When I was a child, she was a child. And when I became a man, she had long since disappeared. She threw caution to the wind one night and walked into the woods behind our house during a thunderstorm.
Although I spent every day after school for almost a month tearfully looking for her, she was never found. Finally, late one evening, my father made me sit down with him. He slowly explained that she would never return, and we must now cherish our memories of her.
"Lady" was only a cocker spaniel puppy when my father bought her from a young soldier. She was a little black-and-blond bundle of energy. My mother was about to give birth to his fourth son, and he was looking for a gift to buy for the newborn.
After I was born, Lady and I were inseparable. My Dad once entered the nursery in the middle of the night unannounced, and was attacked by 10 pounds of furry motherly instinct. Lady shared every moment I could spare, from crib, to bicycles to my first infatuation with a female. Her body lies somewhere in the woods near Fort Gordon's Gate 5; but her memory is just as clear today as it was on the day she walked out of my life.
Lady was only the first in a long procession of pets we enjoyed over the years, including cats, dogs, rabbits, birds and even a pet squirrel. But one thing was common among them all: they were not just animals, they were valued members of the family. They shared our triumphs, family life and our moments of misfortune.
And when they left us, they were missed just as much as a small child would be. Long after my mother's sons had left her, "Honey" the Pomeranian kept her company every day. And long before my daughter entered my life, "Houdini" the dwarf rabbit taught a stage magician that love is often silent, gentle and undemanding. Pets are an expression of our love and respect for the beauty of the world God has created for us, and we share an almost co-dependent relationship.
As we provide them with shelter, food and warmth in winter they teach us to love without restriction or contrite expectation. Indeed, a pet's expectations of us do not even approach the rewards we are given without remorse. For providing those basic needs, we receive full, total and boundless devotion.
Without even so much as a whimper and without questioning our purpose, a pet comes to the aid of his master. When the world has beaten us to a pulp, the Persian cat comes to sit on our lap and offer wisdom with a serene purr: "Don't worry, master, all will be for the best".
They will act on our behalf without questioning our motive or reasoning, as witnessed by the war dogs of Vietnam. One soldier, holding the empty collar of his war dog in his hands 30 years later, sobbed uncontrollably as he told of the dog's death.
While on patrol, the dog leapt into a water-filled ditch ahead of his master and hit a trip wire. There was a flash, and Moose the war dog's life ended. The young soldier carried the limp body back to camp in his arms (a soldier never leaves another soldier behind), and buried him with honors. He said he can never forget that day.
These, our four-legged neighbors, all have their story. And for those of us fortunate enough to have shared our space on earth with them, the debt can never be repaid.
When 92 of our furry friends so desperately need assistance, we need only think back to the joy, pleasure and unconditioned love we have been given by their kindred.
I will not use this space to pass judgment, or seek a ruling. Perhaps the outcome of this tragedy was fostered by a misguided love of animals, or by circumstances not easily controlled. Whichever, we now have 92 orphans which must be cared for, found homes for, or destroyed. For those of us with a conscience and memory, destruction is not an option.
Think back to the pleasure "Lady," "Honey" or your own feline friend gave you. If you have a furry loved one sitting near as you read this, look into their eyes and think of what you would wish for them in a similar situation. Then contact Columbia County Animal Care and Control to put your love into action.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident. Columbia County Animal Care and Control may be reached at (706) 541-4077, and is accepting donations to help care for the 92 cats seized from a Martinez home this past week. A Magistrate's Court hearing in the case is scheduled for today.)
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