I’m the Angel of Death. It is quite accidental but it’s turned out that way because I offer one of the strange comforts — is there is such a thing as comfort — when a pet passes away.
Speaking from experience, the loss of a dog or cat or horse or fish or…. can be as traumatic as (if not more than) that of a human. My dog Scorch, a mostly-black mutt, changed my life. He was the first dog that caused the light bulb to go off, telling me that dogs have a higher understanding of our language and are WAY more intuitive than we think. I’d had smart dogs before him. But he was in a league of his own.
Scorch died of lymphoma, following an excruciating six months of chemotherapy treatments that bought him just about an extra six months.
He was nine years old.
He died in 2005 and I went to bed for about a week. Since that time I have trouble uttering his name. Last week, I was getting a private tour of MSU Veterinary Clinic where he had his treatments. I wasn’t even really thinking about it, but when I walked into the area where the chemo treatments are given to pets, I burst into tears. The tears kept flooding up and out of me while the nurse stood there looking at me.
Talk about embarrassing.
“We all cry here,” she said. She was very kind about it but I haven’t gone back.
It’s 13 years later and I am still weeping for poor, magnificent Scorch.
This is part of what having a pet does to you.
In this sense, they never really leave us.
I don’t know why pet portraits are so comforting. Or, maybe I do. It is, after all, another person’s interpretation of your dog. But in some ways, it makes their presence fresh, much as talking about your experience with a departed person does. The bereaved ask us to talk about their loved ones. We strain for new information, stories, news of them. These memories help to keep them alive and present as we walk into the future without the company of their physical being.
I joke that being a pet portrait artist is like being a playground bully: When someone starts to cry, I know I have done a good job.
But it is more than that. It is offering this little bit of soul back to those who mourn. Best of all, if it is a gift, it is a way to reach out to that person and let them know they have been heard, that their loss has not gone unnoticed.
It is a way of saying that the love lives on.