My apologies for the slow posting of late; things with work and the farm have kept us preocupied. Some of this has related to the legal process in adopting Yeoman Farm Baby --- which, by the way, is progressing nicely (we appreciate your ongoing prayers for this intention).
About a month ago, I wrote about the passing of a barn cat named Mean. She had a prolapsed rectum, and had to be put down. At the time, we puzzled over the choice the vet gave us: $15 to have her put to sleep on the spot, or $20 for an office visit if we took her home alive and put her down ourselves. After further discussion, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I came to a rough consensus about the price discrepancy: the vet's office probably gives the price break to ensure the animals die as humanely as possible. I'm a pretty good shot, but not everybody is. The vet probably heard enough horror stories about people putting three or four bullets into their pets, causing unnecessary trauma for both the animal and the family, to decide an incentive should be offered to get the job done on the spot.
We thought that would close the books on Mean. Then, a few days ago, we got a nice card in the mail from the vet's office. The outside was covered with an illustration of doe-eyed puppies, kittens, bunnies, and the like, and read "In Loving Memory of Your Pet." On the inside was a hand-written inscription reading:
Dear [Mrs Yeoman Farmer], A loyal companion is hard to find, hard to lose, and impossible to forget. May you find comfort in the knowledge that you were truly belssed to have shared your life with such a friend as Mean. Thinking of you in your time of loss.
And it was signed by every member of the vet's staff.
I want to emphasize that this card was extremely thoughtful, and very much appreciated...but it also sparked a conversation around our dinner table that was perhaps even more so. First off, we thought it was amusing to read the name "Mean" in the same sentence as the tender sentiments of pet friendship. "You know someone at the vet's office was chuckling when they wrote that," MYF commented (see the post linked above for more info about the name's origin). But secondly, and more importantly, we discussed why the vet's office probably sends these cards out: most families get so attached to their pets, and so "personify" their animals, losing one of them becomes as traumatic as losing a human member of the family. We've largely avoided that, by being vigilant in how we refer to the animals and treat them. Yes, it's still hard when one of them dies --- especially a barn cat that the kids enjoyed playing with, or a dog that was a constant companion [see the four "Goodbye to a Great Dog" posts linked in the right margin of the blog for an example]. But it's not the end of the world, and we don't construct memorials to them. By contrast, we have heard of some kids so stricken at a pet's death that their parents allow them to miss school so they can grieve.
Our kids were sad about Mean's death, but they got over it in relatively short order. It turned out to be good preparation, because we ended up going through an identical situation just last week: Mean's last surviving littermate, Hairy (yes, an extremely long-haired cat), also developed a prolapsed rectum. We caught it earlier this time, so thought perhaps the vet might be able to do something. MYF and the kids took Hairy in, but the vet said that once this kind of thing gets going at all there really isn't any treatment. Furthermore (and this was important), it wasn't that we did anything wrong. Cats can have a genetic predisposition to rectal prolapse, and that's clearly what happened here. Both littermates developed it within weeks of each other.
We told the kids that we could get another free kitten or two, the next time we see someone advertising them. Not surprisingly, all three of the older Yeoman Farm Children are urging me to start looking actively. And given the average life expectency we've had with barn cats, we may need to NOT have the new female kitten spayed, so we can produce some litters of our own in the future.
But that's okay. We and our kids understand well that both life and death are all part of the natural order of things. Especially on a farm.