Tuesday, August 16, 2005

On saying goodbye

Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven are touching tributes to our furry companions, and wonderful selections for helping a child cope with the loss of a pet. Though these books tug at the heart strings, Rylant has a light touch and paints a beautiful picture that is as comforting as it is imaginative.

"When dogs go to Heaven, they don't need wings because God knows that dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields." But that's just the beginning of the adventures a dog will have in Dog Heaven. There are lakes filled with playful geese, angel children (because "God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world"), and dog biscuits in the shape of cats and squirrels. Heaven is not short on care or love, either. At night dogs sleep on fluffy cloud beds, where they are watched over--untouched by bad dreams. Dogs who once had homes remember the people who loved them, as Dog Heaven is "full of memories". Dogs who had no homes on earth are given homes in Dog Heaven furnished with couches to lie on, bowls with their names on them, and many reminders that they are good dogs. Rylant's descriptions are soothing, reassuring young readers that their beloved dog will be happy in Dog Heaven. After all, "It is where dogs belong, near God who made them."

Cat Heaven is written in beautiful, litlting rhyme. Similar to Dog Heaven, a cat's journey to heaven is a joyful and leisurely romp through fields full of butterflies to chase. When they arrive, a waiting angel gives them a bowl of milk. Cat Heaven is full to bursting with things a cat adores--trees, every imaginable kitty toy, and angel laps for napping.
"And when cats are hungry,
there's God's kitchen counter
all covered with
white kitty dishes,
full of tuna and salmon
and mounds of sardines,
and wonderful little pink fishes."

Cats are every bit as spoiled in heaven as they are on earth, being permitted to sleep on God's bed at night and wander with Him in the garden during the day. Cats never forget the people they loved, either.
"She will watch the old house
where she once lived and wandered,
and the people who loved her inside."

In the final lines of the book, Rylant leaves us with another lovely vision of feline contentment:
"All cats love Heaven,
they know the way there,
they know where the angel cats fly.
They'll run past the stars
and the moon and the sun...
...to curl up with God in the sky."

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