‘Pet Sematary’ this isn’t! Four-legged loved ones get gold sendoff

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A column by Tom Van Dusen

I’ve recently plunged into the fascinating and extravagant world of pet “aftercare”… actually, it’s more daughter Victoria who’s plunged while I’ve been caught in the backwash.

I guess this level of doggy and kitty sendoff has been around for a while now, but I’ve never had to deal with it and was oblivious. I was used to the school of passed-away pet disposal which involved a hole in the ground with maybe a flat stone to mark the spot.

Mention that technique today to consummate pet lovers like my daughter and they reel back in horror, looking at you as if you just stepped out of Stephen King’s deliberately misspelled Pet Sematary. Her Abby would be cremated, her ashes kept in an urn, and a doggy paw mold made as part of the deal with leading animal aftercare provider 25-year-old Gateway Pet Memorial.

Yes, I’m getting my eyes wide-opened! Victoria wouldn’t have it any other way… after all — and she makes no bones about it — Abby was a member of the family and by far her best friend, perhaps an even more cherished family member than her old Dad who doesn’t expect to get the same quality of final farewell.

Until her assisted passing Saturday, Abby was a cocker spaniel aged about 17 who was Vic’s trusted companion for more than half of her 30 years. I say “about 17” because she was found tied in the bush with another dog, apparently dumped there to starve to death.

‘Abby’ the cocker spaniel with the writer’s daughter, Victoria.

Somehow, Abby ended up with us and the second rescue went to another home. I say “us” but it was really me. Vic’s mother and I were split and Vic and brother Oliver were going back and forth between homes. The dog was usually with me in Russell, first in the village and later at the farmhouse I bought more than a decade ago and still own.

Understandably, Abby didn’t trust strangers at first and could be aggressive, especially if someone leaned into her space to pat the cute little puppy. She was more of a snapper than a biter… but did inflict small nicks a few times.

Victoria wouldn’t hear of getting rid of her because of bad behaviour and eventually we soothed most of the hostility out of her. When Vic was around, the two were inseparable; if she was on prolonged work stays in St. John’s, Halifax, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Montreal and other places, the dog reverted back to me.

Abby spent most of her life as a “good dog”, a great ball chaser and talk-growler, living well, circulating with Vic between my residences, her mother’s house and cottage; in the end, she was with Vic in Brockville… and steadily going downhill.

Abby confronts a deer in 2018.

Eventually, at more than 100 in doggy years, she was literally on her last legs. Vic couldn’t abide the notion of euthanizing her too early and kept caring for her almost full time past the point where others would probably have opted for the needle.

However, on Saturday when the dog finally gave out, Vic rushed her to Brockville Animal Hospital where the duty vet, after noting that Abby was severely dehydrated, suggested gently it was time to put her to sleep. Vic reluctantly agreed and, with Abby held in her arms in the hospital’s peaceful gazebo, the faithful pooch slipped away. She’s to be cremated at Gateway’s Ottawa facility; cost of all services provided… over $600.

I flipped through Gateway’s glitzy catalogue offering a plethora of services and my eyes popped: Cemeteries, private viewing and visitation; engraved memorial stones; urns both indoor and outdoor of an amazing assortment of styles including cat and dog figures in wood, metal and ceramic; lasting commemorative puppy paws; keepsake hearts, charms, pendants and memory beads.

Then I looked at the two cats who were eyeing me accusingly — as cats always do — and scanning the catalogue: “You want the same treatment when your time comes, eh? Fat chance! You’re going into a hole in the ground!” I shouted, knowing there was no way I could make that happen. They knew it too!

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