I have an obligation to animals I know after they die. The obligation being that I have…well, call it a sixth sense. I’ve already talked about my obligation to these beloved pets around the event of death itself, but the obligation I feel passes into something a bit more after their bodies have been laid to rest and they’re back home in their urns.
I’ve always been a bit sensitive to the more spiritual side of the world. As anyone who’s been reading my blog for any length of time would probably know – from skin spirits to therianthropy, to any myriad of other topics that I’ll answer about if asked, I’m not shy when it comes to talking about my personal experiences with the paranormal.
I lost my first pet when I was about fourteen. He was a parakeet named Buddy – one of our current cats is actually named after him.
He and I had a very special relationship, and when he died, my mom and I both continued to hear him playing with his bell, and talking, and just generally being himself for months afterwards.
Honestly, I think we continued to hear him for the entire time I lived in that apartment – just sometimes we attributed his sounds to his successor, Johnny the parakeet, or to memory or imagination later on. I saw Buddy in my dreams for many years as well – I still see him, sometimes.
The same continued with every pet that I loved and lost over the years – hearing them, seeing them in dreams, and sometimes as I got older, seeing them in the physical world.
I’ve had two very profound experiences surrounding the death of a pet that I can only attribute to being paranormally sensitive. The first involved my first dog, Baby. According to the vet, she was at least twenty years old when we got her. Even for a toy poodle, that’s fairly old.
We only had her for three years, but she was an amazing blessing to me the entire time, that old girl. By the time it was coming on time for her to leave her aging body behind, we also had a young cat by the name of Smokey and another dog (who came from my aunt who couldn’t take care of her anymore for personal reasons).
We’d gotten Smokey about a year earlier – two at most, and Baby had basically raised the little kitten. Smokey was my baby kitty – but more on her in a little bit.
Baby ate three times a day, in her old age. She didn’t have most of her teeth due to neglect from before she ever came to be our dog. She would have a meal of wet dog food in the morning, a cut up hot dog at lunch, and another meal of canned dog food in the evening. She’d eat dry dog food, but swallowing it whole didn’t give her much nutrition, so while we always had it OUT (both for her and eventually for Lady, the other dog) we didn’t expect her to eat it.
One day while Baby was eating her lunch hot dog, I looked down at her and asked my mother how we’d know when it was time for Baby to be put to sleep. We’d already had the discussion that her body didn’t seem the kind to go naturally without undue pain and suffering and that when the time came, we’d do the kinder thing.
Mom looked at me and said “Well, when she’s ready, she’ll stop eating. And she won’t want to do anything. That’s how we’ll know.”
I looked down at Baby only to find her eyes – cloudy with cataracts by then – were fixed on me. She stared at me for a long moment, then finished her hot dog.
About a week later, she stopped eating and lost interest in everything. To this day, I believe she heard what we were looking for and decided to give it to us.
We put her down Saturday, May 22nd, 1999. As we were preparing to leave for the vet, I was sitting in the living room looking at Baby on the floor. I’d put her harness on her, and the leash was in my hand, waiting for my parents to be ready to go.
I felt like if I stared at her long enough, I could memorize her and then I’d never have to let her go. She was my first dog – and a very, very big deal at my life, despite my age at the time (I was sixteen).
As I stood there, I watched our other dog come into the room, give one look at Baby, and then leave. They never really got along – Lady was too much puppy for Baby in her old age. But then Smokey approached the dying toy poodle.
For the first time since I’d been watching (and I’d been sitting there for awhile), Baby lifted her head. Smokey walked around Baby slowly, like she was trying to encourage her “mama” to get up. Baby didn’t move, but her head followed the cat, sniffing – she was completely blind by then, as far as we knew. Then Smokey reached Baby’s head.
Smokey and Baby stayed that way for a long time – it must have only been a couple of minutes, but it felt like it stretched on forever to me. They were nose to nose, sniffing each other. And then finally, Baby laid her head back down, and Smokey walked away.
Well, at that point, I was crying. All I could think about was the scene near the end of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, where the old dog Shadow is injured and seemingly dying, and the young dog, Chance, tries to encourage him to get up and keep going. Shadow’s words rung in my head as I watched my cat and dog interact for the last time.
“You’ve learned all you need to know, Chance. Now all there’s left to learn, is how to say goodbye.”
Not long after that interaction, my parents were ready, and I picked my dog up and carried her out to the car for her last car ride.
My parents and I elected to be with her when she passed, and stood there while the vet gave her the injection. I was standing at her head, petting her and looking into her eyes. Then, just as she breathed her last I heard a voice in my head that I had never heard before, and have never heard since. It was the voice of an elderly woman, and it only said two words.
I don’t know if it was because I’d had so many paranormal pet experiences by that time, but it didn’t frighten me at all. Instead, it filled me with a sense of peace and the knowledge that we really were doing what Baby wanted us to do. Not that it wasn’t hard – and to this day I regret not asking my parents to get her ashes returned. But beyond that, I have no regrets.
I never stopped hearing Baby’s collar from time to time, or her claws on the kitchen floor. Sometimes I would smell her in the bathroom (we had her paper trained near the end because she couldn’t handle walks outside in the Texas heat and humidity), or feel her jump up onto the bed with me at night to sleep. I always knew it was her because our other dog, Lady, was a miniature Schnauzer – which is larger than a toy poodle. Small dog hops up on my bed – I don’t even have to look and realize there’s nothing there to know it’s Baby. Large dog? I was about to get a snoutfull of whiskers in my face.
Then there’s the experience that surrounded Smokey’s death.
I moved from Texas to California in September of 2005. Smokey was ten years old and due to her small size (she was never over 8lbs, despite being very obviously a Maine Coon Cat, known for their large size), due to flea anemia when she was a kitten, I couldn’t get clearance from a vet for her to fly. And she was old – I worried the stress would hurt or kill her as it was, despite her not having any noticable health problems.
So I had to leave my Smokey-baby behind with Lady the dog, and Harmon, my mom’s tuxedo cat (also the only animal I’ve talked about besides Buddy the cat and Kit who are still living as of the time I write this blog), and my parents in Texas.
I returned for a visit that December, and Smokey glued herself to me for the entire two weeks I was there. She slept in my bed, she even came into the bathroom with me. On the last night I was there, she slept on my bed – right up next to my face by the pillows. She was curled into her usual little Smokey-ball, but her gold and green eyes were open, like she couldn’t stop staring at me.
And I got the most unsettling feeling – I felt like she was saying goodbye. I tried to tell her that yes, I had moved away, but I’d be back in a few months for another visit. She’d see. I’d see her again soon. But no matter what I said, I couldn’t shake the twist in my stomach that this was the last night I would have with my baby kitty.
I left for California the next day. And I did hold and cuddle Smokey a lot before I left. I didn’t tell my parents, or anyone really, what I’d experienced that last night. Not until what happened a little over a month later.
I was in the process of applying for college, which included taking a math and english placement test so they would know where I stood. The day of the test, I was sick. REALLY sick. And not as in “I have a cold,” but more like “I have a stomach bug and can’t seem to shake it.” I was nauseated all day.
I thought it was nerves over taking the exam. After all, I’d been homeschooled and hadn’t taken a test in a public setting with other students (except for the GED, which I’d passed with flying colors the previous October), especially not one that my future career hinged on, since first grade. But it didn’t go away after the exam – and I felt fairly confident over the whole thing.
So why was I sick?
I called my parents. It was a Friday, and I wanted to tell them that I felt confident about my test. They were proud of me but seemed…Upset. As I was getting off the phone, I heard my dad say in the background “aren’t you going to tell…” but then my mom had hung up.
I didn’t think anything of it – I was still nauseated and needed to drive myself home. So I headed home.
The next evening, I don’t remember what prompted me to call my mom. But at some point during our discussion, I asked her about what I’d overheard dad say the previous day. She was quiet for a long time and then said that she hadn’t wanted to ruin my weekend, and she was so proud of me for having done well on the test.
My heart felt like it fell into my stomach. I asked her what she meant, but somehow I’d already figured it out. I knew before she told me that my little baby Smokey girl was dead.
I managed to choke out a “how?!”, because, other than that freaky feeling the last night and day I saw her, there had been nothing wrong with Smokey.
It turned out that, Friday morning, Smokey had suffered a partial intestinal prolapse. She was too old for the surgery, and without making it an extensive surgery, there was no way to ensure it wouldn’t just happen again. So my parents had given her a little bit of baby aspirin for the pain, and taken her to the SPCA after calling around to find someone who could do a euthanasia for low cost or free on short notice as they couldn’t afford our vet at the time. And she told me that she and dad had been with Smokey when she passed, and they took her collar home with them because they knew I’d want it.
To this day, I admit, I resent not having been told – because at that time I’d been through losing Flake, and I KNEW a kitty could have their ashes returned to you in a pretty box. I knew I could keep her forever. And if my mom had told me the day it happened that it was happening, I would’ve sent them money and paid for the whole thing, as I was flush at the time. But she tried to save me pain. I know she had no way of knowing. But…to this day, eight years later, it still hurts.
I broke. I completely shattered, emotionally. I had raised Smokey from a tiny little baby kitten. I’d saved her life from fleas, I’d brushed her, I’d fed her, I’d held her…She was my cat. And now she was just gone. I would never see her again – which made the last things I said to her lies, even though that feeling I’d had told me that she knew what would happen and didn’t expect me to keep my promises. Smokey was gone.
Somehow, I told my then friend, future wife. I ended up outside on our front porch trying to get some air and stop the heaving sobs before I threw up. She stayed out there with me and let me cry, but I know I was inconsolable.
I at some point looked up at the sky, my eyes finally dry as if I’d managed to cry out all the excess moisture in my body. I have no idea how long I was standing like that, when I suddenly saw a shooting star.
To this day, it’s the first and only shooting star I have EVER seen. And it looked like it was coming straight over me.
As it passed, I was suddenly hit with a flood of memories of Smokey, from her as a tiny baby, toddling up after the cat we were feeding on our porch, through the time she attacked the Christmas garland I had up in my room and strung it all through the house, to her saying goodbye to Baby, to countless other moments all blending together in one rapidfire flash of her ten year life, ending with the last thing I said to her – which wasn’t, as I feared, that I’d see her soon. No, the last thing I said to her was “I love you, Smokey-kitty.”
It took me a day or so to process what happened, but when I suddenly started hearing a cat collar bell jingling through a house that had NEVER had a cat who wore a collar in it before, I realized what it was.
Smokey came home to me. And somehow, in doing so, she caused a shooting star.
My favorite movie is Dragonheart, who’s primary theme, To The Stars, has been used in a lot of other film trailers. It’s highly recognizable, and one of my favorite pieces of instrumental music. Somehow, the story that came into my head as I realized that Smokey’s spirit had come to be with me, fit that song perfectly (something I didn’t realize until months after I’d figured out what happened). The story is below.
Mom and dad took Smokey to the SPCA to be put down and stayed with her until she passed. My dad’s arm was around my mom as he guided her out of the room after they said goodbye.
At about that point, Smokey’s spirit, which had still been sitting on the table, chose between staying with her body and following my parents. She hopped down and trotted after them, following them out of the SPCA into the parking lot.
As my parents got into the car, Smokey stopped and looked up at the sky, then at the car as my mom started it to drive away. As the car pulled away, Smokey began to rise into the air. She floated high above Texas, her little legs moving as if she was walking, feathery tail waving, and set off. She was going home – she was coming to me.
It took her a little over a day from when she left her body behind – when she found me, it was night again. I was outside, and when she saw me, her little tail went straight up and her eyes were wide with excitement. She half ran, half dove toward me, a little ball of love in spirit form streaking across the night sky – a shooting star.
And when her spirit touched me, I experienced the flood of memories of all of our time together. It was Smokey telling me that no matter what, no matter where I was, she would be with me from now on. I was still horribly grief stricken…but I felt better somehow, after that night. And I still feel her and hear her, her little bell a reminder that she’s still with me – that she always will be.
That last part’s completely true – and for over a year, that was the most profound experience I’d ever had with the ghost of a pet. Then came the night that I actually petted a ghost cat….But as this has gotten very long, that experience will have to wait for next week.