Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 14, 2012

The Pagan Dog Funeral by Cynthia McCollum

Posted at 12:00PM - Comments: (23)

Sunday evening there is a knock at my door. It's the neighbor across the street and a glance out the window shows that she is disheveled and crying. When I open the door, she bursts into fresh tears. Her dog has died, in front of the whole family eating their dinner. Poor woman is crumbling and weeps, “I don't know what to do".

I take her by the hand and say let's go home and take care of things. I lead her to her house and see yes, the dog is indeed dead there on the floor of the silent, seemingly deserted house. Yellow haired Lab-mix, she has peed a bit in her dying. She is stiffening but still warm.

Where are your children, I ask. She has sent them to their room. I sigh. Here is my task. I look her in the eye. Get them. She hesitates. Get them, this is sad, but not horrifying. This is a lesson for them about death.  Keeping them away will make them more afraid. Let them say goodbye to her.

She ushers three small boys into the room where their dog is now cooling on the tile floor. 6, almost 4, and 2 1/2, blondes that will turn brown haired as they grow. Mom sobs something like Trinity has died, we need to say goodbye to her. 2 says Bye Bye Trinity. 6 says nothing, holding himself together bravely. He is the only child who  really knows what is going on. Almost 4 says, Is she with Jesus? Yes! I turn to middle boy, grasping at the first clue on how this family needs to handle this. Trinity is with Jesus now. Her spirit is, she is done with this body now, and we need to make it ready for her funeral.

Where is your husband? He is calling around seeing where a cremation can be affordable on a Sunday afternoon. The dog is leaking gas and I know she will poop soon. Get him, we need to wrap her in a blanket. Middle boy says, She peed! Woman crumbles again and hurries out of the room leaving me with her kids and her dead dog. I know her husband does not like this dog, he has said so more than once. I also know this is her dog, about 3 years older than her first child, both from her first marriage.

I have a moment to look around the home, noting crosses and plaques with bible verses. Me, in this so obviously Christian home alone with a stranger's kids looking at death for their first time. The parents are useless in her grief and his irritation. Yes, I tell middle boy, she has peed and she might poop soon. Middle and little giggle, oldest still stoically trying to not cry. When our spirit leaves our body we don't need our body anymore and so it forgets what it knows and it can make a mess.

Husband arrives with a blanket and we get the dog on it and wrapped just in time. Middle and little follow Dad down the hall and into a room. Oldest stays with me. No. Oldest stays with his dead dog. I start to cover her head and he sets a gentle hand on mine, stopping me. I nod. I remove her collar and hand it to him. This is for you to keep. Your parents are going to take her to the vet to prepare her body. Let's go see what they have found out. I take him by the hand and lead him down the hallway.

Husband is googling dog cremations, getting hits for the human funeral homes that also do pets at truly phenomenal fees. Call your vet, I tell him. He tells his wife to call, she gets a recording. I give him the name of the weekend and evening vet to search. Oldest sits on the bed beside the computer desk. No one seems to notice the great struggle he is having controlling his face. I give Husband a significant look and nod toward the child. He gives the boy a manly hug, boy bursts into tears. Husband lets go and goes back to googling. Boy sits back down on the bed and renews his struggle with his face.

Husband asks if $180 is a good deal on cremation. It is, so he tells his wife to call that number. Woman calls and starts sobbing so hard she cannot speak. I take the phone and handle that part, too.

We are all crammed into a small bedroom/office, the youngest kids running in and out with toys. I sit on the bed next to the oldest, who is still trying to control his face but leaking tears and snot. I see the youngest two run into the family room, where the dead dog is partially wrapped in the blanket. No one else seems to notice, so I follow them. They are very curious about Trinity's situation. I call Husband to us, we need to finish wrapping her and get her in the car. I finish the wrap while Mom sobs, oldest attempts his leaky stoicism, middle and youngest run off to play some more. Husband is mentally tapping his foot. He moves Trinity to the car. By this point I'm getting really irritated with him. All that is left to do is the driving, so I hug the Woman and go home.

The next day after work she is at my door again, looking her usual pretty self. She thanks me for helping and tells me what happened at the vet. She invites me to the dog's funeral Saturday. Of course I will be there. She says she is so grateful I took charge. I smile, and tell her I was grasping for some direction until her middle boy said is Trinity with Jesus now. Then I knew to take the Christian route. She looks puzzled. I tell her, Oh, I'm not Christian, I'm pagan. She says, but that was such a Christian thing to do! I smile and hug her and say, yes, but being nice and helping neighbors predates Christianity by a long time. I tell her I am honored to be invited to the funeral. Her face sort of falls and freezes, then she smiles a sad smile, says thank you again and goes home. I say let me know what time. She lifts the corners of her lips and waves her fingers, turning for home. 

Well damn, Cyn, open mouth, insert foot.

Saturday comes and goes. I did not go ask what time they have their ceremony, I know I have been uninvited. Poor Trinity. Poor Oldest Boy who loves her. Poor Woman who accepts the kindness of strangers who do not share her dogma in an emergency, but does not welcome them into her home when the crisis has passed. I am sad, but it is not my place to intrude. 

That night I go out in my yard under the moon and cast a circle. I ask Jesus to look out for Trinity, she is a good dog. I ask him to look out for her people, because they surely need his most wise counsel. I ask my gods and goddesses to help them in the same way. I write Trinity Is A Good Dog on a piece of paper, set it in a bowl of sand and light the paper with a short candle. As the smoke and ash rise, I say Trinity is a good dog, thank you for helping with that most excellent child and for loving his mother. The paper burns down to a smolder, then black. I crumble the ashes under my rosemary bush and rub them into the dirt. I blow out the candle. I break the circle. The night is clear and starry.

copyright 2012 by Cynthia McCollum 

Cynthia McCollum is a dog trainer, writer, and poet. She lives in the Clearwater, Florida area. She can be reached through www.TrainWithCynthia.com.

Comments (22)

to catherine f. what offended you. that a non christian offered comfort to a greiving family. do you not greive for your pets. please respect the rights of others to have different views but if they are helping afellow human being or another living creature would not your christian god applaude this action?

Posted by: carol mckay | October 27, 2012 1:02 PM    Report this comment

I am a Christian, but an open minded one, and I was totally charmed by your story. Religion is very private, but if we respect each other as human beings, we respect each other's differences. You are so right on...even if you are a Christian, you must believe that kindness was in this world from its inception. I feel heartsick for you...that your neighbors left you out of their little ceremony. But then you know you did all that you could do, and hopefully someday they'll look back on your generosity and their eyes will be opened to the blessing that was their loving neighbor Cynthia.

Posted by: Carolyn A | October 18, 2012 7:19 PM    Report this comment

Thanks, Cynthia. I thought your story was beautiful, helpful, insightful, important. Even -- if not especially -- the stuff about the neighbor's religion.

Posted by: Martha K | October 17, 2012 8:06 AM    Report this comment

To me, religion is all about The Love. That is what the great masters from every religion has taught This lovely story, too, is about love and I think it has every right to be included in a journal involving behavior, training, nutrition, healthcare and life with our great companions over the milleniums...our dogs. Thank you for a beautiful and heart-felt story.

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | October 16, 2012 8:11 PM    Report this comment

This was beautiful. Human helping human in need.

I do wish that the religious comments hadn't been a part only because of the upset it caused. I do not think the author was saying that her beliefs were better or that the neighbors were worse - she just told what was.

Posted by: Robin McHale E | October 16, 2012 6:09 PM    Report this comment

What a wonderful, well-written short story. For many of us, the passing of our first beloved dog is our first experience with death. I remember so well the death of our first dog. Rufus was a St.Bernard/Setter mix and weighed over 120 lbs. When he suddenly became ill (bloat) on a very hot day, we all gathered in the cool basement laundry room desperately trying to help him, having no idea what was wrong. I placed a rather hysterical call to the vet and her receptionist calmly suggested I bring him in to the office. Right. Rufus certainly couldn't walk and I couldn't begin to lift him and strongly suspected he would expire alone in the back of the car, long before we crossed town. Even in my ignorance, I perceived that he was not long for this world. I sent my ten-yr-old daughter for the neighbor who I considered a veritable dog expert, since she had three dogs and had even whelped pups. In retrospect, she actually didn't know much more than we did but I know I greatly appreciated her more-mature presence. We all (including the cat) gently comforted Rufus for his last few moments, then mourned over the body for several hours until my husband came home from work. He wrapped the body in a sheet and loaded it in to the truck for the final trip to the vet. I cried for a week. I had never before experienced death. I have been much closer emotionally to the dogs I have had since, but I have never felt again the tremendous unbearable grief I felt that first time. I think I have come to accept that dogs' lives are fairly short and that I must say goodbye when it is time and move on. My husband had lost many dogs to death, so he accepted the loss much more stoically despite adoring Rufus. I honestly don't remember my daughter's response, so lost was I in my own deep grief! Our society doesn't talk about death much, and many people have no idea what to expect, from a practical standpoint, when their dog dies. I think Cynthia's story is very informative and thought-provoking whatever one's personal religious affiliation may be - even Christians can be quite varied on their outlooks upon a dog's soul. Today, when many folks are not close with their neighbors, I think the neighbor in the story was quite an admirable angel who seemed to know just what to do and respectfully say.

Posted by: MEK | October 16, 2012 5:12 PM    Report this comment

What a wonderful thing Cynthia did for the kids--they will remember later on and be better able to deal with death in the future. It is a shame that the parents let religious dogma stand in the way of the larger picture but I think the kids are better off for Cynthia's involvement.
I had to fight back tears because I lost a wonderful little dog less than two years ago and it hit me really hard. She died on a Sunday evening. I bathed her body and laid her out in the bedroom so my other dog and my two cats could visit and say goodbye(and they did). The following week they all took turns lying in her bed.
I think this is a totally appropriate topic for a site that is about dogs--not just the health and training of dogs--but everything about dogs.

Posted by: PJKutscher | October 16, 2012 4:47 PM    Report this comment

This is a Whole Dog Journal blog, right? I don't understand the correlation between dog health and training and then, what is an article about respecting others religious beliefs or lack there of. This article offended me because I am a Christian - you might not understand that if you aren't a Christian. That wouldn't have been the case if the author kept on subject about the health and training of dogs. I think this article is out of scope for Whole Dog.

Posted by: Catherine F | October 16, 2012 3:25 PM    Report this comment

really enjoyed this story. i grew up in a good Christian home but now am not Christian Neither am I pagan but understand and appreciate the importance of ceremony/ritual to help us come to terms with the death. I applaud you for your sensitivity in trying to make it meaningful for those with different beliefs. It was very thoughtful and kind of you to have your own ceremony for the dog. I did not see anything in the blog that was "anti-Christian" as one commenter posted (the family just happened to be Christian), and the backhanded "blessings" of another commenter were pure proselytism. The relevant part is to be aware that we can be so wrapped up in our own belief systems that we miss the important lessons right in front of us. We all learn our own lessons in our own time in the manner we choose and no one way is more valid than the next. We need to learn to respect the path that others choose.

Posted by: Janice R | October 16, 2012 2:54 PM    Report this comment

really enjoyed this story. i grew up in a good Christian home but now am not Christian Neither am I pagan but understand and appreciate the importance of ceremony/ritual to help us come to terms with the death. I applaud you for your sensitivity in trying to make it meaningful for those with different beliefs. It was very thoughtful and kind of you to have your own ceremony for the dog. I did not see anything in the blog that was "anti-Christian" as one commenter posted (the family just happened to be Christian), and the backhanded "blessings" of another commenter were pure proselytism. The relevant part is to be aware that we can be so wrapped up in our own belief systems that we miss the important lessons right in front of us. We all learn our own lessons in our own time in the manner we choose and no one way is more valid than the next. We need to learn to respect the path that others choose.

Posted by: Janice R | October 16, 2012 2:54 PM    Report this comment

Astonishing that some consider this sensitive, loving blog to be anti-Christian, even hateful. We non-Christian, non-creed-bound dog lovers, may embrace all manner of people, respecting their beliefs without subscribing to them. Thank you for the post.

Posted by: Jo B | October 16, 2012 2:12 PM    Report this comment

Is this an anti-Christian blog? What if the family had been Muslim or Hindu or another religion? I don't see where it is justified fighting hate with hate. Two wrongs do not make a right. And yes, I am a Christian and I would have invited you to my dogs funeral. I am sorry you had this experience but please don't hold it against all Christians. Thank you.

Posted by: Catherine F | October 16, 2012 1:43 PM    Report this comment

Your story made me cry and made me think of my best friend Buddy. If I am not there when he passes I hope a wonderful kind person like you is there. Buddy is a Llasa Apso, poodle mix and a shelter rescue. My life today would be different if not for him. I am blessed to say I rescued a shelter dog and he rescued me right
back.

Posted by: Unknown | October 16, 2012 12:35 PM    Report this comment

It amazes me the way some christians act towards those who do not believe the way they do. I am a christian but I respect each persons right to worship how they are led. I am glad you had your own service for Trinity, as I have mine for all my pets who have passed. I would love to have you for a neighbor.

Posted by: Gale S | October 16, 2012 12:04 PM    Report this comment

It amazes me the way some christians act towards those who do not believe the way they do. I am a christian but I respect each persons right to worship how they are led. I am glad you had your own service for Trinity, as I have mine for all my pets who have passed. I would love to have you for a neighbor.

Posted by: Gale S | October 16, 2012 12:04 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the wonderful story. You were a blessing to them. The Lord uses all sorts of people to be a blessing to others. If she is a Christian the mom is probably praying for you, even as we speak, because if she is a Christian she knows that no matter how loving and kind you are, if you have not trusted Jesus as your Savior and asked Him to forgive your sins, that you are not going to heaven when you die. (Romans 3:23). That thought should make anyone's face to fall and freeze and for them to be sad. In the meantime, I hope you will remember that Christians aren't perfect, they're just forgiven. God Bless You.

Posted by: Joy T | October 16, 2012 12:02 PM    Report this comment

That was a wonderful wonderful story. Your ceremony for Trinity made me weep. You, a Pagan? I don't think so.... She, a Christian? Apparently not quite yet...

Posted by: Susanna L | October 16, 2012 11:32 AM    Report this comment

This is a beautiful story, and I know it will be helpful to me when the time comes for my little dog. Thank you for writing this with honesty and clarity.

Posted by: Pam English | October 16, 2012 11:31 AM    Report this comment

Thank you writing and sharing this story....

Posted by: Shawn H | October 16, 2012 11:19 AM    Report this comment

"I smile and hug her and say, yes, but being nice and helping neighbors predates Christianity by a long time."

Great writing, great story, very moving. The above sentence totally resonates for me. Thank you.

Posted by: Carolyn M | October 16, 2012 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Some Christians aren't very Christian.

Posted by: Amy M | October 16, 2012 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for being so kind and caring. Trinity certainly deserved it and I hope Mom will one day examine her heart over that experience. She missed an opportunity to show her children how to love everyone regardless of our differences.

Posted by: Catherine A | October 16, 2012 10:28 AM    Report this comment

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