Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost edited by Barbara Abercrombie

I should have known better than to read this book. Old Yeller, My Dog Skip, Marley & Me, Eight Below, even The Fox and the Hound..I’m a sucker for a good hearted animal book or movie. This book has lots of heart, but all 21 stories have the same ending so be sure to grab a box of tissues.

Despite having closure, every story is about dealing with the grief from the death or loss of a pet. Therefore, this would be the perfect book for a vet to suggest to someone having trouble with their loss, or even for a friend or family member to share with a loved one after the death of a beloved cat or dog. There are even a few horse stories and one pig included in the collection.

I found myself underlining passages like this one from “Hope” by Robin Romm: “…when a parent dies, the loss is often too large for the mind to comprehend. But when a pet dies, we understand it. We see the finality. We experience the loss in small, more accessible ways.”

Or this from “Mr. T’s Heart” by Jane Smiley: “We stayed with him long enough to recognize that he was not there, that his body was like a car he had driven and now had gotten out of…We have to experience the absence of life in order to accept it.”

Despite the loss of pets, we also see the writers facing other turmoils in life for which the pet might have provided some type of foundation – divorce, the death of a spouse or relative, moving to a new state or new home, or a new job, and also how children are affected. They also face the ridicule of others who obviously don’t know the joy a pet can give to our lives. “Have you killed another pet yet?” one coworker says to one of the writers, attempting a sad joke. Just as all dogs and cats are different and have a different effect on our lives, the way we process their absence is also different and that’s what makes these stories so unique.

I particularly enjoyed two stories by married couple Judith Lewis and Billy Mernit. Each of their tales is about a different pet and from a different point of view, but the bond between the two is indeed special. “This Dog’s Life” by Anne Lamott (acclaimed author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life), the only author I’d ever read before this anthology, was also one of my favorites.

This bit from “Winesburg” by the editor, Barbara Abercrombie, pretty much sums it up for the reader: “But here’s the thing about losing an animal that I have had to learn over and over again – when I let myself grieve I come to the end of it. And finally the tears open my heart to the animals who follow.”

These 21 tales are special and unique. Just be warned. The tales aren’t always wagging.

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