I wrote this a few weeks ago in the wake of the passing of my pet loves. At the surface, it has little to do with food or cooking, but in many ways it does. Cooking, for me, is a way of nurturing and offering love. These sweet friends gave it to me freely and continuously every day for many years. I hope in some small way it will help those dealing with grief in the loss of someone loved, pet or human. Much love, Holly
Like all great love stories, this one has elements of beauty, joy and tragedy. It is the tale of a precious dog and a cat. As their Momma, I had the pleasure of watching their story unfold for the decade it lasted.
It begins with Tann Mann. A native of Fayetteville, NC, he came home to me and Charleston at five months of age. A handsome cocker spaniel sporting a velveteen, chocolate coat and amber eyes, both playful and wise, his early years were spent sashaying around the peninsula greeting his buddies. There were many: Angus MacGregor, Scarlett, Rex, Rebel, Sister, Blue, Ivy, Bucky, Houston, Daisy, Apple, and Scout, to name a few.
By the time he was two, he spent his Friday mornings at The Ralph Johnson VA on the fourth floor with retired vets in the nursing home there. He was good at it. Patient and calm, he would sit quietly while the patients petted him, always eager to offer his signature high five. At home, most days were spent watching me cook, or very close by my side, at all times. Doggie ice cream treats and loving petting was abundant. Life was good; very good, indeed.
Enter Chutney Cat, about the time Tann Mann was in his prime at age seven. We first saw her on one of our countless walks, crouching and scared behind a bush by an old Victorian on lower Rutledge Avenue. I talked to her gently but she would not approach and scattered when I reached out to her. Two days later, she showed up in my back garden, partially hidden by an azalea. I sat on the stoop for a long time, talking with her. Finally, a can of tuna did the trick and because she didn’t have any owners I could find, she became a part of our household.
The beginning was rocky, and Chutney Cat played very hard to get with Tann Mann. She wanted very little to do with him or anyone, for that matter. Whatever trauma she had experienced, it took her six months to “come out” and really join the family. At first, for the grey, white and apricot Tortoiseshell beauty, Tann Mann was an afterthought, a pest really. There was a whole lot of swatting and hissing going on. Tann Mann would take it and just sally forth, his pride a little worse for the wear.
But, little by little, the bond formed. I’d find them rubbing noses, exchanging long glances, climbing the stairs together, sleeping back to back on my bed. We spent ten years in that house and by the time we left, Tann Mann and Chutney Cat were approaching their twilight years.
I retired Tann Mann from the VA because it was becoming too physically demanding for him and we all moved to a house in the country on James Island. Chutney Cat especially embraced her new abode, relishing the lower, broader window sills which afforded easy access garden viewing. She relinquished her former huntress ways, and instead preferred sunning and frolicking inside the screened in back porch. She loved to stare into the new gas fireplace and Tann Mann the forest view from the front door. Their pace became slower, their snoring louder, and their back-to- back sleeping pose longer. They both loved to watch me cook, Tann Mann from under the coffee table and Chutney Cat from her favorite sofa perch, Tann Mann’s chocolate button nose often sniffing to inhale the aromas.
These were such happy days. It seemed like they would last forever. But sadly, they came to an end, or at least a new kind of beginning. Now fourteen and a half years old, Tann Mann got sick over the course of a few weeks and when he was finally diagnosed, I had to release him to death. He died in my arms with a cascade of love surrounding him. The goodbye was intensely difficult for me, as Tann Mann was my soul mate dog. I returned home to Chutney Cat, hoping we would enjoy many more days together where I could spoil her with one-on-one love.
But, this was not to be, either. Starting the very first day Tann Mann did not come home, Chutney Cat started slipping away. First, sleeping in his bed or other new places that he favored, increasing her sleeping time to practically full time and by the sixth day she stopped eating, which was one of her favorite things. Even tuna fish wouldn’t do the trick. At first I thought she was grieving, but a trip to the vet proved that sixteen year-old Chutney Cat was also terminally ill with a cancer that couldn’t be fixed. She died in my arms, her sweet head on my right forearm, eyes closed, purring and almost relieved.
While she and I were grieving together, I observed Chutney Cat a lot. Her eyes would open wide at times, as if she was seeing or sensing something I couldn’t. Maybe it was Tann Mann, maybe it was pain, or maybe just a broken heart.
While my heart remains broken for my departed and cherished loved ones, it gives me joy that they found true love not only on this earth, but also in Heaven. True loves, even or especially when shared between animals, is everlasting. They taught me that, perhaps their greatest gift of all.
Thank you, my darlings and sweet, sweet dreams. God bless.
Tann Mann December 24, 2002 – April 5, 2016
Chutney Cat birthdate unknown, 2000 – April 12, 2016
Much gratitude to the love, compassion and care provided by the staff at Ohlandt Veterinary Clinic and Charleston Veterinary Referral Clinic (West Ashley).
For whatever reason, God chose not to bless me with children. For a while there, back in my twenties and thirties, I was pretty sad about that. Instead of surrounding me with the two tow-headed sons I envisioned as a young girl, my entire life I’ve been surrounded with pets of all shapes and sizes. A pig named Malechy, a goat named Friday, a cow named Betsy, a Shetland pony named Honeybee, and a cat named Tigger, to name just a few.
Malechy rooted and snorted his way around his pen while my sister Heather and I watched in adoration, feeding him rotten apples and whatever else we could find and fancying him our own personal “Wilbur.” Goat Friday used to chase Heather up the apple trees on our daily walks through the pasture from the school bus. We never understood why, but it always caused hilarious laughter, especially from me. Betsy lolled lazily most days, her dark brown eyes always reflecting quiet, peace and gentleness. Honeybee took me and my friend Mary O’Brien on a wild chase through the orchard one windy, fall day, ultimately upsetting the horse cart and our pride, but remained a feisty little friend throughout my childhood. And Tigger was my first cat love, a grey and white striped ball of a kitten we picked up at one of my brothers’ little league games and who lived with us for 18 long, happy years.
And then there were the dogs. Many, many wonderful dogs. Nicki the beautiful black lab who shepherded the four of us safely through the many acres of our country back yard when Mom was busy doing something else. Fritzi, a fiercely loyal and smart Weimerarmer who loved us kids so much, she had to die for protecting us when she bit the garbage man. It was achingly difficult to say goodbye to her, my first pet death. I cried now thinking about it and that was over forty years ago.
All of these lovely creatures are in God’s arms now, but they live forever in my memories for the love they provided and the priceless lessons they taught, especially about enjoying life in the moment and sharing unconditional love. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about them, and my current pets, Tann Mann and Chutney Cat.
They are advancing in years, at (almost) 11 and 14 years old, respectively. I know that they, just like my aging parents and everyone I know, will not be with me forever. I will not always be able to enjoy Tann Mann’s adorable sashay and swagger on our mutliple daily walks, hear his paws tickle the wood floors as he pads about the house, listen to his soft peaceful breathing on night’s when I can’t sleep, or watch him watch me while I’m coooking. I will not always be able to watch Chutney Cat frolicking and hunting merrily in the garden or stare into her soulful, pretty green eyes. She will not always be there to “knead” pretend dough as she plays at my side.
But, I have them both now. I have them both to love and hold and enjoy for as long as they are meant to be with me. And, because I have watched them and all the animals I have loved appreciate and enjoy every moment they are given, they have generously taught me how to do just that whenever possible.
God may have not given me human children, but he has given me so many blessings, not the least of which are many beautiful pets, my fur babies. And, as my pets have taught me, I don’t even have to know why. I only need to be and be grateful.