Life

The soul of an animal

penny, cat, loved
A painting I started a long time ago of Penny, but never got around to finishing.

I kind of hate to use the word pet when I’m referring to our cats and our dog. The fish I’m ambivalent about, if I’m truly honest.

People either believe that animals have souls or that they don’t. My perspective is that if they don’t, neither do we. Nothing’s going to convince me otherwise. And since I do happen to believe in the soul, whatever it is, I do believe animals have them.

I shared news yesterday about the loss of our cat, Penelope Pollywog Pogo, who we called Penny. Penny was a spunky, adventurous, affectionate, stubborn, and beautiful three-legged cat. With the loss of Penny, I feel there’s one less soul around our house. I don’t know where she’s gone, because I don’t claim to understand what comes next for our souls. I believe she went wherever we’re going to go.

Her body has been laid to rest in our backyard, in the space where we always found her sleeping, and the place where she passed away in the night. While we placed her in a box and planted over her a little plant as spunky as she was, her sister cat of 14 years, Gabby, was hunkered down a foot away, peering at the grave out of the corner of her eye. All last evening and throughout today, Gabby has cried her constant meow, a repeated question.

I KNOW she is mourning. I know she is feeling the loss. It is evident. Gabby is a quiet cat; Penny was so loud that once we went to a neighborhood party during a time when Penny was off on a 10-day adventure and the neighbors were talking about this extraordinarily loud three-legged cat that was going door to door. Sure enough, a day or two later, she reached our door and was home.

Penny’s 3-legged nature was the result of a run-in with a dog before we adopted her. My elder brother saw her first and let us know about her, knowing that we’d want her. Lara drove down and hour and a half to the shelter to get her before someone else snatched her up. Was it that she had three legs only? Probably. I’m a sucker for a survivor, and I figured she’d be something special.

And she was. She stared down our little she-devil Gabby, who hissed and clawed at her through a fireplace grate for several months before accepting Penny’s patient charm. Gabby grew to tolerate her, and then over time they’d be curled up together happily, dozing. Gabby’s crankiness wore off and she mellowed out, largely due to Penny.

We said our words over the grave. We shared our thoughts and stories. Lara played “Go Now In Peace” while the children tampered down the dirt with their feet, walking in a circle around the new plant, and Gabby went on watching.

I know this is normal. It’s life. And life includes the loss of our animals. This life loss was one that made us richer for having known it. I’m glad that she lived an adventurous one, and died in her sleep of old age, by then completely deaf and just as loud as she ever was.

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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