The loss of a pet
I wrote this last Wednesday night, the night before we took our lovely cat to the vet to be put to sleep. The grief and depth of emotion that comes with the loss of a pet sometimes isn’t taken all that seriously. For example, I could take a day off work to attend the funeral of a distant relative and no one would bat an eyelid. Time off to care for pets or to grieve them, however, is often not accepted. It doesn’t seem to matter that they were a part of your life every single day, often for many years.
The night before
This time tomorrow, I won’t have a pet.
My cat, Puddin’, has a growth on his liver. His skin is a golden yellow. So are his gums and the delicate area around his bright green eyes. His liver is failing and his heart is struggling.
When he came to us
It was about 10 years or so ago that this now-14-year-old cat came to live with us after being unceremoniously dumped in the street when someone else was tired of him.
We tried halfheartedly to re-home him but not many people will take an adult cat. Especially not a skinny, flea-ridden adult cat so anxious that he won’t even eat without a person standing next to him. Even at 3 am, he’d wake Carl to come and stand next to his full bowl of food before he’d eat it.
Slowly, his anxiety dissipated as his weight increased. His black and white coat grew glossy and his comfort was obvious in the way he’d butt his head against us for attention. He’d climb across my shoulders and try to swipe food. You’d find him at the foot of the bed, preventing you from stretching out in case you woke him.
By my side
He was the first pet we decided on together. When my life was filled with constant stress and worry, he was a constant reassurance. His warm weight by my side or on my lap was a comfort. When grief threatened to swallow me, there were times when his presence reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Later, during my last pregnancy, he kept close. He was even there when I was in early labour, watching with his little face filled with concern.
You couldn’t ever put down a box or shopping bag without him climbing onto (or into) it. Curious, indeed. He’s made us cry with laughter at his antics and driven us up the wall with his fondness for midnight snacks. Cats are supposed to always land on their feet but Pudd is the exception to that rule. You’ve never seen a clumsier cat. Every time he’s fallen off something, he’s looked as confused by it as we are. He’s not graceful in the slightest. We’ve often wondered if he’s part piggy, the way he plods around and wants to eat everything in sight.
He loves hot chips, the saltier the better. Anything you’re eating, he wants a go at. He’ll help himself (yes, to your actual plate) and is happy to be spoon-fed leftover cereal milk. His attempts to twirl through our ankles when carrying a BBQ chook into the house are legendary. Even now, his appetite is voracious.
He eats and eats but I can feel every knob on his spine. His liver isn’t doing it’s job; he can’t absorb the nutrients he needs. While he is still eating and wanting affection, google tells me, he’s probably not in great pain. But, the vet tells me, he probably feels like shit (my words, not the vet’s- he was much more professional!)
The hardest choice- when to put your cat down?
How do you know when to put your cat down? It’s a really hard decision to make. Our vet took into consideration his age, the fact that there were no more non-invasive treatment options, the fact that surgery would likely not work and possibly kill him and generally what was best for Puddin’. Once quality of life goes down, we agreed, it’d be time to make the call.
So, we’ve faced with the decision and we’ve made it. He is booked in. This time tomorrow, he will have been put to sleep. Thinking about it fills me with dread. I have had to have a much loved pet put down once before. Another passed away at home after an illness, on the day we were going to take him in to be euthanised.
The grief is real
The level of grief I’m feeling is difficult to articulate. I find that the love we feel for pets is widely misunderstood. People underestimate how strong the bond can be and how painful it is to lose them. And many people will hide their feelings and their grief for fear of ridicule or mockery.
But fuck that. And if you have ever uttered the words “but its JUST a cat” (or dog or bird or whatever it was) then fuck you, too. I’m dreading tomorrow night because I will have to say goodbye to a little guy who trusts me unreservedly. Who has been happy to see me and spend time with me every single day.
A cat who has been a source of comfort and joy (and scratched furniture) and who has never missed an opportunity to rub his white furry body against whatever black clothing I’m wearing. He has met me at the front door every time I’ve come home for a decade, except the last couple of days- he’s tried to but he’s just too unwell.
He will leave yet another kitty-shaped hole in my heart when he goes. I can already feel it forming. I am so lucky to have been his human.