Der Tod ist gross

“Der Tod ist gross,” writes Rilke. “Death is huge.” But various psychologists deny that it as huge as all that when it is an animal who is mourned. I have read statistically studded reassurances that mourning for a cat lasts at most one month, for a dog three. I have read that when an animal dies there are no regrets, no rehearsal of the wail “If only I had …,” and also that the splendid thing about animals, what is said to make them so convenient to our hearts, like anti-depressants, is that when we mourn them we are only mourning a personal loss and not “the loss of life and potential,” according to ‘Between Pets and People’, by Professors Beck and Katcher, authorities on all of this at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is way that psychological authorities talk – “Eventually an animal can be replaced,” they write in their books – but that is not how the experts talk. I realize that psychologists and suchlike are generally understood to be experts, but I have met none who were experts in the various ways my good Gunner’s work with scent developed, especially when he began scenting out the human heart. Of course, I am just a dog trainer. My thinking, such as it is, I learned from the animals, for whom happiness is usually a matter of getting the job done. Clear that fence, fetch in those sheep, move those calves, win that race, find that guy, retrieve that bird. The happiness of animals is also ideologically unsound, as often as not, or at least it is frequently wanting in propriety, as when your dog rolls in something awful on his afternoon walk or your cat turns off your answering machine.

In over a quarter of a century of dog training I have never met an animal who turned out to be replaceable. Dick Koehler says, “Hell, even trees are irreplaceable, but we don’t know it, and that is our loss.” The loss the dog trainer has in mind is the loss of eternity, as for Wittgenstein put it, “Denn lebt er ewig, der in der Gegenwart lebt.” “So he lives forever, who lives in the present,” wrote the philosopher, and this is how the animals live, in the present, which is why the experts’ difficult and apparently harsh advice, advice they occasionally take themselves, is: “Another dog, same breed, as soon as possible.” Not because another dog of the same breed will be the same, but because that way you can pick up somewhere near where you left off, say that you have it in you.

Vicki Hearne, “Oyez a Beaumont” in ‘Animal Happiness’

“Hark to Beaumont. Softly, Beaumont, mon amy. Oyez à Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont, swef, swef.”

T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Harken to Stone, that good dog, that valiant dog, who fought to the end, never complaining, never slowing, not til the very end. I think because he knew that he was needed, that there are only so many sorrows a heart can hold before it reaches the breaking point.

He was, above all, such a good dog. All of the things people say when they call a dog ‘good’ – valiant, kind to smaller animals, stoic, sweet natured, polite. All of the things that left little space for him, at times, when living in the shadows of a bigger dog. His loss is no less huge, however, and neither is the hole he leaves behind. I bred him, but it’s not my hole – it belongs to the one person who loved him above all else.

Swef, le douce Stone.

Harken to Targ, Jennifer’s heart dog, lost too soon, and missed just as much. Swef, le douce Targ.