One of the basic cycles of farm life is life and death. Last Monday, we came full circle when we were faced with the heartbreaking task of having to put down our fifteen-year-old Lab, Lacey. I remember traveling to Eunice, Louisiana with my mom to pick her up from a friend and customer of Randy’s, when she was no more than a squirming ball of white fur. She was to be a birthday surprise, and it was also the first time I out-and-out lied to him. I told him I was out ‘shopping’ with Mom. Well, technically it wasn’t a lie – I just happened to omit the fact that we were ‘shopping’ three hours and 185 miles away from home.
Randy loved that dog. He spent hours across the street at the junior high school playground training her with duck dummies. We learned that she was also an escape artist. Apparently, she learned early how to climb a chain-link fence. She was bailed out of ‘jail’ (the dog pound) and loved to spend her lazy summer afternoons swimming in our pool. She loved to duck hunt and dove hunt, and was extremely good at it.
When we moved to the farm, she would take all day ‘walkabouts’ and come home filthy – not a white hair showing. On the first day here, she happily discovered that we had ducks, and she ‘obediently’ ran and caught one, bringing it straight back to Randy and dropping it at his feet. It took Randy weeks to train her that she couldn’t catch those ducks, and get her to understand the difference between the farm ducks and the lake ducks. She did, however, keep up her swimming skills at the pond. And then, about a year ago, she decided it was time to ‘retire’, and spent her time sleeping in the sun, with an occasional foray into the barn to steal the cat’s food.
Monday was a very difficult day for us. Tuesday, my heartbreak was reflected in my work – I made so many mistakes that it took me over an hour to correct them all. And then, my heart lifted when I came home and my daughter and granddaughter showed up for a week’s visit.
During that visit, Sammy, one of the kittens that was dumped in our yard a couple of months back, took a shine to Ava. At 21 months old, it was fun to watch her intense interest in the kittens. Even Sarah tried to talk us into letting us take Sammy home with her. No go. I’m not a cat person, but these four babies had really caught my heart.
Sunday, Sarah and Ava had to go back home. It saddened me to see them leave, and decided I would take a bit of comfort playing with the kittens. Three of them came up, but I couldn’t find Sammy. I wasn’t too worried – they all like to play in the woods that are on our Eastern border. But at feed time, she still didn’t show. I called and searched for her, with no luck. I said a short prayer for her, but figured she’d show up when she got hungry. I was wrong.
For two days I called and looked to no avail. I finally had to give up and help Randy pack to go to San Antonio to help Sarah rebuild a porch on the front of her house. For the next couple of days, I kept an eye out, but had pretty much decided that something had happened to her. That realization left yet another crack in my heart. Even Hootie, our last remaining dog was in mourning. She’d lost not only her best friend, Lacey, but also her favorite ‘squeak toy’. She and Sammy had bonded almost instantly, and Hootie loved ‘chewing’ on the kitten, and Sammy loved to rub up against Hootie, and both of them loved curling up in a patch of warm sunlight together. Seeing her alternately searching for her friends and moping around the house hurt me almost more than losing our two pets.
The weather here has been wet, but tonight they are calling for freezing rain. I locked up chickens and checked the farm and animals, to make sure they would be okay through the night. My last chore was to walk down and lock up the gate. As I neared the end of our lane, I heard a cat crying from across the street. I figured it belonged to one of my other neighbor’s, but I still walked over to check. It was already dark out and I couldn’t see clearly, but I softly called anyway. That got the cat crying even more. I finally located it – it was trapped up in a tree in George’s backyard guarded from escape by his two dogs. Concerned it may have been one of my other kittens, I hurried back to the house to call George and let him know I was headed over to check it out (George keeps a shotgun at hand and I have no desire to spend the rest of my evening picking buckshot out of my backside). George told me to come on, that the cat had been in the tree since last Sunday. My eyes widened and my pace quickened as I headed back. Sure enough, it was Sammy. She was too high to reach and too scared to climb down, so I had to hustle back home for a ladder. The weight of the ladder didn’t even phase me as I carried it, I was just thrilled to find my missing kitten. Actually, I don’t know who was happier – me or Sammy.
Although it will take a while to heal my heart from losing Lacey, at least one crack is now filled back up with the safe return of Sammy. She’s hungry, but none the worse for wear. Death is inevitable, but it still cuts me to the core to lose any of my animals – whether dog or cat, cow or chicken. But when one seems to come back from death’s door, it gives the heart a reason to sing. For once, the basic cycle was broken – or at the very least, stretched, and is allowing me a little more time. And for that, I am thankful. My whole heart is singing, and praising God for such a generous gift.