Thursday, April 12, 2012

King of the Road (Part Four)

A REM cycle or two later, I hauled the two of us up the hill to work the afternoon shift, once again with the cats. Having had bronchial luck with this before, I requested to be allowed to walk a cat. The supervisor at the building said, “Oh, great! I took Princess out this morning but I think she’d love to get outside again. Let me get her ready.” I waited for her to grab a leash and harness and dress one of the dozen or so cats milling about aimlessly. Instead, she went to a chair, gently picked up a blanket and slowly walked it back to Daughter and me. Curled up inside the blanket was a tiny cat; she was full-grown, but couldn’t have weighed more than five pounds. Princess let out a tiny snore.

The supervisor smiled at her fondly and stroked the cat’s forehead with an index finger. “You don’t have to leash her, she doesn’t walk much. Her systems are failing, she’s not going to make it much longer. Princess likes being outside but I’ve got to get some work done. I’d appreciate it.”

Daughter and I walked Princess outside on her bed in a stately and ceremonial way. Princess looked around and let out a tiny peep of what I assume was approval. After much consideration, we found a perfect spot for her to sit on her blanket in the shade, because the supervisor told us the blanket was easier on her bones and full sun was too hard on her. Because while she was dying, she was still a cat, once we situated her blanket in the shade, she immediately stood up, tottered off the blanket, and sprawled in the sun.

We stayed out there for over an hour. Daughter and I idly chatted and dug holes in the sandy dirt. Princess turned her head this way and that, feeling the breeze on her face. Sometimes we petted her, which she didn’t seem to mind. I can think of hours I have spent getting more done, but I’m hard-pressed to think of an hour I’ve spent which mattered more. Princess, I came to learn, had been a feral cat when she arrived, five years before. For nearly her entire stay there, she had been alternately fearful and dismissive of the humans who cared for her. No one minded and they loved her for the prickly girl she was. In the final few weeks of her life, she had grown patient and seemingly pleased with the human’s attention. So for an hour, she got to enjoy a spring afternoon and a little bit of adoration. When the supervisor came back out to get her, we carefully lifted Princess back into her blanket and told her what a good girl she was. She looked at us, and then beyond us, out at the beautiful afternoon and at things only she could see.

When we finished out shift, I told the kid we had to make one more stop for the day. It’s on the Best Friends property, but is out beyond any of the animal enclosures. We bumped down a dirt road and then came to it; Angel’s Rest.

I’ve been to cemetaries before, some of great age and laden with history, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to one quite like this. These weren’t just animals who had lived, and died, at Best Friends. People had bought markers for beloved pets; there was even the occasional marker for a pet-loving human being. The ones who were here because they were loved made me sad. The ones who were here because they never got to go home made me sad. And yet, in the middle of that sadness, that wistfullness, there was serenity. The wind slithered through the chimes and moved the prayer flags around. The mountains were beautiful. When the chimes weren’t ringing, the silence was so deep it gave me the same swooping feeling I’d had staring at the Kanab night sky. Life was precious, and sad, and brief, and wonderful. Dying is hard, but dying also means sitting on the sand, feeling the sun on your face. These animals were gone but it certainly felt as if a whole bunch of spirits were around Angel’s Rest, around Best Friends, and they seemed like very contented spirits. Perhaps they had found their home after all.

The next morning was our final shift; we needed to end on a high note. Here’s what looks like a high note to me:

First, there was Puppy Socialization class, where they learn how not be inappropriate at things or people they don’t know. Puppy Cotillion, as it were. No, they didn’t learn how to fox-trot, but I suspect at least half of Daughter’s cotillion dance-partners would have been happier being allowed to bite a skateboard-wheel. Then we got to take slightly older puppies on walks. The puppy-walking path is less than three-quarters of a mile in total and each walk takes at least a half-hour because we’re learning our leash manners.

It should be acknowleged that Maverick will understand how to walk on a leash before I learn how to take footage while walking.

Again and again we walked, two tiny puppies at a time, watching these animals enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors, being safe.

Coming around the final time, before we handed in our dogs and headed home, I thought about our adventure. We weren’t critical to Best Friends; had we not been there, another of the hundreds or so volunteers there that day would have done what we did. But we had been useful and I could only speak for myself, but I was very happy. I turned to the kid, who was coaxing a puppy away from an eight-foot long branch he was trying to drag along.

“Did you have fun?”

She nodded vigorously and said, “Oh, yeah.”

“Are you sad we’re going home?”

She looked up for a second and went back to puppy-debranching. She thought and then shook her head.

“No. These are very nice animals, but they aren’t our animals. I need to get home and see ours.”

(To Sara and those people who assumed Averil would be coming home with us, that wasn’t going to happen for three reasons. One: our lives are insane. Two: there’s a miniscule possibility that I’ve actually learned something and won’t add more chaos to my life. Three, and most relevantly, she can’t go home with anyone under 12.)

We went back to the motel, said goodbye to Foo,

and pointed our car towards Vegas, where we grabbed an early dinner, which led to the last lesson:

LESSON NINE: Under no circumstance, if you have four hours of driving ahead of you in high desert, should you take half of your Vietnamese meal, no matter how delicious, to go.

Between the food and the dirty clothes, my car smelled like a tuna-fish sandwich buried in a shoe under a latrine. I’m not sure Daughter and I smelled much better but when we landed at home, Consort and the pets leapt upon us, each hugging us in their own way. I started the first of many loads of laundry, and went in to lie on the bed and enjoy the sensation of not-driving. Daughter was on my bed, flipping through a book, both cats in her lap. I lay next to her in companiable silence for a minute and then said, “We’ll go back soon.”

She glanced at me, kissed the cat, smiled and said “Definitely.”



Blogger Debbie St.Amand said...

I think that's one of the coolest stories I've heard in a long time!

4:28 PM  
Anonymous NancySongbird said...

What a wonderful adventure! I am so glad you both had such a good time, and I am shocked you came home without something furry. I commend you on your will power! ;-)

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Debbie! The part with the dying kitty and the pet cemetery was bittersweet for me. I recently lost my 18 yr old cat, Molly, and she is buried at Bide-a-Wee pet cemetery on Long Island. It is a beautiful, peaceful place. We have 6 pets there now. My daughter recently adopted a puppy who was rescued from a kill-shelter. I really enjoyed hearing about your adventures, and your daughter sounds like a wonderful child!

Love from your facebook friend,

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

Thank you for this beautiful blog entry. It made me cry and smile and revel in the wonder right along with you. If I ever do decide to adopt, I hope to be a parent like you. What a wonderful adventure you both had and a lovely article. You've captured the experience perfectly. Sending lots of well wishes your way. (-:

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Juli said...

Wonderful. I loved the videos you were able to tuck in to your narrative. Must learn to do that, some day.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What amazing life lessons you are teaching your daughter though I have the feeling you are learning right along side her. That is the one thing I have learned about parenting....that I am always learning.

1:15 PM  
Blogger MJAB said...

Thanks to your inspirational blog posts my family and my parents (they are always up for a good motorhome trip) are going to volunteer at the sanctuary for a week this summer. We are so excited!

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you aware of wehat these con artists at Best Friends are up to? They may have done good things a while ago when they started, but they are now bloodsuckers.

Hint, for an example. Don't buy any of their merchandise. The money doesn't go to the animals. It goes into a private corporation that profits the founders.

Thanks to Michael Mountain, this place has turned into a money grub for these idiots who aren't doing anything to slow down the damn birth rate so that there's a hope of finding homes for all those animals being born. Michael Mountain is now hooked up with Rick Berman, and if you don't know who that vile creep is, you should google him.

There's a lot worse to BF (nepotism, squandering money on contracts to friends, blowing money on first class plane tickets to....fundraise for themselves, giving dogs to hoarders that killed them, letting the Vick dogs kill a sanctuary dog because they were too busy giving themselves big salaries to get proper fencing for the Vick dogs despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars they got for the dogs, etc) but you actually have to do your homework and figure out what is behind all the public relations because they lie like bastards, and they get idiots in the media to lie for them.

It's a sick world behind the fairy tales, and they especially seem to sucker women who want to believe it's all ok.

There's a lot of money bleeding money from BF and they don't want people to know what the reality is behind the fairy tale.

11:26 PM  
Blogger LeannaT said...

Hi Quinn, I discovered you today while listening to the Diane Ream show on NPR. I found myself sitting in my car after I arrived at the office to hear more, as there was a kindred spirit in the voice emminating from the radio. As soon as I got to the office I proceeded to squander more time reading through your blog and finally arrived at this one. A kindred spirit indeed. My son and I have been visiting Best Friends for years and share your vision. I vehemently disagree with the above post as I know the founders personally, have scrupulously inspected their records (they have one of the best ratings possible in the non-profit world) and have seen first hand the tremendous good they do.

Anyhow I've become side-tracked, I'm just so happy that I was in the car at the right time to catch the majority of your interview and become further familiar with your insightful views.

3:21 PM  

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