The other day we discussed death, and the appropriate ways in which we dispose of the dead… the human dead that is. Which got me thinking to how differently and similarly we treat our pets who die. Right before I came back to school for this semester, I’m talking the Friday before I moved in on a Monday, the stray my neighbors and I took care of passed away. He was sick; he had a really bad thyroid condition, but that’s not how he died. My father hit him. Thinking about it makes me tear up. My father had been giving me a hard time all summer because I would tell him to be careful of backing up and down the driveway since Danny was always hiding under, around, and on top of cars. He became increasingly more annoyed with me and this time it seemed he didn’t even glance behind him, or at his convenient camera that pops up on the dash whenever he backs up the car. It all happened so fast, we were cooking dinner and then my half-brother was screaming at my mother to get outside now. I heard her gasp loudly so I followed behind. When I saw, I dropped to my knees, unable to stop gasping for air. I felt like I had been cast in a bad movie.
Danny had been hit, and was now hiding under a car, visibly refusing to move. My heart was racing faster and faster as we coaxed him out from under that car and I placed him into a laundry basket covered in towels. My half-brother Al drove us to the closest 24-hour pet hospital, as I sat in the back seat stroking Danny and telling him I loved him through muffled sobs. When we got there I could barely speak, but I managed to tell the woman behind the desk that he had been hit. I felt embarrassed. We were quickly escorted to a room, I guess I was disturbing the other people waiting for their furry companions with my sobs. The nurses came in a few times, each time with less assuring news than before until they finally told us that there was nothing more they could do. They asked if we wanted to view the body, and I immediately said yes, but became unsure when Al and my mum did not feel the same. In the end we looked at him, in a vain attempt to say our last goodbyes, and I think we were all a bit unsure of how to react. My mum asked if we should take a picture, but I refused. I’m embarrassed to admit I had had the same thought, only 30 seconds earlier, but it seemed in such poor taste to try to capture Danny’s essence with a picture of his deceased body. The nurse told us that “he wasn’t in pain when he passed” as if that made it better that he didn’t make it. All of a sudden, we were given the authority to decide what to do with him in his death, which felt like an unearned duty. We weren’t even sure of his age, probably somewhere between 11 and 12 years, since we had only met him about 2 years prior.
He didn’t have an official owner either, since our little cul-de-sac of sorts adopted him together when he started hanging around after, we suspect, being abandoned. In the end, I’m not really sure what happened to him after I left; I’m too scared to ask. But I do know that he was not buried, cremated, or given a proper goodbye, because we could not afford it. We never made a clay paw print of his; we weren’t prepared for him to die. With our family cat who passed in eighth grade, Smokey, we knew he was very sick and in a lot of pain, so we put him down out of sympathy and had time to prepare. We chose when he died and my mum arranged for him to be cremated, so we could have his ashes, as well as a clay paw print. We weren’t concerned with any expense and I can’t help but to wonder if that had to do with the ownership we felt over him. We didn’t own Danny, no one really did, so how could we “own” the burden of his death. I thought a lot about ownership of the body and whose bodies are deemed worthy of respectable processing of the body after death because of this. It felt like we couldn’t even mourn when it came to Danny, since that would upset my dad. Ownership over the body somehow seems to help the family of the deceased to mourn better, knowing that they can control what will happen, even if only in death. But we never got to control what happened. He was gone in under 40 minutes of being hit and I still feel unable to cry.