I raise small animals as a hobby. We have a flock of Rhode Island Reds and an assortment of guinea fowl, which my wife enjoys more than I can comprehend. Raising them isn't much work. And it reminds daily of the importance of commitment. Simple things matter: Food, water and a clean place to sleep. I can provide these things. It feels good to do so.
A month or so ago, a farm raising animals to work with troubled kids had a baby Emu it couldn't raise. We volunteered to take him in. We gave him the small coop, the one we use for resuce birds and new chicks we incubate from the eggs of our own flocks. We put a chicken in with Moo Moo to keep him company.
Last night, Moo Moo died. He was in no distress the night before. There are no signs of violence to his body. He was properly fed and watered. And, although it's mid-April, it's still unseasonably cold in New England, so we still have a heat lamp on.
It is a sad day. Oh, birds don't return the same affection and loyalty as do dogs. Were one of my dogs to die, I would hardly find the means to simply go to work as if it were another workaday day. But I spent a lot of time with this bird, hoping to keep him as tame as his species permitted. When full grown, he would have been more than six feet tall, and he might weigh as much as 150 pounds. He followed me around as we worked to prepare the gardens this frigid farce of a spring.
So he is dead. And I am sad. And I am ready for another. Raising animals teaches much, including a certainly equanimity in the face of inevitable loss. How does an agnostic give thanks for time spent with an animal?