This article was originally written for the February edition of the HiLine Farm and Ranch!
Just after the beginning of the year, I lost my longtime friend and dog Callie. Callie was a Catahoula, Australian Shepherd mix and as you can imagine she was as busy, loving, anxious, focused and crazy as those dog breeds tend to be. When we started farming she had an even more intense desire to be a part of everything. She loved riding in the tractor, semi and the combine. She never knew how to work animals but had respect for them and stayed out of their way. She loved to go along for horseback rides and was always up for an adventure. Towards the end she became deaf and a lot more anxious. She spent the last couple weeks as my shadow.
I share this with you because I know you’ve probably experienced losing a pet too and it is hard! I also share this because on the farm or ranch death is something that happens frequently. It’s difficult to balance respecting the life of an animal raised for meat and mourning the death of a pet. It’s easy to become calloused to it, because to mourn every death on the ranch or farm would be extremely emotionally draining. The other reason I share this is because so many of us have children, grandchildren or at least young extended family. Talking about life and death with kids is fraught with lots of uncomfortable and hard to answer questions.
As a mom myself, I don’t want my girls to become calloused towards death and remain “soft” in the appreciation of life, no matter how many deaths they experience on the farm.
Losing Callie, experiencing death on the farm, and having young children led to our discussion of the following three things…
1. Death is a part of life. It’s important to teach our kids as much about death as life. My oldest daughter has been interested in hunting deer and I don’t want to discourage that, but I knew that she didn’t truly understand what taking a life meant. After Callie passed away she told me, “Mom I don’t want to shoot a deer anymore”. I think she got a better glimpse of what death meant.
2. Different animals, different roles. The loss of Callie opened up an opportunity to talk about pets, animals raised for meat, wild animals and their roles in our life. God put animals on the earth for our benefit. Some benefit us as friends, others benefit us as income, and others benefit us as food. Just because they are living their life as a means to the end of filling the freezer, doesn’t mean we can’t respect the life that they have and make sure that it’s a good one.
3. Heaven. Not everyone believes in heaven, but we sure do. The presence of heaven is hard to grasp, but as I discussed with my daughter where Callie is now, heaven came up. Even among those who believe in heaven, there are different beliefs of what happens with pets. In my opinion, I trust that God is preparing a specific place for us in heaven and that the living things that we cherish here on earth will be there to greet us as well. So heaven took on new meaning for my daughter with Callie’s passing.
Death is never easy, but my hope is the more we learn and teach our children to respect and appreciate life, the easier it will be to strike that balance between mourning a pet/friend and respecting the life of a market and/or wild animal.