I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is hanging out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, giving rise to them in a way that suggests her body is capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.
The fruity fragrance from the pine trees that pass in my periphery along the road departing from the Weston Reservoir penetrates the air. A grand estate appears. David Gilmore’s voice fills the car; he’s singing “Lost for Words,” accompanied by his faithful guitar. His words are deeply personal and introspective and each line advances me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.
I had left the house an hour and change before, worrying about the chilly temperature, the state of the ground. If I’d be able to dig into the soil. The Reservoir, me and Sabrina’s favorite haunt, is where, after visiting the vet, I intended to bury one of our beloved “girls.”
The last three weeks had been difficult, watching her struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over; her body emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff out her remaining life. It had eaten away at me, causing me to dream images of her body’s decay from the inside out. She, “Bobbin,” is a member of our rescued menagerie; she rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.
Let me interject a matter of opinion here: I am not some weird lab geek or a questionable hermit with a strange fetish. I hold an advanced degree and am attractive athlete, feminine, hailing from an affluent area, and here to tell you, rats make great pets.
And in light of the extent of our menagerie and experience with rescuing animals from neglect and abandonment—ranging in species from amphibian to fish to reptile to rodent to lagomorph to feline to canine—each one understands you’ve taken them from hellish conditions to a life where they’re provided for and loved on and, in some form or another, they give all that back and more.
Bobbin. I had arrived at the vet around 9 a.m., having made a shaky-voiced call indicating my decision to put her down only twenty-five minutes before, checked in and sat down on the bench in the reception area. The clinic was busy and chaotic. Cradling Bobbin in my hands I envisioned golden light surrounding her and tried to help myself feel better by breathing deep into my belly and blinking away my tears. Sabrina had put her head on my knee, a gesture that indicated, I’m here for you, Mama.
Little compares to the weight of the emotionally charged vibe when sharing a vet’s reception area with someone who is sitting there, tears streaming down their face, holding their beloved pet, waiting to be called into a room where it will be euthanized.
The cat and dog people around me didn’t understand that I happen to be that person during this particular visit. “What’ve you got there?” an elderly man asked, a Yorkshire Terrier at his feet, yapping. Four other people looked my way, wanting to satisfy their own curiosity. “A rat,” I whispered. “She’s dying.”
There came the wriggle of noses, grimaces, and sounds of disgust. Not one clutched their heart in empathy.
These were so-called “animal lovers.”
A vet tech approached me, didn’t know what I was there for. She had been on the phone when I arrived and was busy chatting with a friend about shoes. Couldn’t she have been mindful of my tears? My sullen expression? I’d wanted to punch her chubby cheeks, pound my fist and flatten the half-dozen munchkins on the napkin beside her. Tell her how damned insensitive she was being. But another client had stepped beside me to check in, interrupting my getting even.
The tech led me down the hall now, Sabrina at my side. Bobbin lay still in my hands. I could feel the intake and outtake of air, making her belly rise and fall. In Exam Room 1, I set her down on a towel on the metal table. Bobbin rolled onto her side. “What’s wrong?” the tech said. “It’s just a routine exam?”
I looked at her long and hard. Then the situation dawned on her and her expression went blank. I affirmed, “Dr. Lebowitz is going to put her to sleep.” Bobbin flinched. “I’d like to take her body with me.”
I took a deep breath. Saying those words brought my euthanasia experience down-to-earth. I usually don’t have to articulate the words, just check off my preference on some consent form. Which was not present.
I’d like to take with her body with me.
Dr. Lebowitz entered the room—a man so incredibly kind and empathetic and all-around good human that I’d later send him a thank-you note profusely thanking him and reiterating the sentiment that he was a good human in a world where there weren’t very many. He and I engaged in a conference about Bobbin’s prognosis, told me I was doing the right thing in putting her to sleep; she was old and feeble. Then he told me I was a good rat mom.
Babson MBA, Regis College B.A., Master Certificate in Reiki, good rat mom.
As I waited in the reception area for Bobbin’s remains, a voice in my head echoed, Dear Bobbin, do you think I’m a good rat mom?
Some thirty minutes later, when Dr. Lebowitz had emerged, Chubby-cheeks cupped the receiver with her hand and said she was sorry for my loss. In another very un-Reiki moment I considered telling her to take her remaining stale three munchkins and shove ’em where the sun doesn’t shine. Dr. Lebowitz handed me Bobbin, wrapped in a light blue towel with care, as if she was his own dearly departed. I held her in the crook of my right arm and Sabrina’s leash in my left hand.
The door closed behind me.
We negotiated the steps to the car. I was encumbered and feared I’d let go of one of my charges—Sabrina’s leash or Bobbin’s body—fumbling to get in the car. I dropped the leash for the key in my pocket. Sabrina didn’t need a leash; it was more of an etiquette thing. Sabrina bounded into the backseat while I slipped into the driver’s seat and laid Bobbin next to me. She had life moving through her just twenty minutes ago and now she lays wrapped in this towel, lifeless, her little spirit gone someplace else.
At the Rez, the soil that I had worried about was soft beneath the snow. Sabrina sniffed about off the path in the woods until I located a remote spot near an uprooted tree. I sank to my knees, placed Bobbin beside me, and dug a hole with a small garden shovel. A couple of women approached, crunching on the crisp fallen leaves, their voices chatty—“gala,” “tailored dress,” “Dr. So-and-So’s estate”—and before they walked by, without dogs which was strange for the Rez, I ducked down behind the fallen limbs, worried about getting busted and fined for burying a beloved pet near the town’s vast source of drinking water.
When the coast was clear, I knelt before the hole and gently unwrapped the towel. Bobbin lay in the center of it, the blue cheery color of the towel serving as an ill-fitting background for her horribly still body. Her pink legs were bent and rigid, her toes splayed slightly. Poor baby. I stroked her back with my forefinger. Sabrina’s cold nose brushed my cheek. I reached for a paper towel in my back pocket and picked up Bobbin. Her body still held warmth, leaving me feeling strange, wrong even, as I wrapped her in the paper towel and lay her down in the earth.
I finished my business, dragging heavy limbs over the grave, and as Sabrina followed me back out to the path I wondered if I had been truly rebellious to the town to bury Bobbin here in light of doing what Bobbin deserved—to be returned to the earth, part of the circle of life.
As I questioned myself and Bobbin grew cold in the ground, I looked to Sabrina. She seemed to understand death, the soil, the final resting place. Animals do.
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Lisa loves all creatures great and small and is sometimes filled with so much love for nature and animals, it knocks her sideways. She has written about her affinity for such in a book-length collection of essays entitled “Fur Kids and Other Tales: Essays on Love, Career, Writing, and the Creatures Great and Small Who Have Enriched My Life.” She is in the final stages of working with her editor on her memoir manuscript “Calamity Becomes Me,” a story in part about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch. She will be pitching it to literary agents in early spring 2021. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and rides horses. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.