We take animals into our lives knowing that, in the normal course of events, we will see them leave. Over the ages people have written about the satisfactions and heartbreak of this cycle. When I was a kid, we had Old Yeller and the then venerable animal-consciousness tearjerker Beautiful Joe. My parents gave their hearts to generation after generation of beloved dogs: bumptious and uncontrollable as puppies, hobbling and rheumy a dozen years later, thumping their tails even when they couldn't stand. Very recently Andrew Sullivan has written about the wrenching end for his beagle Dusty, and Kevin Drum about his cat Inkblot.
Nothing lasts forever, and small animals are here for only a brief while. I learned this raising dogs, cats, hamsters, pigeons, plus fish and a steer in my 4-H days. But our cat Mike, always known as Mike the Cat, pushed the limits, reaching the age of 21 and 1/2 before the end came shortly before Thanksgiving.
This weekend, just before the snows in Washington, my wife and I had a little remembrance for Mike in the bamboo where he had spent many an afternoon, putting his ashes beneath a clay statue we'd bought long ago because it reminded us of him. You see his site in the bamboo above. Rebecca Frankel, with whom Mike the Cat happily spent the final third of his life -- the transfer of custody was by far the most emotionally wrenching part of our deciding to move to China -- was there to say goodbye, as she had been there for him through seven years.