Last year, I admitted to not being an animal lover, though I have several pets. This year I am delving deeper into my own psyche related to critters.
I am reminded of a letter that made the rounds through my family about an ancestor of mine from the mid 1800s. This epistle was a recounting of a tragedy that happened as a byproduct of the Civil War. (Have you ever thought about Civil War being an oxymoron? There seems to be nothing civil about a war.)
The Union troops descended upon the Alabama farmland where my great-to-the-fifth-power grandmother and her family and their slaves lived. The soldiers chased off the slaves, burned the buildings and fields, and killed everyone except a 14-year-old girl. Her father hid her in a pickle barrel before he was killed.
When she emerged to the devastated landscape, overcome with shock and grief, the slaves wandered back to where their homes had been. They looked to her to know what to do for them to survive. The story stopped there so I do not know what happened, but as would be obvious, since I am alive, she apparently survived to have progeny, of which I am one. My hope is that she had the insight to work collectively with the slaves to make a new home.
So, yes, I am a direct descendent of slave owners. Having those genetic markers coursing through my veins, I do think about oppression perhaps more than most.
I struggle with having pets because for me there is a correlation between slaves and pets. Slaves were removed from their homes, conditioned and bred for certain characteristics. We have been doing the same thing with the ancestors of our pets for at least 100 years. The pet population mushroomed after World War II. Now we are overrun with the progeny of pets to the point that shelters often face the morbid task of killing these animals because there are not enough people who want to take on the responsibility of giving these domesticated animals homes. It seems we, as a culture, have created a monster.
Through the years, science fiction has provided an opportunity for me to explore what life is about by viewing our existence from a different perspective. I have always been appreciative of the work of Rod Serling, who was responsible for the popular TV show, “The Twilight Zone.” He was also responsible for “Planet of the Apes.” In this ever- popular movie (with sequels), apes were the top of the food chain and humans were relegated to the position of slave and or pet.
If you have not seen this movie and would like to, do not read the next sentence. At the end of the movie, the audience discovers this scenario has not occurred on some distant planet; rather, this change in evolutionary roles is our future here on Earth. This was perhaps a fertilization of the seed of exploring the role of pets within my mind.
I discussed pets with a friend of mine, who, I discovered, had some very strong feelings about the subject. He started the conversation by saying he suffers from the challenges of being normal. He is befuddled as to why there are so few people that fall into that category. He does not understand why people bring animals home that were once in the wild and domesticate them. I was surprised to hear that he thinks both the animals and owners become enslaved. Owners have to take on the health and well-being challenges of their pets. This is not a small financial responsibility. Of course, he owns no pets.
A nurse friend shared her story about giving her kidney-challenged cat intravenous therapy to keep her alive for a year after the vet said she would die. She said she was aware of how she was keeping this beloved companion alive not for the cat’s sake, but for her own – she could not bear to say goodbye to her friend. She also was very clear about her insight into knowing she would not do this to a beloved relative, as it would only prolong the suffering before ultimate demise.
My dog Roxie is a rescue hound from southern Mississippi. Her history is that she was incarcerated in a cage with a concrete floor for more than a year before we brought her home at 4 years old. Roxie loves to escape. She has the ability to find a chink in every enclosure I have ever built for her. She doesn’t run far and she has always come home after her jaunts.
This is the wild side of Roxie. I love to take her to the beach and take her off leash to be with the other dogs that are mostly off leash. They romp in and out of the surf and I love to see the expressions of disbelief on the faces of other dog owners when she lets loose her joyful hound-dog howl with a southern drawl. She doesn’t really look like a hound dog, so it is a bit of a non-sequitur. Her favorite beach has recently passed an ordinance banning dogs off leash with a fine of $300, even in off hours.
Roxie kicks up her heels, howls with delight, and dashes in the opposite direction when I call her after her escapes. I don’t worry about her getting lost, or someone dog napping her. I worry about cars hitting her. Part of me is frustrated with her headstrong attitude to escape, but when she is joyfully running and before I head toward my car to try to capture her, I whisper, “You go, girl.”
Lenora Trussell, RN, is an end-of-life tour guide. She is available for presentations, workshops, and as a travel planner for that pesky end-of-life journey we are all destined to take. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org