Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Funeral for my Pittbull Cassius Clay

“The Character of a Nation is determined by how its animals are treated” Ghandi

by Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. He can be contacted at]

Everyone who has a close pet knows that the dog or cat becomes a part of the family, no longer a mere “animal.”  And everyone whose close dog or cat dies, typically feels the same pain – sometimes even deeper – as if a human close friend has died.  Love knows no boundaries and we develop ties with humans and other animals.

The world is full of stories, and monuments, and books devoted to a favorite dog or cat, which is evidence that these beings are indeed close to our hearts.

I once heard  radio host Dennis Prager claim – who apparently had no pets – that it is only those people who have not developed deep human relationships who become very close to their pets, as if the animal relationship is their stepping-stone to a “real” human relationship. Such a statement could only be made by someone who has never experienced a close animal relationship, or he would not have made such an erroneous statement.  (To be fair to Mr. Prager, it’s certainly possible that some close animal-human relationships develop because the person did lack the ability to have close human relationships.)

My perspective is that those who have the ability to enter into a close relationship with an animal have even more developed feelings than the average person.  These animal relationships develop not because of a lack in some area, but because of a greater development in the area of feeling and caring.  That’s how I see it anyway.

So, of my many close animal friends, Cassius Clay, my purple ribbon pitt bull who I loved, died at age 17 on Easter Sunday, 2008.  I’d grown so close to him, and my daily schedule was so structured around him, that I could barely believe he was gone. It was devastating on certain levels, and like when anyone you love dies, suddenly, for awhile, the world is a very dark and dreary place.

In the few days after he died, I reviewed in my mind all the things that he “taught” me, and all the ways in which I felt I became a better person because of Cassius.  I know regular folks don’t think that dogs “talk,” but that’s because most folks believe that language is entirely linguistic, when in fact, words are just one small part of communication.  Cassius talked to me regularly, with the tone of his voice, his eyes, his sounds, his body motions.  I learned to listen and generally understood what he was “saying.”

I buried him in a section of a nature preserve in Highland Park, and invited a few friends to join me in a little ceremony.  I’d planned to plant some herbs over his grave, talk about Cassius, show some pictures, and maybe let people who knew Cassius say a thing or two.

I was overwhelmed with the approximately three dozen people who showed up in the hilly amphitheater section of the property, and, with some friends, we set out chairs and laid down carpets so everyone could join us somewhat comfortably.  I know that many who came never met Cassius, so they came to join me in my saying goodbye to my friend.

I shared some highlights of how Cassius came into my life, and showed pictures, and we had some music. With so many people, I was uncertain how to proceed, but I began to ask people to share their experiences with Cassius, and if they never met him, to share their experiences with their own close animal friend.

It took over an hour for everyone to share their stories, and it was a tearful event even for people who didn’t know Cassius. Many shared stories of animals that were every bit a part of  the family, and how their relationship with that animal was life-enhancing.

When done, I passed out a little leaflet about Cassius, just like you might get when you went to a human funeral or wake.  And then I invited people to plant various flowers and herbs over Cassius’s grave, and to water those plants.

For me, it was a necessary part of the transition of life to death, to take the time to acknowledge a friend. As a child, I recall when our pet dog died, it was taken to the vet who then somehow “disposed” of it. I vowed to never do that again, not to a family member, and not to a pet. 

Death is part of life, and it does not mean we should forget.  Life goes on, but we should never forget the value that others had in shaping our character, and making our life worth living.

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