Saying Goodbye to Our Family Pet

16 winters ago, on a Friday evening just before a looming ice storm set in on the cold Kansas prairie, my 7 year old little girl was pulling beach towels out of closets to make a “temporary home” in a cardboard box just outside our kitchen door for a stray kitty. She had already named the cat “Katy,” so we knew she was probably going to become a permanent fixture on our 34 acres out in the country.

Our country home under construction. We moved in and suddenly my children’s lives were filled with “creature wonder.” Momma deer with babies, wild turkey, tortoises, scorpions, snakes, stray cats, dogs and sometimes horses were all frequent visitors and uninvited guests.

The following spring, Katy unexpectedly (to us “city pups,” unfamiliar with the ways of country life) gave birth to a litter of adorable kittens. For months, Isa and Mario’s entertainment focused around playing with the kittens. Vanilla ended up being the only one of the litter that survived. Katy was viciously killed by a couple of stray dogs while defending her kittens. To say we were shocked by the harsh realities of country animal life would be an understatement. The best we could do was adopt Vanilla (whom previously my husband had insisted would remain a garage cat) and bring him indoors to complete our family. And that is where he has stayed for 15 1/2 years.

These past couple of weeks, Vanilla slowly tapered off his eating until quitting completely the last 5 days of his life. We all had our chances to say goodbye, but the hardest was with his Mommy, Isa, via FaceTime from her work retreat. It’s so hard doing the compassionate thing when you’ve grown up with a pet. Isa used to come home from 2nd grade and stand on our back deck calling Vanilla’s name. Before long, he’d come running up from the wooded canyon behind our house, following the sound of her sweet voice. He was half wild (feral!) kitty and half domesticated pet and that’s how he lived until his last breath.

This morning was extremely bittersweet. We watched him stumble to the back door for a breath of fresh air after carrying him down from his last night in our bed. He bathed in the sunlight of our floor to ceiling windows in the den one last time. And if he could have mustered the strength, I know he would have loved to have hissed at Pudgey, the innocent but vacuous cocker spaniel. We loved him well. I can only hope he is on my Dad’s lap in heaven right now hearing about what a “Good Ole’ Good Boy” he is.

34 Acres, 2 Kids and a Boxer Named Tango

“I just think you’re distracted,” Scott, the Dog Trainer, kindly pointed out.  I had failed to work with our uber intelligent Boxer puppy in advance of our training appointment once again.  “It would only take a minimal amount of work and Tango could be competing in….” (the rest of the sentence made no sense to this City Girl).  We had fancy “AKC” papers (whatever that means) that were supposed to be officially “filed” someplace, for some important reason that eluded me.  All I knew was that after letting the puppy outdoors for more than 20 minutes every 2 hours, the first thing she did was waddle over to my favorite new beautiful rug, squat while gazing directly at me, and potty. “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!  I FEEL LIKE I JUST BROUGHT TWINS HOME!,” I would scream in exasperation.  My seven-year-old daughter had to take over the role of “Handler” (what the HELL is a handler, anyway?).

 

kids with tango

Oh, how the kids loved “Tango,” a name that was, in the early days, in competition with “Tiara.”  The final name decision came down to 2 main factors:  1) We had named our 34-acre piece of Kansas paradise “Tango Canyon” to honor my husband’s Argentinian heritage; 2) It brought joy to my husband and me that the neighbors, with whom we were feuding legally, had to hear us yelling “Tango” several times a day.

And, just like the enchanting and wondrous dance from Latin America, our Tango was complicated (because she was smarter than me), challenging (because we had no fence in Paradise/Tango Canyon), and charming (the Country Club Superintendent knew her personally from all the times she ran away and the Rancher across the street could never catch her fast enough to return her home, away from his cattle).  Tango became a kind of precocious Peter Rabbit in our parts and I was the tired and overwhelmed Momma Rabbit, constantly in search of her infinitely curious Peter.

The escapades involving the chasing of Tango and her valiant return home are too numerous to recount here, so since it is Memorial Day, I will recount only one.  I mentioned Ranch across the way from our land but directly across from where we lived was a beautiful cemetery called Highlands.  It overlooked the whole town of Winfield, Kansas as well as the Walnut River.  Memorial weekend was our favorite time to live across from Highlands because of the constant flow of townsfolk who would bestow their loved ones’ graves with silk flowers that later blew away in the fierce prairie wind – and my kids would gather like treasures in the wagon and lovingly present to me!  There was also a beautiful and somber Ceremony of Remembrance that the local Armory sponsored among the hundreds of flags placed throughout the cemetery by the local Rotary club.

Around 10 am each Memorial weekend Saturday morning, we would hear the patriotic trumpet music from Highlands and up the driveway we’d ramble to watch.  I guess one Saturday, when Tango was about 2, we forgot.  Or the kids were in the basement and the noise from the tv overpowered the patriotic trumpet music.  So we forgot to go, but Tango didn’t.  Off she trotted by herself (she was quite accustomed to this), to enjoy the lovely service in honor of the American fallen heroes.  When the ceremony concluded and everyone had gone home except Tango and Sergeant Pfeffer of the local National Guard, the 2 left together in his truck and returned to the Armory about 3 miles away in town.  There, Tango spent a wonderful weekend with Sergeant Pfeffer as the newly appointed “Armory Mascot.”  Sadly, I probably did not even notice that Tango was missing until late in the day on Saturday.  The kids became aware of it and set out to find her, calling “Tango” all over our land until dusk.  When she did not reappear, as usual, we became concerned and decided to call Dr. Warren, the local vet who knew just about every pet in town and was the unordained “lost dog network” figurehead.  He had not heard anything, but promised to keep us informed.  We slept better that night knowing our good friend, Dr. Warren, had his ear to the ground in search of the missing Tango.

The following day, our home phone rang a few times with the id “National Guard,” so I did not pick it up, assuming it was some kind of fundraising call preying on the emotions of patriotic Americans during Memorial weekend.  The same thing happened on Monday.  Oddly enough, Tango had not reappeared, either.  Our lines of search and rescue were going cold, but the calls from the “National Guard” persisted.  I never put it together that there could be a connection between our missing Tango and these annoying calls.  My seven-year-old, Isa, had to point it out.  “Mom, call them back!” she urged.  So I did.  On the other end of the line was a very pleasant and kind voice, Sergeant Pfeffer.  “Hi, this is Joan Tamburini, I have received many calls from this number,” I began in my irritated big-city tone.  “Oh, great! I think we have your dog,” Sergeant Pfeffer proudly announced.  He then told me the story of how Tango had wandered up to his group during the annual Remembrance Ceremony and how she had lingered by him when the rest of the crowd disbursed.  “She just happily climbed right into my truck,” he amusedly recounted.  “So she’s been here with me all weekend, keeping an eye on things and enjoying the Armory.” Oh. My. God.  Instant embarrassment and apologies from my fast-talking city mouth.  And my Isa stood before me, hand on her hip and lips pursed, judging my incompetence.

Retrieving our Tango from the Armory and meeting the delightful Sergeant Pfeffer gave our family something to do that boring Memorial Day in 2007.  When we arrived, Tango greeted us personally and gave us a tour.  She would have been the perfect Armory mascot.  But we brought her home.  And the adventures continued…….