“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit,
you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
by Billy Collins
The way the dog trots out the front door
without a hat
or an umbrella, without any money or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart with milky admiration.
Jimmy Stewart Reading Poem “Bo” on Johnny Carson Show 1981
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A Tribute to Butter Video
A Tribute to Butter
by Cary Nulton
We as veterinarians learn very early in our careers to expect the unexpected. Twelve years ago I received a call from one of my clients. She was walking her dog in Central Park and came upon a cat. Both of his right limbs had been severed, and she didn’t know what to do. In an instant an ordinary day became my worst day. Cruelty cases are the most painful for any of us.
Of course, I told her to bring him in so that I could end his pain as quickly as possible. She arrived at the hospital with the cat in an Easter basket. Dreading the worst, I lifted the blanket. My eyes were met with a gaze of complete trust. He began to purr as I examined his wounds, and the lump in my throat began to swell until I couldn’t hold back my tears. We always wonder how people could be capable of such cruelty, but staring into his eyes made me marvel at his ability to forgive me for being part of the human race. It was as if I were being touched by Grace.
Well it turns out “Butter” was also a survivor. My colleagues wanted to call him “Tripod,” but I was adamantly against it. He would not be named for his disability, but instead for a rich and delicious treat. We had to amputate his right forelimb, but by an act of God he had only lost his toes on the back foot. We were able to save the limb with a series of rather uncomfortable bandage changes which he weathered with full stoicism.
He came home with me, and he’s been the butter on my bread ever since. The name, “Butter,” stuck, but over time he acquired a series of other titles. He could purr for hours, and often did so in the early hours of the morning when I could not fall asleep. Formally he became “Mr. Butterpurr.”
I since married, and my husband quickly adopted him as “Favorite-Cat-Don’t-Tell-The-Others.” We were most impressed with his welcoming nature. “Ambassador Butterpurr” was first in line for introductions, be it man or beast, despite the inherent risks. Beanie, an elderly little dog with odor issues, came for a visit one day. Butter hopped over for his usual sniff, but immediately began retching. To our amazement he tried again! (Sadly, the same results ensued). We took in a little calico from the dance studio who never did accept his warm advances graciously. She earned her nickname, “Scucci-Q-Tips,” fending him off with her lightening-fast tiny white paws. He seemed to take it all in stride.
Make no mistake, our boy was no invalid. He was the only cat who could ever navigate the windowsill without knocking over the flowers and votives. He could land on a dime, unlike the others who would skid across surfaces taking as many objects and papers with them as possible. “World Heavyweight Butter” was ready to take on George Forman with his famous “rope-a-dope” technique. He sure knew how to land his south-paw! Don’t mess with him if his belly was empty. He was first in line for food and could propel himself like a rocket to his bowl at the first sound of a can opening.
Butter had a sense of humor, or at least he indulged ours. He was kind to his little brother, Cubby, who needed a warm body and a good washing from time to time. He played with abandon, putting the other cats to shame with his speed and agility. He knew how to enjoy a good nap, an orange sprawl ready for his centerfold photo.
His pictures line the walls of my exam room, not because he’s the favorite cat, but because he was such a willing subject for the photographer. She was delighted with him. “He was better than the professionals.” My patients (cats and dogs alike) tend to stare at one photo in particular, a close-up of his beautiful face. I wonder if they see in his eyes what I see. I don’t doubt it.
It’s hard for me to look at his pictures this week. We lost him, of all things, on Easter weekend. His first cancer was diagnosed over a year ago, so you’d think I’d be prepared. He battled his disease with the courage and dignity of the champion we knew him to be, but when he grew tired, I knew it was my turn.
I was so afraid that in his moment of greatest need I wouldn’t measure up to him, that I couldn’t be the friend to him that he’d been to me all these years. He rested his chin on my hand, he closed his eyes, and he just purred. As I was flooded with memories, I realized that this beautiful animal had taught me everything I need to know about my own humanity. I promised him to do my best, and I let him go.
These are trying times, but Spring is here. God is in all of us, and every day is a gift. Butter would want us to remember that.