My cat is nowhere near as old as other cats — only 13. I have friends whose cats lived to 19, even 20. Mine is fading, gently. Like a very old photograph losing the colours at the edge. Today, my niece looked at her, and we both said she’s fading. Falling in on herself. Just this year, Kali (my lovely, graceful, Siamese mix) has aged rapidly. Her once-sleek fur looks more than a bit disheveled. And she sleeps a lot.
The dog — Pascal, to the right of Kali in the picture — has ‘canine rage syndrome.’ And ‘fly-snapping syndrome.’ Look them up. They’re real. Epileptic seizure disorders that affect dogs of all breeds. And not too treatable. Even if we were willing to hire a canine neurologist (and yes, there are such things). He’s always been odd, but lately it’s much worse.
This makes me incredibly sad. The lives of the animals who share ours are short — painfully so. When I read stories of faeries — the amoral, elven kind — I think of how they must feel about their human pets: so damnably short-lived. And as my slowly-going-senile cat licks the chair behind me, I wonder what we do for those we love as they begin to fade away.
You’d think I’d know how to do this, having practiced w/ my mother, my father, my mother-in-law and sundry elderly relatives. But I live pretty much in the moment, and somehow, it never occurred to me my animals would fall apart so young. A better Buddhist, I’m sure, would be thinking of how to help Kali & Pascal. Instead, I’m wondering how to do tonglen — offer up the breathing of my own pain — for an epileptic dog and a semi-senile cat. Each of whom I love dearly.
This is when I wish for a larger sangha — a community of Buddhist believers who could help me figure this out. I know enough to breathe — I know enough to realise that attachment lies at the core of this breaking heart. But I may have to put my beloved dog to sleep (he bit my husband bad enough to draw blood the other night in one of his episodes), and my cat is probably not too far behind.
It should be easier, I think. To let go of these two beings who have shared my food, my tears, my life. Whom I have watched grow from fear (Kali a rescue, Pascal just neurotic) to trust. Who have comforted me so many times, even as they have also bit me when I petted them, thrown up on my bed, torn up stuff, and generally been royal pains. What’s pain between family?
So here I am. Once again seeing a lesson in beginner’s heart in the white stones of my daily life. I wish I didn’t have to learn it.