The night was settling in as I glided down out of the Rockies into little Salida, Colorado, a couple of days ago. It was that odd time of day when the shadows were getting longer and the lights were just coming on along the highway. As I was peering through the gloom looking for my hotel, a flash of white reflected in my headlights from the side of the road and, then, was quickly gone. I made a mental note to check it out in the morning before leaving.
The next day, I backtracked to where I had seen the glimpse of white and found this:
It was a crowded little graveyard badly in need of some upkeep, although here and there it was obvious that the graves were still being tended.
It seemed odd that all of the markers were the same small crosses and how closely they were placed together. Only when I started looking closer did I realize what I was seeing:
Names like Nugget, Frisky, and Lucky were prominent among the markers as were more unusual names such as Mr. Ching, Antoinette, and even Watson.
Some years ago, a local veterinarian purchased this plot of land and opened it up for those needing a place to lay their little friends to rest. As you can see, there were a lot of people who felt that their faithful companions deserved a fitting spot to spend eternity and many still visit on a regular basis.
The cemetery is closed now. Filled to capacity. I stood for quite some time looking at all the names and remembering the many pets my family has had over the years.
I grew up with animals in the family. My first recollection is of a basset hound named Cleopatra’s Valentine (better known as Cleo) and a black and white cat named Sapphire. Cleo was a good-natured girl who roamed the neighborhood looking for handouts from everyone in town. We kids loved the times Cleo had litters – rolling around on the floor while five or six floppy-eared puppies nipped at our noses and climbed over us. Sapphire lived to be an ancient nineteen years old and was always very affectionate. She loved to play with a button on a string and enjoyed a dip of catnip now and then.
Throughout the years, we’ve had a wide variety in our menagerie. One time, I won a goldfish at a local fair by tossing a ping-pong ball into the fish bowl. On my way out of the fair, I met a friend who had a chicken in a cage (I have no idea why – we lived in the city) and offered to trade me. I knew a good deal when I saw one and soon I was bursting into the house to show my Mom what a treasure I had. She gave me one of those looks, sighed, and reached for a quick nip from the wine shelf. “Pecky” and I had a great day and, the next morning, we were all treated to his very loud, very EARLY rooster call. I never really knew what happened to Pecky. My parents say they gave him to a farm (how did they suddenly have a farmer friend?!). They all acted pretty weird about the whole thing and, for a week, I couldn’t eat fried chicken….
There continued to be a long line of furry friends marching through our extended family home: Tina, a fat sausage of a Dachshund that my grandparents had. George, easily one of the ugliest dogs I’ve ever seen, whose ugliness got him adopted at the pound because I was afraid no one else would take him. Sauron, an inky black cat that I brought home from England and who immediately settled in with my parents. Sugar, a West Highland White Terrier, also from England – but this time I kept her.
Another Sugar, this one a tiny white toy poodle brought home in my coat pocket to surprise Donna. Sugar was special – she was terribly sick when we got her, nursed her back to health, and then she was my wife’s best friend, confidant, and companion during the years I spent at sea. Sugar slept in our bed, under the covers, down by our feet. More than once, my moving around got me a disapproving nip from that little monster.
Maggie, a black and white Shetland Sheepdog, as smart and as dumb as a dog can be. Maggie loved to play hide and seek with me (and she remembered my hiding places!) and she dug a long trench around the fence line as she idiotically raced every car that came down our street.
My family has always had pets. As soon as one of these friends passed on, we would grieve and then swear, “No more. I’m not going through this again.” Then, in a couple of weeks, a new dog or cat would appear and begin molding us into shape.
Some people don’t get it. They think that pets are just another possession, treated as just animals. Not ours. Our pets become family: they greet us joyfully when we come home, listen to our many gripes, comfort us when we’re feeling down, and forgive us when we’re angry.That’s a pretty good deal.
We haven’t had a pet for some time now and I miss the sound of little paws clattering on the floor. Maybe it’s time to head over to the pound again…Donna?