Monday, November 5, 2012

Coping With Pet Loss

I did a lot of reading this weekend. Since some of my more recent books were fairly "heavy" reads, I decided to take it light and read another book by the author of Dewey the Library Cat. No, not kid's lit but a heartwarming memoir about a cat that a struggling Iowa town all fell in love with. I know, my pathetic description sounds, well, pathetic, but it really is a good read, especially if you are an animal lover. Anyway, I digress.

I lost my much loved Siamese a little over a year ago, and have finally gotten to a place where I can talk about him without crying...much. But the stories I read in this book have stirred me to tell my own. I posted here about his diagnosis with kidney failure when I found out in August of last year, and I only updated the post to reveal that he had passed away.
We tried to help Tai towards the end of his illness by giving him fluids and Pepcid, knowing that these were palliative measures, not cures. This went on for about four weeks and it became apparent that these interventions were not working to keep him comfortable. On a Monday afternoon, I had a long and tear-filled conversation with our vet about his final plans. She had been there with us through the whole ordeal, and I wanted it to be her who helped him on his journey. She was off the next day, so we planned to take him in on Wednesday.

Tuesday morning, he was responsive but hardly moving from his spot under the end table in the living room. I picked him up, and brought him into our bathroom where I had been keeping him during the day while I was at work. We have another cat and a dog, and I didn't want him bothered. For whatever reason, it occurred to me to bring him a heating pad and so that's where I left him, cuddled up in a blanket in the corner, with the heating pad underneath. I kissed his nose, told him I loved him and left for work.

That afternoon, we arrived home, and as usual, my first thing upon walking in the door was to go check on Tai. This afternoon, though, I really did not have a good feeling. I can't explain it, but I swear I knew at some point in the day that he would be dead when I got home. And, true to my premonition, he was. Given the state of his body, I'm pretty sure he passed away moments after we left the house. I was crushed by this, as I had always said that I would never, ever, leave him when the time came. The fact that he died alone on a bathroom floor absolutely cut me to the quick - he was supposed to die in my arms, surrounded with love.

But that is what cats want when their time is up - to die in peace, alone and un-bothered. So while the selfish part of me mourned what didn't happen, the part of me that loved him was happy that he got what he wanted. The really ridiculous and sentimental part of me told myself (and I still believe it) that he loved me enough to have spared me the agony of the trip to the vet, the needle and the decision to end a life. My sweet husband wrapped him in a blanket and we took his body to the vet for cremation.

The Saturday after Tai died, I was heading to my mother's house because being at home without Tai was painful. On the way over, I heard a radio spot about a free adoption weekend at the Charleston Animal Society and the thought of getting a new cat occurred to me. Pushing it out of my mind immediately, I kept driving. Not five minutes later, I found myself stuck in traffic, not far from the shelter. Sitting at a complete stop, I heard the spot again. This time my thought was, "I can just go look. I'd rather do that than sit in traffic anyway." Famous last words.

I never meant to get another cat so quickly. If you had asked before this happened if I would have been one to do that, I would have replied to the negative. I do not have a problem with this because we all handle grief and loss differently, but I just didn't think it was something I would do. But I believe in the connection between certain people and certain animals and as I strolled through the shelter, looking a snotty hot mess, only one cat even looked at me. I placed one fingertip on the glass and he stood on his hind legs, reaching one paw up to the spot where my finger was. Sold.

Tai had chosen me in that exact way thirteen years earlier, you see. He came from a breeder, not a shelter, but it was he who came to me while I was standing there looking. It was the exact same gesture too - I had my fingertip on the cage where he was rolling around being ridiculous and he stood on hind legs and reached for that same finger. I was sold instantly then too. Now, I know this particular gesture is not exactly rare or uncommon but it spoke to me, so I went with it. I called my husband, who at this point would have agreed to have a mountain lion if it meant the crying stopped, and so "Brownie"as he was known as the shelter, was coming home with me.

It's been different, having a shelter cat - he's still a little spooky and does his absolute best to convince you that he is absolutely starving to death even though he's lugging around some extra poundage. He doesn't have that affable dog-like personality that Tai did but he's super sweet and affectionate, with plenty of cute quirks to laugh at, almost daily. One animal doesn't replace another obviously, but I believe that there is a place in our hearts that is only for our special animals, no matter their species or breed. Pets are the only personal relationship we enter into with the full knowledge that we will likely outlive them and yet we do it anyway, putting them into that tender space inside, knowing it will probably get hurt. But it's worth it. It's just so worth it.

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