"He personified love"
My dear North American river otter
It's devastating when one loses a child. It's tragic when one loses a dear friend. But, when you lose both in the same being, the pain and grief are beyond comprehension. That's what I felt when my dearest companion, friend, and child, Petey, died on June 12, 2005. He was 17 and many would say he had a long and good life. But, can you ever be ready for someone that has given you nothing but love and joy for many years to leave you?
He came to me as a three month old pup, and he was so dear and cute. I raised him first in my gym with a kiddie pool with which to learn to swim. Many don't realize that an otter's parents have to teach it to swim. He was so cute trying to decide whether the water was a horrid danger or another source of play and fun. He mastered it quickly, of course, and loved every minute he spent in the water.
Soon he moved into a large apartment just for him with an otter door leading to a patio with a small swimming pool. There was a gate that opened into my large pool which we shared in the warmth of summer evenings. He was so patient, knowing that I could swim only about 20% of his speed, so he would slow down to stay just out of arm's reach when we played chase, only to speed up dramatically and dive, coming up from below to nip my toes. Oh, how he loved that game!
In a few years he was joined by his beloved Penny, with whom he shared great fun and greater love. He deferred to Penny's decisions on where they would sleep, when they would play, and how long she would allow him to lie in my lap in the evening. She never stopped him from reaching up for me to lift him and carry him around in my arms, however. He loved that and made sure we did it daily until the day he died.
Penny died two years ago, and Petey went into deep depression. Fortunately I found a three year old female named Lulu. From the first day they met, Petey and Lulu were inseparable. She has more energy and curiosity than did Penny, and she kept Petey young with her playful and loving nature. She was not jealous of Petey's relationship with me and seemed to be pleased that they could share affection and love with me without it taking any of Petey's time or love from her. Until recently, he seemed to get younger and have more spark than he had in a number of years, as Lulu would coax him into games in and out of the pool and her playful nature was irresistable to him. She seemed to always know when he really needed rest, however, and left him alone at those times.
Petey became ill very suddenly, and what I thought was just arthritis and aging became a deathly illness in a few days. Lulu and I spent hours just holding him and being close to him for three days. Lulu knew exactly what was happening, and she was somber, loving, and attentive to him constantly.
I am now torn between such deep sorrow and grief, but also I feel so privileged to have known and shared 17 years with such a loving friend that was a source of such unbelievable love, playfulness, tenderness, and happiness. I never had a moment in all those years with Petey that wasn't filled with wonder that such a perfect relationship could exist; much less between human and wild animal. I will miss him terribly the rest of my life but feel so honored to have been his friend!
A "Little Angel"
North American river otter
One of the saddest things that can happen is to have someone in your life that absolutely defines perfection, love, joy, and happiness, then have them taken away from you. Especially prematurely and unexpectedly. I now know what a parent must go through when they suddenly and unexpectedly lose one of their children.
On July 21, 2003, I took my beloved river otter, Penny, to the veterinarian for what should have been a routine procedure of extracting several abscessed teeth that had become infected. Something went horribly wrong after the surgery, and several hours later I got the phone call that she had died after coming out of sedation. The world has turned dark and bleak for both her beloved playmate, Petey, and for me.
Penny exemplified complete love, exuberance, joy, happiness, playfulness, and mischievous enthusiasm for life. Both Petey and I loved her as much as one can be loved. She would shamelessly flirt with both of us, then play lovely games to get us both enthralled with her presence.
She loved to roll on her back and have me tickle her tummy, then playfully nip at any finger I got too close to her mouth. Many evenings we would lie on our backs together on their patio and just enjoy each other's presence for a bit, then she would roll over and go through my pockets then reach up and rub her adorable black nose and whiskers against my cheek to let me know that, at the end of the day, she really loved me as much as I loved her.
Late at night, in the quiet of the evening, I would stand by their smaller pool that was elevated chest-high to me and swirl my hand in the water. Penny would lie on her back in the water holding my hand gently in her paw, floating suspended while sharing the lovely, tranquil moments of complete contentment and mutual love while I slowly moved her in a circle as her fingers curled around mine with the warmth palpable in our touch. She would look at me with the softest, twinkling eyes one can imagine, and I would feel the most complete happiness and love possible.
She and Petey were inseparable for 12 years. They never left each other's side for very long, and sometimes in the late evening I would lie in their bed with them while they groomed each other, then each would reach over and groom me with their front teeth chattering away at my skin, even though it must have been very unsatisfying not to feel fur between their teeth as they did with each other. They just didn't want me to feel left out of such a loving process.
Sometimes Petey would lie on his back in my lap, an act that Penny really thought went beyond good taste and respect for their relationship. She would come over and grab Petey by the neck and jerk him out of my lap, then reach up and touch noses with me to let me know she just had to put him in his place, no hard feelings.
They would swim in the large swimming pool for hours, side by side or chasing each other in and out of the pool in a game of tag that had definite rules only they could define. They would play frantically for some time, then the game would suddenly end for both simultaneously as if a bell had rung, and they would come rub up against me while I sat beside the pool; a loving gesture appreciated much more in the summer than in the winter.
Now, the fantastic joy and happiness has cruelly turned to pain and anguish for both Petey and me. Petey looks everywhere for Penny, expecting her to turn up suddenly, as she always did. He wants me to carry him about in my arms, for he feels if he gets up high enough, he'll see her someplace he can't see on the ground. He looks under doors, outside on their patio, in their pool, then comes to me with a quizzical expression, hoping somehow I can explain the unexplainable. I can't explain it to him, for I don't understand it myself.
The real danger of having such love, joy, and happiness with a being is that you must be able to handle the pain, desolation, and feeling of loss if somehow that life is taken from you. Neither Petey nor I are handling it very well, and I only hope he won't remember all the wonderful moments we shared and will never have again for as long as I know I will. I'm afraid he will, though.
A Canadian Timber Wolf
Cleo personified love, sensitivity, and gentleness with a purity that can only be brought forth by a wild animal that has no instinctual programming for dependence, and so she chose to devote herself to me completely, once she made that decision.
My adventure with Cleo began when she came into my life at 5 weeks of age. I raised her as an adult wolf would raise a pup. In addition, I had a big male German shepherd, Caesar, that assisted and instinctually utilized all the methods used by adult wolves to raise their young-which are not same as those used by dogs! Apparently, at least with Caesar, those instincts were embedded in his genes, and Cleo brought them forth. I never tried to train her, never tried to housebreak her, never tried to make her anything but a wolf. In return, she treated me as the alpha pack leader, showing great deference to me when I looked a certain way at her, and she tried to please me in every way she possibly could.
She would lie beside me and watch television many nights, and she was more sensitive and affectionate than any dog I've had. She was also highly intelligent, and she would constantly amaze me by doing things I would just think about wishing she'd do. Her bright amber eyes would glint with satisfaction when she saw my look of wonder and surprise. Her mouth would curl up in what certainly seemed to be a smile, and then she would follow up with a loving mouth-licking that was certainly enthusiastic and thorough.
About four years after Cleo arrived, Caesar, the German shepherd, became very ill and had to stay in my bedroom for several months until he ultimately died. Before taking him for burial, I brought Cleo up to see him one last time. She sniffed him, looked at him, then sat back and commenced to make long, soulful howls unlike anything I have heard from her before or since that day.
Cleo was an extremely social animal, as are most wolves, and I knew she would be very unhappy and perhaps become depressed without a constant companion after Caesar died. So, Sam, the rottweiler, entered our lives. I will tell more about Sam in the adjoining tribute. Cleo took up with Sam immediately. They were loving and constant companions until they died within weeks of one another. Cleo and Sam were equals within their pack, neither being dominant over the other. Although they weighed about the same, Cleo was much stronger, and she was careful never to use that strength in a manner that could injure Sam.
If the departed truly become angels, I have no question that Cleo would be the leader of the angelic pack. Her loving nature and gentle gaze would be an example for all to see and emulate. My fondest wish is that, if there is a hereafter, it will be one in which I am united forevermore with my beloved Cleo.
Sam came into my life when my German shepherd, Caesar died, and I was required to get a companion for my wolf, Cleo. I did no know how Cleo would react to a new dog, and due to her tremendous strength and powerful bite, I knew I had to get a dog that could at least somewhat protect itself. After all, it would be somewhat like bringing a member of another pack into our pack.
I found Sam, who was then two-years-old, at the facility of an individual that trained attack dogs that had been declared unable to socialize in a domestic setting. I thought I could both find a dog that could protect itself there, plus I would have the satisfaction of rescuing a dog from an environment that would not be very loving or happy. The gentleman that owned the facility brought out about five dogs, none of which felt right. The girl that worked there mentioned Sam to him, and he replied by shaking his head. I inquired about this dog, and he told me that Sam was incorrigible. He said that he had just picked up the dog a day or so previously, and the dog could not be trained or handled, that Sam might be a commercial attack dog, but that's only if the handler would be safe. He wasn't sure about that. I asked to see him, and Sam was reluctantly brought forth. Sam and I looked in each other's eyes, and we both knew immediately. I told the fellow I'd take Sam right then, and he simply said, "You'll be bringing him back here tomorrow!"
Sam went home with me and immediately became the most gentle, loving, playful dog one could dream about obtaining. The gentleman from whom I got Sam came over a week later and shook his head, saying, "You two fit like a hand and glove. I'd never believe it if I didn't see it." Sam and Cleo hit it off immediately without any friction or any aggression on the part of either party. Within a few days, Sam became friends with the seven rescued house cats that share my house, and they would constantly crawl all over him while he lay on the floor with an angelic glance at his favorite cat, Mouse. Mouse would lie between Sam's massive paws while Sam gently groomed him with his tongue.
In the twelve years I had Sam he never once chewed an item of clothing or furniture, never messed up in my bedroom, where he spent each night, nor did he ever show any sign of aggression towards a single visitor or stranger that came to my house. He was the "perfect dog." And his soft, loving, soulful eyes were always the last thing I'd see before retiring and the first thing I'd see every morning. He brought great happiness into my life, as well as Cleo's. Unfortunately, he and Cleo loved playing tug-of-war with rope toys. While they weighed roughly the same, Cleo was probably twice as strong as Sam. As a result, Sam had to have two root canals from that game, and I had to retire the rope toys.
There were times when Sam would be lying on my bed, and I would have either my Macaw, Zeus, or my cockatoo, Tina, on the bed with us. Both birds thought they were the size of a dinosaur and just as fearless. If I weren't watching carefully, one of them would stroll over to Sam and nip his butt or foot. Sam would just raise his head, look at me out of the corner of his eyes and roll them as if to say, "What all do I have to put up with?" and move over or off the bed. He would always try his best to make friends with the birds, but they thought it was more fun to aggravate him and see the drama that would follow.
Sam became an invalid due to a pinched nerve in his back over the last year of his life. He therefore had to stay in my bedroom. He never lost his zeal for life or his loving manner, however. He did become like a "grumpy old man," barking for a doggie bone or biscuit. In Sam it was cute. He knew I'd know what it was he was barking for. Or, if he wasn't getting as much attention as he thought he should, he would lift his head and bark vigorously, his floppy ears flapping as his head lifted up and down with each bark. Oh, how I miss that bark!
My most fervent wish is that Sam and Cleo are now united forever, and that one day I shall rise over a hill and see them both waiting for me, and that we will never again be apart.