Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Fear: you die before the dog...or the donkey...or the pig

Living life in fear is not only unhealthy for the spirit and body, it truncates new experience. If you are afraid to get back on the horse, you will never know that view you might have seen if you had taken another ride.

But we all have fears and some are hard to shake.

I posted some images recently of a story idea I'm pondering-about an elder dog who lives with an elder couple; the man dies, and the woman is comforted by still having the dog, but she grieves. In his own way, the dog grieves. The woman dies, leaving the elder dog. What will happen to him?

It struck a cord with many people. Who of us has not thought about this? As someone who takes in animals that are often elderly, and often have had an elder owner die, I think about it. I don't think I am stunted by fear from it, but I do think about it, and of course, I have a lot of animals. In Oregon, we made our will for the obvious reasons, but I was propelled to do it when I saw so many cases of people dying and there was no directive for caretakers on what to do with the animals. Goats were left in the backyard while the grown children just tried to grapple with selling the parent's home, or medical bills. The idea of Martyn being left with the animals was one thing, but what if we died together? Who would come over and do what was best for the animals? Who, God forbid, would take on The World's Grumpiest Pig? Would they know that Pino and Lucia were bonded, and that Paco would be distraught without his herd [he would...as much as animals carry on, Paco would really be shaken by being taken away from his herd]. Would they know that White Dog and Marcella should be together, and probably let Earnest the pig go with them too? So I made this huge list, with names of people who could help anyone coming in should we die. It gave me some comfort. Note to self: must revise will now that we're in Maine.

But the reality is, when someone dies, there are many, many details to attend to. And often the animals' needs are not front and center. It doesn't mean the caretakers don't care, it means they are overwhelmed with the details of the death and all that goes with it. I suppose some people don't care, but all in all, what I've seen is people do their best in cleaning up after a death. If you've read this blog for anytime, you know I have no tolerance for people that feel free to bash humans who might have only been doing what they could for their animals-at the time within their unique situation.

I did these images and I enjoyed doing them...I liked them. But I also found them so emotive in their rawness and simplicity that they broke my heart. So I took a brief break from them. Maybe the inspirations comes from the elders I visit, who talk about past pets,or mates. Or I think of my father's dog who outlived him. That little dog said goodbye to my father about a week before my dad died. He separated himself from my father's hospice bed, and began sleeping elsewhere. He did not venture into the room much that last week. And my father did not call for him. It was a beautiful, touching time, really. You could say a sad time, but to be present in any creature's final days is really an emotive experience. And the animals-at least in my experience-carry on much differently during and after death. They understand what is happening, I believe, long before the humans in the house do. When my mother told me Sammy the dog had suddenly started sleeping in the living room away from my father, I knew he'd said his goodbyes.

As I did the drawings, I wondered why I felt so compelled to do them, and would they go anywhere, or should they? Maybe I was meant to do them for myself only. I don't know if there is a project or not in them, a little story book perhaps, maybe a wordless one. Sometimes, you put something out there, people react and encourage the idea, and I get influenced by that [yes, this artist likes encouragement]. But I've learned to stop for a bit, appreciate the encouragement but then give it some time...and see if the idea is real, and worthy of more time...or if it was just a nice little spring shower that gave a drink to those in its path.


kat scanlan said...

I often worry, and hope that I know well enough not to bring another animal in too close to the time I leave the world. Yet I know, too, that they are what keep me alive, often, and I don't know if I could be without a furry again in my life - the few years I had to be without them was very difficult for me, and that was when I was lonely. I'm not lonely in lack of people - I'm lonely in lack of furries.
I am one who thinks this idea, whatever it becomes - book, poem, article - is necessary, for those who understand, and, more importantly, for those who don't understand the magnitude of what is necessary for the furry left behind. xx

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

You bring up a point-should one take on an animal as they get closer to the end of their own life [not necessarily if you are sick, but a healthy elder just thinking it through]...I think thesis very personal decision...I had a woman call me after getting one of my books, she was in her 80's and had lost her pug, and she wanted me to now my book helped her, but she missed her pug and wanted another dog, but her family was growing on the idea because they thought the dog would outlive her. She said something that resonated with me, and I repeat it a lot; she said she did not 'want to be detracted from as she aged, I she felt people were detracting from her'. I gave her my thoughts, and said, look at Hughie, his owner could not care for him, and I adopted him, he is very happy-I think it is a sad thing to think of not being able t have a pet. I
And thanks for the encouragement. And for reading!

Terra said...

You bring up many important points in this post. I am a senior and when I adopted my dog from the shelter my son signed up to care for the dog if I can't. That is probably not an age thing, but something they ask everyone: who will care for the animal if you can't.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Thanks for stoppin by, Terra. I have heard-not sure where, or if it is accurate-that some shelters scoff at adopting animals out to elders, which is wrong in my mind-and it might just be they don't have the staff to make sure the senior has enough ability to care for the animal.......

kat scanlan said...

Yes, I wound up with a puppy, due to helping a neighbor with the birth and care of puppies which came unexpectedly. I expect that when these two are gone, I will be even more elderly than I am, yet still want to have a companion. I think it is then I will most likely look to adopt an elder myself. We will understand each other in our aged-ness and perhaps go together.
I am glad you encouraged the woman who wrote you - I think sometimes that older people are even better for adopted animals, as they have lived longer and understand the trials and tribulations, as well as being more grateful for the small things in life.

Candace said...

I think about this almost every time my husband and I get in the car together. We don't have kids so I don't really know who will care enough to help our 4 indoor and 6 outdoor cats. We need to do a will soon but I still don't know who will really care enough. Makes me sad.

My now 97 year old mother who lives 2,000 miles from me lost her last cat a few years ago when he was only 8. She really would have liked another but didn't feel she should. I wish she could have one but I really don't think she could care for it now, with the litter, etc., plus they tend to get underfoot at times so I don't think it would really be safe for her as she uses a cane or walker now. It's a dilemma, for sure.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Hi Candace...I know, it's one thing to have a directive, but then, it depends on the situation each time. At some point I think you have to dot your i's and roos the t's and have faith. The tripping on animals for elders [I even trip on the blind pug who is always at my feet] is a problem. I just hope that maybe more people, every day people, will reach out to shelters or start their own non profits, or just think about one elder person, and visit them with an animal.

Lin said...

This series hit me. I was sad...but then, it is reality. We adopted a kitty from the shelter that I am convinced was with an older man that either died or moved to a place where he could not have him any longer. He is naturally drawn to men...especially older ones, when the come to our home. It is very odd behavior for a cat. So, when I saw the series...all I could think was "this is how Owen came to us." So, sometimes there are happy endings for the animal left behind.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, you make me cry, I miss my Bobby, our pet dog for 10 years, and after his pet cremation near me I remember our walks, I tried to be calm and divert my feeling, but I still miss him and it was painful.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~