When I first met Zippy he was a mature, chestnut-colored and very friendly male equine who had come to live with my neighbors. They had created an ample fenced-in, grassy pasture next to my property, plus a neat horse-shed where Zippy could both sleep or take safe refuge should the weather turn bad.
Earlier this year Zippy reached the admirable old age (for a horse) of thirty, and he had begun to show his years. But neither I nor any of my neighbors were prepared to see him leave us, for him to die. Yet, in recent weeks he had been beset by several severe conditions. Perhaps we should have suspected, perhaps we should have known.
A couple of weeks ago, the vets’ diagnosis of cancer seemed serious. But Zippy had survived earlier infections and illnesses, and somehow he had come through them okay.
But not this time; the cancer was far too advanced, the vets said. And Zippy was too old and too infirm, and in pain.
Thus it was that a couple of weeks ago my next door neighbor contacted veterinarians whose specialty is equine care and medicine. Their role was to inject Zippy with a serum which would stop his heart and end his life.
That afternoon was sunny; it was a temperate late September day. A number of neighbors, including several children who had known and loved Zippy gathered to comfort him and…say good-bye.
I had ventured over earlier in the day to say my farewells; I did not wish to be there when the vet had to put him down. Several other neighbors were there, too. I embraced his beautiful head and patted him, then planted a light kiss on his forehead. I looked into his eyes; he seemed to know that something was going on—so many human beings attending him. What indeed was happening, he must have thought.
At that time my neighbors were expecting the vets soon. But it was much later when they came, and at the very moment I opened my front door to walk my cocker spaniel Jasper after his supper, I cast a glance towards the adjoining pasture just in time to see the fatal injection and Zippy fall that one last time, his heart stilled, to the ground. It is and was a vision which remains with me as I close my eyes—it was a vision I wished to avoid, but could not.
My cocker Jasper somehow noticed it, also. You see, Jasper and Zippy had one of those special animal friendships that is unique in the animal kingdom. Ever since Zippy came to live with my neighbors, my cockers, both Robert before Jasper, and Jasper alone since 2018, have befriended him. Each morning and evening when I would walk Jasper, he would urgently pull my leash in the direction of Zippy’s corral. Then, he would scoot under the fence as Zippy galloped over excitedly, and the two would touch noses. It was one of those regular events which convinces you that God’s Creation is good and that animals do sense goodness in other creatures.
Seeing Zippy brought down by the injection I walked Jasper towards my neighbor’s fence. Jasper was whining as we went and pulling hard on his leash. I think he knew something was amiss.
One of my neighbors had dug a grave for Zippy in his familiar pasture, where his human companions plan to plant flowers and perhaps erect some type of memorial. That afternoon I couldn’t stop Jasper’s whining; he desperately wanted to approach the body of his dead friend, but I would not let him get that close.
Every morning since then, when I first take Jasper out for his accustomed jaunt, he heads directly for that pasture. Now, there is a small mound of freshly-turned dirt over the plot where Zippy is buried, but that doesn’t seem to deter Jasper. It’s as if he is looking for his friend in the last place where he saw him. And he accompanies his search usually with a muted whine: “Where is my friend? What has happened to him?”
I will admit that witnessing Jasper’s response has only heightened my own sadness. Zippy was part of my little rural neighborhood and had become a dear friend of my cocker spaniel. Certainly, horses usually only live between twenty-five and thirty years. And Zippy had lived a good, long life, appreciated and loved by us humans, as well as by at least one canine denizen.
Many years ago, when I was in my teens, my sister begged my parents for a horse. It seemed back then that many children desired horses as pets. After all we were raised when equine companions were prominent both in film and on television. I still remember Trigger (Roy Rogers’ stallion) and Champion (the graceful stead of Gene Autry), and who can forget “My Friend Flicka” or Silver, the extremely intelligent solid-white beauty who accompanied the “Lone Ranger” everywhere?
Those horses were almost human, or so it seemed to us. They knew what we were thinking and were always there if the human hero needed assistance that only his trusted mount might offer.
So, my father acquired a handsome pinto, named Patches. Like my neighbor, Dad built a small horse shed for him. And I can remember that one thing Patches would do is let one of our small cocker spaniels ride on his back (well, maybe with a little help from one of us children!). My sister has photographs, all taken about sixty years ago, which capture those memories.
As I bade farewell to Zippy and observed Jasper’s own special reaction, those thoughts of long-ago came back to me as in a reverie.
Back in 2019 I conducted a round-table discussion with two well-versed academics from England, and one from the United States (plus myself), on what happens to animals after death. It was a topic addressed by writer Dr. John Warwick Montgomery thirty years ago in 1993, and published in the New Oxford Review as “Fido in Heaven?” Our more recent symposium, titled “Do Dogs Go to Heaven?,” was later aired in the New English Review in April 2020. After ample back-and-forth and various objections addressed, we came to the conclusion that animal souls as they are not human do not enjoy the Beatific Vision promised to those who die in God’s graces. But as they are His creatures and are called by Him “good,” and they act according to their created natures (and are incapable of sin), that neither do their animal souls disappear into nothingness. Rather, even not experiencing the blindingly joyous vision of Beatitude, yet their animal souls are somehow present on some level glorifying the God who created them and surrounding the human companions for whom they provided such delight and comfort when on earth.
I like to think that is Zippy’s happy fate, just as it is for the several cocker spaniels who have allowed me to keep them company during their short lives and who have provided immeasurable and invaluable comfort, devotion and love to me over the years. They are and were, as I call them, God’s barking angels, just as Zippy was that elegant and handsome equine companion for my neighbors.
We shall, I believe, feel their presence once again.
(The photograph above is of Zippy in happier days)
This piece was posted at My Corner on Oct. 13, 2023
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.