WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Sweet Stella

Two weeks ago, sweet Stella, our fourteen-year-old Maltese, left her mortal coil.  I am well acquainted with the joy animals bring and the sorrows of their departures, but I’ve been a bit sucker punched by Stella’s absence. 

Stella happily accompanied me to work, in the car or on the sofa.  She demanded little except for table scraps and, at least for me, those insistent yelps were welcome in the context of my children’s mealtime snubs.  

Stella was loyal, too.  Years ago, I got into a tangle with my brother-in-law when my husband and I arrived for Christmas with an uninvited Stella in tow.  She must have sensed her role in the tension, proving a perfect guest until just before our leave when she pooped in said brother-in-law’s closet.  My own sister wouldn’t have done that for me.  I ask you, would yours?

In European folklore, supernatural forces took animal forms – “familiars” – to do witches’ and other cunning characters’ bidding.  (See poop example above.)  Over time, these ideas softened into more benign, even benevolent, views of animal familiars’ work as teachers and helpers.

I think it’s those roles, not just our animals’ quirky accommodations and loyalties, that so deepen pet-human connections. Even people with substantial empathy gaps can cross right over into full caring and kindness when it comes to pets.  My Aunt Dot’s typically pragmatic view of human death – “Well, Honey, if the King of Pop couldn’t out dance the Reaper, who can?” – was forgotten when she learned of Stella’s death.  The sympathy card she sent was barely legible with tear splatters blurring her condolences. 

Pets give us other graces, too.  They see us as mostly fine and we see them in the same light.  We overlook their imperfections not because they overlook ours, but because extending this generosity doesn’t seem so hard when fur is involved. 

Stella was a loving, lovely companion and soothed hurts for everyone in our home.  I’ll honor her best by trying to see and be her view of me, and I’ll sorely miss her all the while.

Whitney Cain