The relationship between people and their animals is a unique and wonderful thing. Any one who has ever had a treasured pet will remember their foibles, their particular personality, their transgressions, their heroisms. Our society has a love affair with our pets that is beneficial to both owner and pet (although cat people will tell you they are the pet and the cat is the owner!)
When a pet dies, especially a child's pet, the grief for the pet can be quite intense. This may often be the child's first experience with death and it can present as an opportunity to talk about death to the child and introduce them to the concept of reverent burial. Children and adults benefit emotionally from taking care of their pets body and burying it with love and care.
A Funeral Celebrant can help you bury your pet with stories befitting the life you led together, which greatly assists the grieving process and acknowledges the benefits you both received from the relationship.
We are also pleased to tell you of our connection with Paws and Reflect (www.pawsandreflect.org) a wonderful service that provides meaningful care and ceremony for your pet when they have passed on. Please contact us for more information on these wonderful ceremonies.
An example: The Funeral of Kendall O'Connor (otherwise known as Doeg)
In memoriam: Kendall the Cavalier, a.k.a. Doeg, 1996-2005.
Died Monday, April 18, 2005
Kendall was born in November 1996. His mother was a bitch, in Bargo.
In January 1997 Jan and I were looking for a dog. Late in 1996 his much-loved predecessor, Danny, of the same breed, while visiting a farm had met a fascinating thick flexible half-metre black stick. It turned out to be a tiger snake. While playing with it he went to sleep for ever.
My wife Jan, when I first met her, was a pet-less person, used to the tropics where cats are animals that live under houses. When I persuaded her in 1988 to get a cat, I mentioned that he might sometimes want to come inside in winter. She found the idea bizarre. Fido the $5 ginger cat, whose spirit country was the Kippax Fair petshop, proved to be quite fond of indoors in winter and even in summer. In due course we installed a cat door which also worked for Cavalier spaniels, who also proved to be fonder of the indoors than the out. Also in favor of indoors was Fido's mate Arianna, the Burmese pussy, a silken thing of darkness, who spent most of any cold winter's day snuggled under our bedclothes.
However Jan noticed that the pussies never wagged their tails when she got home, nor showed concern when she left. "Mark and Jan Who?" and "Where's Our Dinner?" was the only response, when she came back from a month abroad. So, around 1994 the first tail-wagger came into our life.
In early 1997 Jan was driving back from her mother's in Brisbane, and arranged to visit a breeder of Cavaliers near Bargo. Cavaliers are prone to the genetic defect of a heart murmur that often cuts their life expectancy severely, and Jan was supposed to demand a Vet's certificate that the pup was sound. But when she got there, there was only one adorable puplet left from the litter, so of course she took him. He slept most of the way home, lying on his back and snoring. We lay on the lawn together and watched this little ball of puppy-fat unsteadily trying to run, and wondered if he would ever fill Danny's paw-tracks.
Kendall started home-life by sleeping his first night inside a cat-cage while the two resident cats got used to him after we carefully cut the hooks off their claws. We kept their claws trimmed for the first month or so. The pup, with his prominent Cavalier eyeballs, was going to get a few slaps across the face before he learned Respect, and we didn't want any tragedies with those hooks catching in an eyeball.
A PERSONALITY EMERGES
The first thing Jan noticed about his temperament was that "The puppy does NOT like to be alone." Far less confident than Danny, he was always looking around for his (adopted) parents. Released from the car anywhere, he would run away like a toddler, exultantly, at random. Then 50 seconds later it would occur to him that he was all alone in the world, and he'd come rushing back, desperate to find his own pack again. Like most dogs, he hated to be left out of a car excursion, and would demand access to the car as soon as he sensed preparations for departure. It didn't matter if he had to camp there half an hour before we actually joined him the important thing was not to be left behind.
Jan got great reception each night as she arrived back from work. He also gave great farewell each morning. For a long time his name was uncertain either Kendall (the only part of his bizarre studbook name that was intelligible) or Doeg (as in the famous scene of Peter Sellars in France: "Excuse me Monsieur, does your doeg bite?"). In time Kendall prevailed over Doeg.
Kendall was living proof that you don't need language to think. We were soon made aware that the SCP (Small Canine Person) was constantly planning, anticipating and devising how he wanted the next hour's events to be arranged. His intelligence was high. He would come dashing up full of hope at the jingle of car keys, but if told "Stay. Guard house." would be instantly downcast and go and lie down, making no attempt to follow.
Another phrase he learned was "Love in." Love in meant that when Jan came home of an evening he should be content to greet her briefly at door, then jump up on the sofa and wait, tail-wagging at top speed, till she dumped whatever she might be carrying and came over to join him there for a proper sit-down love-in. He would be very upset if some emergency prevented her joining him for a properly prolonged session on the sofa.
A huge plaque of a slavering Alsatian was put in our window to deter burglars, but Kendall welcomed all callers, never barked at them, and insisted on being presented to each new visitor.
When he really wanted something, he insisted on a face-to-face chat, even when he was so small it was a major climb to get onto our laps. He was not content to make his pitch until he was on the right level, eyeball to eyeball. He gave wonderful eye-contact all his life, with his lively darting eyes, the black pupils instantly tracking each movement of mine or Jan's. He learned words quickly and surely, provided they were spoken in a special exciting tone, and clearly associated with the thing referred to. He could not speak back, but he could hear what we said, and could indicate enthusiastically when we had guessed right. He developed an elaborate pantomime of licking the top of his nose with his tongue. This was not a spontaneous gesture, but symbolic communication. It was accompanied with all kinds of intense, avid pop-eyed eye-movements. As soon as the dumb human finally understood and said "Din din?" or "Walk" or whatever, he assumed the communication was complete and promptly jumped down off your lap and waited for you to get up and produce the agreed treat.
At other times he would dart into the house barking furiously, jumping up, and demanding that we follow him back into the garden, instantly -not a moment to be lost. Making little darts back towards the garden, with a bark to tell us to follow, then turning back appalled that we hadn't yet followed, and repeating the maneuver. The dialog, with him enthusiastically bouncing assent to each question, usually went something like this: "What's this? You need help? At once? Sooner than at once? A grade 1 emergency?! And the cause let me guess an illegal pussy! And in our yard!? Too cruel! And refusing to move on when requested? This is an outrage? Yes, yes, backup required! We'll come at once."
At times though he did the job himself. "Hero pup, 4 months, routs black panther from bedroom" was one bulletin after he cured a neighbour's big black cat of coming in through the cat door (while our cats were asleep outside in the sun) for an afternoon nap on our bed. However he preferred chasing possums. Never caught one, but made sure that they knew their place and stayed up in their trees.
Kendall's other great communication device was his paw. At a friend's house, if he thought we had been there too long, he would sit beside me or Jan on the sofa, and every minute or so a little paw would pluck at our elbow, while he looked up imploringly, asking to be taken home. Similar appeals often meant that he wanted to be released from social duties and told it was alright to go to his bed in the laundry (kept warm by a foot-warmer).
Jan had been very firm that he was not to start sharing our bed which was already full of us and the two cats. Sometimes he would come into the bedroom and paw us, asking for something. At the word "bed" he would head off joyously to the laundry to settle down in his own bed.
When he was house-trained he took it into his head that the lawn was in the same category as carpets sacrosanct. So we never saw his droppings, since he always went down the back of the garden bed among the leaf litter, where they vanished.
OUT AND ABOUT
Once he could run well, I trained Kendall to run beside the bicycle, on a loosely held lead. Running beside a bike is real exercise for a dog (unlike merely walking beside a human) and he got quite fit.
He always had the run of the back yard, via the cat door; but as he grew older he established his right to be let out the front door each morning for a smell-tour of our street. (Luckily ours is such a crooked street that there was little risk of being run over by speeding cars.) Once out the front door, he would check the email-posts and the other smell trails of the night's events, then come back and rap/scratch loudly at our front door for admittance. He was not much of a barker, and besides we always rebuked him if he barked without reason, so that he rarely did. But we learned to recognise a single imperious bark, as indicating that he had got shut in somewhere or needed a knob turned.
Sometimes he knocked on other doors in our street. A Chinese family told us of their bewilderment. "We hear loud fast knock-knock on door. We go to door. Open door. Look around. Nobody there. Only small dog." A Korean exchange student, jet-lagged, dreamed on his first night in our street that he was on a volcano. He woke to find the roar was in fact a snore. Kendall had established visiting rights in that group house, and had chosen the student's room for a spur-of-the-moment nap.
Kendall was what dog breeders describe as "pet quality". He was meant to be a tri-colour, but in fact was almost entirely black and white, apart from some tan on his face. Yet he rarely failed to charm on sight. Greg and Maria, who called him "His Majesty" and kept him illegally in their block of flats when we were out of town, described being "sprung" by the difficult old lady next door as they were taking Kendall for a walk " Hey, that's a dog you've got there. Don't you know dogs are strictly forbidden here? And what a darling little puppy! What's her name?"
Kendall traded all his life on being a "puppy", and was often greeted with cries of "puppy!" from small children. He was also often mistaken for a female, on the seemingly unshakable popular assumption that any small fluffy dog must be a female. I rarely bothered to tell people that this was actually a middle-aged macho male dog, and (in his own mind) a ferocious possum hunter.
By 1998 our annual newsletter reported:
He trained one neighbor to lift him over a six-foot fence to visit his "girlfriend" Schmoopsi (though he is in fact a radical celibate, or else the Vet got his money for nothing). The people there then lift him back over when it's time to return home. Doeg has discovered that his great interest in life is travel, and he trained one neighbour to drive him all over Canberra and neighboring parts of NSW. He also enjoys a rather effete form of cat-hunting. Cycling back from the shops, I once overtook our Polish neighbor curb-crawling in his van, with the dog (who rarely barks) standing on the passenger seat, his tiny paws on the top of the open window, barking furiously. I asked what he was barking at, and was told: "Ketz. (Cats). Ketz vas valking round here. And he don't like it."
THE TELEPHONIC DOG
Kendall loved people, other than toddlers (who tended to grab for his eyes), but he was nervous of other dogs. Some of them nipped. He didn't understand this. He had never bitten in his life. However he sometimes found a small gentle dog or even a big dog that (for some reason invisible to me) he trusted, and loved to romp with. One such was the lively little bitch called Schmoopsi who lived in the house behind his friend Eugene's house. Unfortunately Kendall sinned. Her owner, Eddy, welcomed his visits, but Eddy's elderly mother banned Kendall after he chased her cat. Thereafter visits had to be pre-negotiated by phone. If mother answered, no chance. If Eddy answered and said his mother was out, Kendall was in luck.
Of course it didn't take Kendall long to work out the content of these phone calls. As soon as the phone rang at Eddy's house, Schmoopsi would bark twice. Kendall, eaves-dropping shamelessly, would hear this down the line, and bark back. All through the conversation the two little dogs would lobby intensely for the right result. Kendall would be ecstatic when I finally put the phone down and heart-broken if, after all this, I had to tell him that mother had said No.
Now that Kendall knew what the phone was for, he began to beg me each morning as soon as I got to the desk. If I needed to make a call for my own purposes he would interrupt, and would keep pawing my knee, meaning with absolute clarity, "Stop talking nonsense. Go on, make the real call, make it now." When I told my neighbour about the telephoning canines he remarked, "Dogs today! Outrageous!"
Kendall had many friends. Perhaps his greatest friend was Eugene, a retired Polish immigrant who lived across the road. Eugene had just lost his wife in tragic circumstances. He bonded with Kendall, and often "borrowed" him for much of the day. This suited Kendall, whose main hobbies were supervising food production and travel. Eugene taught him as a small pup to gnaw the drumsticks off chicken bones that had been used in soup and all his life he was an expert dissector and chewer of chicken and rabbit bones, whether cooked or uncooked. Eugene would often tell me proudly the itinerary of the day's adventures from which the pair had just returned. "Today, first Kendall and I cross border, go NSW; Queanbeyan markets. Then we go Belconnen Mall, then . . . " All this, plus cat-hunting in comfort from the passenger's seat made a full and satisfying day for both.
Once Roger Woodward came to my house just before we were to make a joint speech at the national press club. He met Kendall, and then (unnoticed by Roger) Eugene slipped in and removed Kendall. Later I was driving Roger towards the Press Club. We had gone nearly a kilometer from home when Roger spotted an odd couple beside the road and called out to me, "Isn't that your dog? Has that man stolen him?" "No," I said, "Kendall's just taking him for a walk."
It seemed a friendship made in heaven but alas a woman came between them!
Eugene's children persuaded him to sell his house and move away to a smaller place. Eugene came back a few times to see Kendall, then vanished. Months later a neighbor said, "Do you know Eugene's back in our suburb just around the corner? Well Kendall does. He goes there sometimes." It turned out Eugene had paired up with a widow who lived around the corner.
Sadly, she didn't like dogs. Sometimes, Eugene told me, Kendall would go there. Eugene would see him outside and signal from behind the window that he couldn't come in, and Kendall would turn around and go back home. It turned out, later, that there was a deeper reason for this sad break. Just as Eugene and the widow had paired up, the widow's pregnant daughter lost her husband, and had to go out to work. It was then all hands to the pumps, once the child was born. The widow and her new husband were roped in as full time substitute parents. No time for dogs! Until one day, four years later, the little mite they were looking after opened her eyes and exclaimed "Doggie!" Gradually Kendall re-established his rights as an occasionally visitor there. But it was never glad confident morning again.
THE OLYMPIC YEAR
Then came the Olympic adventure. In 2000 it was my duty to follow the Olympic torch for 100 days around Australia. Since Kendall had spent his 3-year life to date in and around my study each day, I didn't feel I could simply leave him at home, alone by day, for over 3 months. So Kendall came too. Three days before the torch arrived in Uluru, I managed at last to buy a secondhand troop-carrier in Canberra. I then had to drive 22 hours a day for 2 days, all the way to Uluru without falling asleep at the wheel. So I put an air mattress, already blown up, in the back. This meant I could simply jump in the back and sleep for an hour twice a day when too exhausted to drive further. Without that I would never have got there in time. I thought Kendall would help me concentrate. Instead, he found a place just behind my shoulder-blades on the air-mattress and snored contentedly in my ear all through the long sleepless drive while I was desperately wishing I too could climb into the back and sleep. To add insult, he frequently slept on my ancient Akubra hat. But I learned why Akubras are so valued. Despite having a 10-kilo dog bounce up and down on it for hours, each time I picked it up it snapped back into shape.
Kendall soon learned such new words as Kangaroo, Emu, Cattle, and Rabbit. He would cry with frustration when I slowed down to let some kangaroo get clear that was bouncing down the road ahead of our van forgetting that he weighed far less than the kangaroo's tail. Once in the central deserts we stopped to look at some emus a few hundred metres away. Kendall, perhaps misjudging the scale, took off after them as if they were his favorite quarry: wood-ducks. The half-metre high prickly herbiage slowed him down. Then the emus noticed this curious shape wriggling towards them, and approached with frighteningly swift strides. Kendall struggled back as fast as he could, and jumped into the van.
Most nights we slept together in the 'van", sharing body warmth since it was winter. Of course all accommodation was long booked out for each town's "Olympic night", so I would simply park between two houses in a quiet street (allowing each householder, if they noticed, to imagine it was their neighbor that had a visitor) and move on in the morning. Quite often, though, there were friends to stay with. It didn't matter whether these were "dog people" or not. In every case but one Kendall managed to charm his way inside, and ended up sleeping in the same room I did. Usually around 9 p.m. he would begin plucking my elbow with his paw: "Where's my bed. I need to know." Once shown where we were to sleep, he could relax.
We also stayed with Les and Val Murray, who were charmed by Kendall. "But our farm isn't good for woofers," said Les sadly. "They don't last. The last one's education only got as far as What Happens when you dig up a sleeping snake in August."
KENDALL'S LATE PERIOD
Later years were uneventfully happy for Kendall. He had many friends at Tilley Devine's café. He was also a regular at garage sales, always first out of the car to check the offerings and would usually throw in a free possum-check of the premises, front yard and back. He was less keen on purchases, apart from the odd addition to his collection of soft teddies and other dog-bonkables. He adored schmackos, and I often took the kitchen scissors and cut 3 schmackos into a hundred pieces. Scattered over the lawn they gave him an hour of ecstatic grazing, while all the while looking like a white lamb on a meadow. He went to Xmas dinner at the Ridleys, dog lovers, who understood that though not hungry he was pining for eye-contact. So they gave him his own chair where he sat blissfully in contact with the party. (He did however let his guard down by accepting a little brandy butter, which made him tiddly.)
In 2002 the lads renting the house next door to us decided, around 3 a.m. one morning, that it would be a great idea to pull the palings off our side fence for their bonfire. With the side fence gone, Kendall became a latchkey dog. In a street of canine prisoners, many of whom we never saw though they were often heard barking, he alone roamed free at will.
The love between man and dog has to end in tears, since their species is so much more short-lived than ours. Vets occasionally noted Kendall's heart murmur at annual check ups. By early 2005, when he was 8, one vet called it "a resounding heart murmur". The heart was beating strongly, but the valve was failing, and letting the blood flow back the wrong way. The end came quite quickly. Two months ago he suddenly seemed unable to run beside the bike. By a month ago he was having trouble keeping up with me on a slow walk. He spent a lot of his time panting. At my 60th birthday a month ago he was present, but very subdued. After years of stable weight, he stacked on 2 kilos in two months --he had ceased exercising. He became a slow waddler. At first it seemed just a bad combination of no puff and being overweight. But Jan noticed him having little spasms as if he was falling asleep on his feet, or losing nerve contact with the rear legs.
The ladies at Booklore (one of the many shops where he had established visiting rights) were sad to hear he wasn't coming to their shop any more. So I lifted him into the car and took him round there, for what I knew would be a last visit. It turned out he could no longer see his friends there, though he could still hear them calling. When he was coaxed into the shop he walked straight into the shelves. Back home, it became clear that he was now navigating by memory, with perhaps a skerrick of sight. Sometimes he couldn't locate you even if you were standing right beside him. He spent almost all day and night lying down in a hiding place under the table, panting or snoring, but was still stoic at forcing himself down the steps to pee outside. Only food still attracted him. On his last Saturday he seemed blind and deaf, and confused, and for the first time distressed. He could scarcely stand, but wanted to go out in the street where he wandered at random for half an hour, and finally had to be rescued from the traffic he had always avoided with such ease.
On Monday Jan and I took him to the Vet. Two weeks earlier the Vet had noticed nothing wrong with his eyes, but now she found both pupils fully dilated and no longer responsive to light. He could hardly stand, yet seemed to have forgotten how to sit. Brain damage perhaps a stroke. Perhaps related to the heart failure, perhaps not. She recommended euthanasia. As we both held him the needle slipped in unnoticed, and 3 seconds later he collapsed downwards as if falling asleep for the last time. At least, as one friend put it, Kendall had had a gorgeous life.
Mark O'Connor April 19, 2005
Such a eulogy certainly means something to people. This one drew all sorts of emotional responses. For instance, one person (herself a funeral celebrant) who had met Kendall for only a few days when we visited her city, wrote back:
Oh Mark. I 'm sitting here bawling - I am so sorry. Dear Kendall. I shall redouble my photo-finding efforts and live in hope of finding the one with Kendall's paw in my jacket pocket. In the meantime, I send warm thoughts and many commiserations - I know just how you and Jan must be feeling. ...
I am so glad to think that I met Kendall in his peripatetic years, and will long remember the feel of his little body in the crook of my elbow, his face held up for approbation and one paw scrabbling furiously in my pocket.