I recently read a book by Laura Lippmann that had a snide comment in it about a narcissistic pastor who ‘did that horrible thing pet owners do of equating their cats with your kids,’ and I wondered, precisely, how often that really happens. I routinely am lectured by people who wish to impress upon me that they are mommy/daddy of the year by informing me of how, once they had kids, they understood that dogs are ‘just dogs.’ Yippee skippee for you, for finally understanding all of life’s heteronormatively approved priorities, I wish to say, but you rather miss the point: companion animals exist for those who have them in an interstitial emotional space between friends and children. No, they are not children. No, they are not human friends. But they are friends, and they require nurturing and stewarding, and it can emotionally wrenching to lose them no matter what their relative importance is. Being unable to understand that connection or that loss strikes me as a misunderstanding on the part of the person who feels the need to create categories of import that really serve no practical purpose save to limit what one is permitted to care about, and how much one is allowed to care about them. Zeno would proud, but let’s say the Stoics were wrong, and the goal of life is not your own comfort and tranquility that derives from refusing to care about or attach to things. When you suspend that notion, you find you are allowed to let animals matter.
I’m thinking about this stuff this morning because I read the obituary that Neil Gaiman just wrote for his friend, Cabal, named after King Arthur’s dog. Gaiman is an effortlessly graceful writer, and that shows through here. I kept it together until I read about how his second dog, Lola, was dealing with Cabal’s death:
I cried. Amanda came and held me, and I cried some more. Holly called and I told her what had happened, and she cried too. It was so sudden and unexpected and I wasn’t there with him when he went. And I’d lost my friend.
I thought I was all cried out, and then I heard that Lola had taken his collar from the counter top and slept with it all night, and I cried again.
It’s hard to lose a friend, no matter what shape they take.