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Column: Goodbye is tough business for pet owners
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Column: Goodbye is tough business for pet owners

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Tammy Wilson

The minute we welcome a pet into our life, we launch a process that will eventually lead to a painful goodbye. We know this deep down, but we push it aside until we can’t avoid it.

I found myself there — again — last week, placing another resin plaque in my backyard. A month ago, I had to have one of my dogs euthanized. He was old and sick. I didn’t want him to suffer any longer but saying goodbye to a pet is never easy. And so Furry, a beloved Lab mix, joined other pets who exist in the past tense.

My first encounter with a marked pet grave was on my great-uncle’s farm. Lloyd adopted “Pup,” a fluffy dog. Probably a collie of some sort. A lot of farm dogs were collies back then.

I remember visiting Pup’s grave after he was tragically hit and killed on the road out front. My uncle was distraught to the point of having a local monument company carve a small granite marker for Pup.

It was an unusual thing for a pet owner to do at the time, much less one as thrifty as my Uncle Lloyd. I remember his wife was surprised at him being so emotionally attached to an animal. She’d never seen the likes on their farm, where she and Lloyd raised chickens and other livestock for meat.

Pet cemeteries are nothing new. A memorable one is at Sherwood Forest, the Virginia home of President John Tyler, along Route 5 on the way to Williamsburg. The imposing white clapboard plantation house is still owned by the Tyler family.

When President Tyler’s favorite horse “The General” died in the mid-1800s, he had the animal interred on the property. The horse was given a marker that reads:

“Here lie the bones of my old horse, ‘General,’

who served his master faithfully

for twenty-one years.

And never made a blunder.

Would that his master could say the same!”

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Tyler himself would have been buried on the property, except when he died at Richmond in 1862, the house was occupied by Union troops.

Nevertheless, he chose the final resting place for family pets at Sherwood Forest. There are two or three rows of short wooden crosses inscribed with such names as Wink, Changa, KitKat and Beau. Some have small concrete lawn ornaments — a sleeping kitten, a dog holding a basket in his mouth, child and angel figures.

Until recent decades, those of us who lost beloved pets were disenfranchised. Pet sympathy cards were unheard of. Grave markers? Rare.

And then came the Rainbow Bridge. The concept began in a poem that circulated about 40 years ago. It expressed a mythical overpass connecting heaven and earth, the place where grieving owners reunite forever with their departed pets.

Whether pets go to heaven is a longstanding debate. I’m just glad we have become more humane about the grief that comes with losing our pets.

Several years ago, I was visiting my friend Mary who’d had to euthanize one of her horses. One morning we found ourselves browsing pet grave markers in the garden section of a hardware store. It was sad business, reading the inscriptions. When the clerk came to see if she could help, we related our recent losses. Before we left the store with a marker in tow, the clerk was sobbing with us. It was the kind of bizarre moment you can’t forget.

At my home, deceased pets rest behind a couple of large shrubs, where lawn meets the woods. I’ve installed small wooden crosses and placed a resin plaque on each. “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever,” is inscribed on a plaque for Winnie, the Welsh Corgi we lost in 2012. Another plaque marks the resting spot of Cappy, another Corgi, who passed in 2015.

Furry was abandoned in our neighborhood 15 years ago, by the time he passed, he was no less than 16 years old, or about 90 in human years.

This time around, I bought a plaque that reads, “You have left my life, but you will never leave my heart.”

Indeed dogs and cats and horses that move in with us leave a pet-shaped hole in our heart when they depart. Sixteen years is a long time. With Furry, it represented nearly a quarter of my lifetime.

I’m well aware that some consider pet markers to be overly sentimental, but Furry was a special “man” as my late husband would say.

Tym suffered from ALS and Furry had severe arthritis. In the end, neither of them could walk.

So before I said my final goodbye to Furry, I told him that he’d see Tym soon and go on long walks again.

And I envisioned Tym waiting for him at the Rainbow Bridge.

Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at tamra@tamrawilson.com

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