Chamba in a Box – Part II: Dog Dust

Ted, Johnm, and Chamba

Today Daphne, a friend and neighbor, invited me sometime to see her “cat mausoleum” where she keeps “the remains of three beloved animals” on a shelf unit in her condo.

Lynn, a former girlfriend, has a “shrine” with ashes and relics of her dog named Lady, who I gave to her as a gift nearly 16 years ago.

My views are still shifting regarding how we fetishize “leftover protein”–as I used to call it, and sometimes still do.

About ten years ago Ellen’s Cameroonian cat, Twam, was attacked by a dog in Mount Pleasant (a neighborhood in Washington, DC). Twam died as a result of the injuries.

Ellen and I were both fresh back from the Peace Corps. She was looking for work in DC. I was traveling around the country on a motorcycle with very few possessions to weigh me down.

I was with Ellen at the vet’s office and helped her make some tough decisions: not to resuscitate the doomed cat, and not to have the cat individually cremated and the ashes returned to her.

I imagined the burden of, and the irrational sentimental attachment to yet another useless object–Twam’s remains. I felt like I did her a favor by influencing her away from the “wrong” decision.

The day Chamba died I thought of Ellen and Twam as I was making the opposite decision for Chamba’s remains. I also thought of my grandfather, whose ashes I carried the last 50 yards to where they were buried in Sioux City, Iowa, just a few years ago.

In Sioux City, my hyper-rational self was shut out of the cemetery. I was solemn and extremely grateful for the land that was “wasted” so that the living could contemplate the dead. In that moment, the cemetery didn’t seem wasteful, scary, or sad to me, but sacred—if you can imagine a sacred without the supernatural.

As for Chamba’s remains, my wish is to one day return to Cameroon, to a place I called “Dog Mountain” (because I never learned what the locals called it), and scatter the ashes there.

Ted, John, and Chamba
John, Chamba, and me in the Bali Ngemba Forest Reserve, Cameroon

Ideally, my friend John (the other guy in the photo) would join me. Although we only went to Dog Mountain once, I remember it as one of the best and most beautiful of Chamba’s days.

As for holding onto leftover protein: I still regard it as an irrational sentimental attachment. But I can live with that contradiction; my left brain no longer wins every argument.

Now that I’m the owner of a box of dog dust, I may find out whether it makes a difference in how I accept this loss, other losses, and losses to come.

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