Allis feel badly that day? Was she actually suffering from the painful arthritis in her bad leg long before it was apparent to me and to my husband? Did Ping surprise her, and she simply reacted instinctively? Would have, could have, should have. But I could not, and never did blame Allis for what she was. She was a dog. A wonderful dog. I wish that you had known her. We will never forget her.
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Alexandra Sargent-Colburn lives in Massachusetts with fish, ferrets, a cat and a husband. The ferrets are in charge.