You may (or may not) have heard the story of Prancer, the demon-possessed Chihuahua whose foster mom posted an ad on Facebook, trying to find him a forever home because she was tired, as was her whole family. She used such colorful phrases as “a 13 pound rage machine”, “a vessel for a traumatized Victorian child that now haunts our home”, and “a Chucky doll in a dog’s body” to give readers a feel for Prancer’s personality. She also mentioned that, if you were married, you really didn’t need to apply . . . unless you hated your husband. To summarize, Prancer was a “neurotic, man hating, animal hating, children hating” dog that looked like a gremlin.
Surprisingly enough, Prancer did find a home—a very good, very appropriate home with a woman who met Prancer’s criteria for a peaceful co-existence . . . no men, no children, and no other animals in the house. They were perfect for each other and, in her words, he was helping her heal after several years of struggling.
And that, my friends, is the amazing superpower of animals. By their very existence they can help us heal from the afflictions brought about by Life. It’s why you see therapy dogs brought into hospitals and nursing homes as a source of comfort for the patients and their families. It’s why you see people who have lost their significant other adopting a pet when they never had one before. Without expectations, judgements, or demands, these devoted creatures provide the companionship and comfort people so desperately need in difficult times.
Over the years we’ve been privileged to experience that at the funeral home in Savannah. Just because Death walks with us every single day doesn’t mean we grow accustomed to the loss and the grief that follows in his footsteps. There were days we would venture out onto the employee carport, settle into a chair, and lavish attention on the current funeral home pet. For several years it was Abby, an extremely protective monster of a dog whose deep-throated growl would strike fear into the hearts of anyone who was in places they shouldn’t be after dark. Think Hound of the Baskervilles minus the mystery. But all you had to do was speak to her and she would immediately recognize your voice and your status as friend rather than foe. She was followed by Charlie the cat (named after Charlie the cat in the children’s book “Charlie” . . . not Charlie Baker the grave crew person) and Not Charlie who from the back looked exactly like Charlie. You only knew the difference when he turned and faced you . . . at which point you would think, “Oh, that’s not Charlie . . .” They were followed by Paisley, the most sociable of all, a black lab puppy that adopted us and then disappeared. We actually believe she was picked up during a visitation by some well-meaning family who thought she was a stray in need of a home. But that didn’t make her loss hurt any less.
Magically, each of these four-legged friends could take the worst possible day and make it more bearable. All they had to do was curl up beside us or rub against our legs and allow us to stroke their fur and tell them all our troubles . . . or at the very least just enjoy their company. But isn’t that how it is with most all of our furry family members? They have this uncanny ability to sense when something is wrong and to show us the love we need at exactly the right moment in exactly the right way. And the only thing they ask—but don’t really expect—is that we will love them in return.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.