Tuesday, April 2, 2013

All of my Dead Pets and the Time I Assassinated a Rooster Who Had It Coming

Okay, so I still get sad about this dog. But that's it.

For many years, I've tried to write about all of my dead pets without all of you thinking I'm a monster. This is my latest attempt. If you think I'm a monster after reading this, I'm okay with that. Because I think your face is stupid.

Growing up on the farm, when one of our pets got terminally ill or injured, the normal protocol was for my dad to take it out and shoot it. Now, before you call up PETA and tell them my dad is a barbarian, know that it was always either out of mercy or necessity. He never, ever skipped to his gun cabinet whistling a happy tune, wrapped his rifle in ribbons, and loaded it with gum drops. He always hated having to put one of our pets down.

Except for that one dog who kept killing all of the chickens. He hated that dog.

Cats and dogs come and go when you live on a farm. If they weren't being mercifully put down over in the pasture across the road from the house, they were run over by the mailman, killed by coyotes, carried off by owls, or just wandered off somewhere. When I was little, I mourned each dead one and begged my dad to take the injured ones to the vet. He always said, "If it's not a working animal, it will just have to get better on its own. We can't afford to take everyone to the vet." But as I got older, I came to accept the revolving door of dead pets. Because by the time the beloved animal would succumb to its injuries, there would be a new litter of kittens or a newborn calf wobbling around, and we would get distracted and forget about...what happened? Something died, you say?

Coming to terms with all of this was eased by the fact that my parents were not the type to dance around the subject of death.

"What happened to Socks?" we would ask.

"He died. Now, do you want waffles or French toast?" 

And, of course, getting attached to the cows was never a good idea either. One of our steers used to follow me around and eat grain from my hand when I was about 7, and I told my dad I loved it and named it Amos. A month later, Amos was in our freezer, wrapped in butcher paper.

But don't misunderstand me. This doesn't mean I didn't get attached sometimes.

I've raised lots and lots of calves from birth, feeding them milk from a bottle and then gradually introducing them to solids. Monitoring their poops. Giving them pills. Letting them suck on my fingers until they were raw and red. And, yes, kissing their fuzzy, enormous heads while they stepped all over my feet in an extremely painful manner that my toes still haven't recovered from. But the one I still think about the most is Dill.

She was the saddest little thing, born in a snowdrift and then abandoned. My dad carried her into the house and dumped her into the bathtub, so we could warm her up. (Trust that it was not uncommon to try to sit on the toilet in that bathroom while a calf was sucking on your knee.) It's rare they live through severe hypothermia, but this one did. Her ears were frostbitten and later fell off, so she had these little stub ears that made her look pretty pathetic. Even when she weighed well over 600 pounds, I could stand at the gate and say, "Dill! Come see me!" And she would run over to get her ears scratched and rub her head on me. When she had her first calf, my dad sent me a picture of it with the message, "Congratulations, Grandma!" And I think I cried a little. But in the back of my mind I knew that eventually she would get sold off and slaughtered. That's how it works when your entire childhood is Old Yeller.

And, of course, no Old Yeller story is complete without having to put an animal down yourself.

To be fair, I didn't love this animal at all. Or even like him. It was the rooster who kept spurring me every single time I went outside. I know it sounds silly, being attacked by a bird. But there is a reason that terrible people hold cockfights. Roosters are mean, and they aren't afraid of anything. So, one day he chased me around for the last time.

"Dad, I have to shoot that rooster," I said at lunch.

"Okay, just be careful," he replied.

So, I shot the rooster. And I was not the least bit sad about it. As I carried that asshole's body across the road to get rid of it, that was the moment I think I really came to understand my dad and the way he could just do things without letting it get to him.

As a result of all of this death, I am a very hard-hearted adult when it comes to animals. When someone is sad about a pet dying, I have to reconfigure my brain to allow myself to understand their pain. I've had my cat for seven years, and sometimes I look at her and say, "I can't believe you're still alive. Are you just going to keep on living like this? You're really messing up my plans to mourn you briefly and then get a micropig." Which is not to say I don't love animals or my cat particularly. I love animals so much, it makes my face hurt. It's just a different mind set that I definitely have to explain to people when they ask, "But didn't it make you sad to know that your cows were going to die?" The answer to that is yes...and no. I want to snuggle all of the cows in the world. But I also want to eat them.

I guess, now that I'm really letting you in past my thin candy shell of darkness, this is the time to finally confess that don't see what's so sad about Bambi. Deer are so hateful, they way they like to dart out in front of cars.

And in conclusion...

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