We are Zen masters here at our house, filled with equanimity while chaos roars around us.
We owe it all to animals.
Creatures come and go at a great rate here in rural Spain. Within the last year, two cats and a dog arrived, and three dogs and a lovebird have gone.
Each beast has its own tale.
The new cats are Gloria and Charlotte, 10-year-old sisters who hate one another. They belonged to an English lady way down south of here. The lady died, and her cats had nowhere to go, so we took them. They arrived in February, grabbed the most comfortable chairs, and have not moved since. It’s good to have them around.
Judy, the new dog, arrived in December. She had spent the previous year sleeping rough in a mountain village 100 miles west of here. The locals fed her, but it’s not hard to see why they didn’t take her in — she looks scary. She is huge, black, and hairy, with beady yellow eyes and paws like pile-drivers.
In fact, she is as amiable and peaceable a dog as I’ve ever known. She was clearly ill-treated in the past, flinching at the sight of a baguette, broom, or sudden dramatic gesture. But week by week, she is settling in, relaxing, finding new things to chew. Judy is ambitious. She hopes to be the first dog to eat an entire three-seat sofa single handed (or should that be ‘’single pawed’?)
The sofa is an old one, and has served in the barn for 10 years as a much-coveted dog bed. Judy has decided it should be deconstructed, its kapok and rubber innards repurposed into a series of floor-level nests. It could be modern art. My wife calls it “a shambles.” She is right.
Dogs and cats arrive, and they go. The latest to go was Harry the greyhound. We adopted Harry eight years ago. He was not a smart dog, (greyhounds’ heads are tiny, and their brains likewise), but he was goofy and loveable, a favorite with visitors. He was happy here.
Ten days ago, on our morning walk through wide miles of fields, Harry chased a rabbit as usual. He came back 20 minutes later, staggering with exhaustion. A few days later he took off once more, but this time he didn’t come back. We’ve searched for days, but his body has not been found.
I’ll miss him forever, but there’s some consolation in his going that heroic greyhound way — after a rabbit, into the blue. None of the humiliating pathos of “being put to sleep.’’
It is clear we keep animals because we don’t have a house full of children. Like children, these pets burden us with sibling rivalry, demands for attention and food, expensive medical treatments, and hours of wondering where they are and when they’ll come home.
But the love they give us, the long walks, the unconditional devotion … is worth it. It balances out. The animals come, they leave. We have to let them go.
Patrick O'Gara, a former Blade editor, was a journalist all his working life. He now lives in Northern Spain with a constantly changing cast of animals and a tolerant American wife. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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