Childhood Drama: The Loss of a Few Pets

Photo of Joe. taken by N. McGuire, 1986
Photo of Joe. taken by N. McGuire, 1986

Joe

Sometimes I think about him. Back in 1986, I remember the fluffy fur ball falling asleep in my lap while I rubbed the back of his very soft, tan fur. He was a Boxer and German Shepherd mix. He had the popular mole on his black and white face, while his ears flopped.

Underneath his neck and on his belly was white in color and so was the tip of his long tail. The puppy had just came back from the vet and the story was he didn't like his visit too much. My heart went out to him, because he had no mother to comfort him.

While visiting my grandmother, Joe came into my life when a family who lived on a farm somewhere in Pennsylvania didn't need him or any other dogs from the litter--they had enough. The pup was use to running free in acres of grassland. His trip to his new home wasn't an easy one and he got a little sick along the way coming to grandma's house a relative had told me back then. So for the poor pup to come to a city bustling with car horns and people was most likely a bit of a culture shock for him.

He received his name after another Joe, who had a black coat of fur. Jo-Jo was a cutie and I played with him during my toddler years at my grandma's old house before she had moved. Unfortunately, that Joe had died after being hit by a car. He bolted out of the yard one day, trying to keep up with an Uncle. The excited dog runs out into the street and there he would die. I was only about five when I asked about the dog. Back then I don't believe I had received all the details until I got a bit older.

Grandma had since moved from that old house. Sometimes she would talk about missing that black dog. So my Uncle brought her a bit of happiness in later years at her new home by bringing her the new Joe.

Joe stayed over grandma's house primarily in the basement during harsh weather. However, Joe loved the snow and barked to go out frequently no matter what the season. He grew rapidly and I missed much of his growth during the weekdays while I attended middle school. However, I got to spend time with him during the weekends.

As much as I wanted to visit with Joe more often, it wasn't going to happen. My Dad didn't like dogs--let me clarify, he despised them! I don't know what happened to him during his childhood, but he didn't like any pets not a fish, bird, rodent, dog, cat--"no animal would ever visit or live" at his home, he had told us one day as children.

Joe was a somewhat hairy dog that required brushing. He shed a lot of hair as he grew older. Tan and white hair showed up here and there. Sometimes it would show up in places that it shouldn't like the dinner table at grandma's house! One time my dad saw the hair on grandma's dining table and that was the last time he would eat at her table. We tried to keep the house free of Joe's hairs! We dusted, vacuumed, broom swept the basement, and cleaned the flooring with disinfectants. Joe's soiled newspapers were often cleaned up, but nothing could kill his doggy smell. My dad and a few other visitors complained about the dog's smell when he visited. Most who had issue with the dog, weren't pet owners.

Joe bathed more than most people! He had doggy powders and other products to keep his fur healthy looking and smelling fresh. I even brushed his canine teeth a few times, but there was something a bit scary about doing that--his teeth were sharp and he snapped a few times, so I stopped and just asked grandma to get some bones to help keep his doggy smile sparkling!

As Joe grew more mature, he became harder to train hence the old adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." He knew the basics like sitting and lying down on command, but walking him, well that wasn't happening!  Joe would take over the leash and drag us children down the street! My sister, who was very young at the time, attempted to help care for him, but Joe would take off like a wild animal!  One time I watched her body go up in the air and fall on her behind trying to control Joe. He ignored just about anything she would tell him, unless of course, she had some of grandma's leftovers from those tasty Soul Food meals. The whole family fed Joe at least once and he was always content about the food he was given. He ate better than a starving college student or a bum on the street! He had homemade rolls, vegetable dishes, beef, chicken, pork, even a T-Bone steak! One of my uncles had to stop grandma from giving the dog desserts after his meals like sweet potatoe pie, pound cake, and peach cobbler. Although grandma claimed, she "only gave him a taste," none of us believed it.  One time Joe had doggy worms and the uncle who gave grandma the dog, scolded her for it.

Joe may have been 14 years old by doggy years at the time when I decided I was going to show him how to go under a pole and jump over it (remember I said, you can't teach an old dog new tricks?) One of my worst memories was hearing Joe yelp, because I brought the pole down too fast before he could jump over it and it hit his nose! I cried and left Joe alone the rest of the day after apologizing quite a few times. I believe Joe had cursed me out, because he was barking at me for maybe a minute after he recovered (there were some doggy tears in his eyes) and then he just stopped and went about his doggy business.

Well, the time would come that Joe would become a nuisance to the landlord (who happened to be my dad.) There was work to be done in the basement of the 100 plus old three story building and Joe was in the way. He also barked a lot at my dad when he would show up to do some work on the small apartment complex. Joe didn't know that you don't anger the landlord, so he had to go!

My grandmother wasn't happy about having to give up her dog and kept him for as long as she could which wasn't a good thing for her, because well, attitudes were flying between relatives and in-laws about Joe. She made arrangements for an Uncle to have Joe stay with him. That didn't workout so good. Joe ended up with all sorts of ticks, weird black boil looking things and he had lost a lot of weight!  Apparently, the Uncle was leaving Joe outside most of the time in high grass behind his house. The bugs were having a field day with poor Joe! I think most of the relatives felt bad for the mouthy dog. They were also very angry at the Uncle who didn't take care of him as he had promised. So my dad's heart softened and he allowed Joe to come back to live with grandma temporarily.

One weekend I anticipated spending time with Joe, but he was nowhere to be found! I asked grandma what happened? She said she told one of my uncles to take Joe and give him away. My heart sunk! What!? No more Joe!? She said she was sorry, but she was being pressured to get rid of the dog and she wasn't losing her place behind the dog.

So I was told, Joe was left alone in a park somewhere in Pittsburgh.  He tried to run after the van that was used to drop him off. I never saw Joe again. My grandma believes someone saw that beautiful dog and made a home for him.

I hope to see Joe again in heaven. When the movie, "All Dogs Go To Heaven" came out in theaters many years ago, I really wanted to believe that is where old Joe went.

Photo of Blue Jay taken by N.McGuire, 1986
Photo of Blue Jay taken by N.McGuire, 1986

Blue Jay

He tweeted and looked at us from his cage with a fearful look for a long time. I don't think the blue spotted parakeet wanted to be with this strange looking family. He was use to his original owners, a well-to-do family, who no longer wanted him, because the more responsible caretaker was going off to college.

I talked with the bird and named him, Blue Jay, because I liked the blue in his feathers. We set up his cage where there was the most sunlight in my grandma's dark house--the sun porch. It was a room full of windows and our childhood board games and electronics. We often checked up on Blue Jay who eventually got use to all of our chatting. Grandma, my sister and I were cleaning his cage and giving him fresh bird seed and water often.

The original owners would periodically let the bird fly around their home, but grandma said she would see bird droppings here and there when she would visit, so that wasn't going to happen at her house. We sighed deeply and watched the parakeet from his cage sometimes sticking our fingers in it and then laughing.

In time, the quiet bird, who we thought, forgot how to tweet for a time (we learned later he missed his old environment) started tweeting away. So much in fact he was annoying sometimes. At night, we would cover his cage and then go to bed.

During Thanksgiving vacation, we spent the most time with Blue Jay. We learned some of his mannerisms during our vacation. He tweeted when he was happy and liked when we talked to him. One morning, I went out to check on Blue Jay. I lifted the cover and noticed he was lying down. I thought it strange, and I reasoned, "Oh he's just sleeping." But as quick as I thought that, another thought came to my mind, "He's dead!" I took off running to find my grandma, "The bird...the bird...he's dead grandma!" She was surprised. I told her he was lying down and she said, "Birds don't lie down. It must have been real cold last night on the sun porch." I learned later the temperature on the sun porch, despite the heat blowing from the furnace opening on the floor, had dropped below zero.

I was the one who had to remove the dead bird from the cage and I hurt so bad about it. I put on a glove and lifted his frail body from the cage and placed him in a brown bag. It was a long walk to the dumpster carrying the dead bird and the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I dropped him in and cried.

Source

Sebastian

His eyes peered at me from behind the bookshelf. A strange mix of colors possibly hazel when the light didn't directly shine on them. The gray kitten with his long whiskers wasn't interested in the human touch. He just wanted to observe these new faces. Get too close to him and he could pull a disappearing act! "Where did he go? He was just right here!" Sebastian, my name for him, showed up for a temporary stay at grandma's home. Another pet in the landlord's rental (by this time my dad, the landlord, was fuming!)

Sebastian only came out during the night and when my grandma was alone. We rarely seen him during the day. One night he scared her, she told us, but she got use to him. She would tell us he was cute and ate real good. But what was strange, I never saw a litter box. "Hey, grandma, where is the cat's litter box?" She didn't know. "I thought Sonja left it for him." Ms. Sonja was grandma's friend. "Hmm." So I asked grandma, "Well where is the kitten doing his business?" She didn't know. That's when she put my sister and I to work! We started moving out furniture from the walls, taking throw rugs up, and wiping everything. We vacuumed and mopped. We were looking for signs of some "cat mess," according to grandma and found nothing! Sebastian would stay with grandma for a week maybe two, can't remember. We would get to see him for a weekend and then back to school for us.

This time I would not allow myself to bond with the cat. By the time, I came back to grandma's house, Sebastian was gone.

Pet Loss: Grief Restarts With My Children...

I had been there and done that experiencing the loss of pets and now years later, beyond my control, my children would have to say, "Goodbye" to their pets at none other than their grandparent's home.

What my former mother-in-law didn't know is that I had issues about the past concerning my experiences caring for pets. Without my consent, she introduced fish to my two and three year olds not once, but several times and all died within days over different periods. My sons were very sad. They even told me once, they didn't want anymore fish. But did she listen? After a few more deaths, she put the fish to rest. My sons would watch each dead fish be prayed over and sent down the toilet with sometimes tears in their eyes, so I have been told.

I don't know the impact the fish deaths have made on my two boys who are now tweens. Neither have talked about their lost pets since their toddler years and I don't bother to bring those sad stories up to them either.

Dealing with The Loss

What have you done to manage grief since the loss of your pet?

  • You purchased a new one.
  • You vowed to never buy another pet again.
  • You bought a pet for someone else, but refuse to get one for self.
  • You volunteer caring for others' pets.
  • You have visited a therapist and now have a new pet.
  • You have moved out the residence because you couldn't take the memories.
  • You are still grappling with the loss and have yet to move on.
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When Burdened about a Deceased Loved One Talk to God

My Children's First Pet Dies

On October 31, 2014, a gold fish that two of my boys selected with their dad at Walmart was bellied up in the tank. What makes this story a bit odd was, it was Halloween and the fish spent most of the day struggling to live.

When I first noticed that something was wrong with the fish was when I walked by and saw that the tank was cloudy. It hadn't been that long since the habitat had been cleaned. The "Big Fish" I'll call him, shared his space with a smaller gold fish. The younger one appeared to be strong, but was going up to the top of the tank breathing heavily. I realized that I better do something and fast! So I cleared the tank of the polluted looking water. I separated the fish and set up the filter and a device that helped with the fish breathing. The younger did well, but the older not so much. This went on for hours. I literally prayed that Big Fish wouldn't die while the children were in school. He didn't.

During the evening, one of the boys came running out of his room, "Mom, the fish is dead! The fish is dead!" I ran back with him. He was belly up but slowly breathing from the look of his gills. I thought, "It won't be long now." So I prayed another prayer. Big Fish died within minutes. My son didn't want him going down any toilet and burying him was not something we discussed--they watched their aunt's coffin lowered and completed buried in dirt. They recreated that scene over and over again with their toys for awhile. Instead, Big Fish was bagged up. My son carried him in his hands. He looked at Big Fish' eyes before he dropped him in a dumpster at the community property where we stayed.

My son and his little brother were quiet that evening before talking about the fish. I explained to them about how Big Fish was sick. One teared up, the other looked at me with sadness and then proceeded to play with his toys.

© 2011 Nicholl McGuire

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