Friday, December 7, 2012

Life and Loss

Did you know that dealing with the loss of a pet has become an accepted thing? It's true! There's regular support groups, therapy sessions, tons of books and websites dedicated to helping regular people overcome the loss of their beloved pet. Pet grief has gone from "why are you sad, it was just a cat (dog, ferret, bird, etc)" or "suck it up" or, "just get a new one" to a recognized  psychological issue that should be handled with empathy and respect, and is equally important a s the loss of any important human friend or family member.

I haven't put any effort into researching this, it's just been noticed over the last few years while looking for other things. Glancing through health center offerings, specialties of various therapists, classes offered here and there...just an important trend I've noticed. Which is great! Pets are such an important part of our lives. Often, they are always around. Like many people, I interact with my pets constantly when I'm at home. They watch TV, help me cook, follow me around when I clean, sit on my lap during phone calls. Heck, Haiku loves to hang out in the bathroom with me. Our pets are everywhere. We arrange our lives for them. Where we live, what we choose to spend our money on, how we plan our schedules and even how we spend quality time with our other family members. Have to leave room for the cat and dog when cuddling on the sofa, right?


About 6 weeks ago I had to make the terrible decision to euthanize one of my horses. It was my mom's horse. One of her best friends. After she died, I kept Delta as happy and healthy as I could. I could never come close to replacing my mom, the person that she truly loved, but she liked me well enough and I gave her the best life I could. When I finally made the decision, I picked a day well in advance. I spoiled her, giving her every special treat I could, had family members visit one last time, and finally, rubbed her forehead as she slipped away.

With Delta it was easy to imagine what would happen next. She would be with my mom, and the two of them would forever meander through summer fields. They would be together. Probably her dog, Sparky, will tag along, keeping them company. It would always be warm and sunny, the trail always smooth, and their friends will always be there to stop and visit with.

And this is what I choose to believe. Because it makes me happy. It lessens my loss. Gives me something to look forward to, and yes, relieves the guilt I feel from those times I wasn't the best daughter, caregiver or friend. So I believe this, and no one can tell me otherwise. Because no one really knows one way or the other what happens after we're gone.

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Two days ago I had to make one of the most difficult choices of my life. Actually, I made the choice over 2 weeks ago, but Wednesday I had to go through with it. I had to let my best friend of over 12 years go. It was almost unbearable. We were lucky and our vet came to our house. When I heard the car door close, I thought "I bet if I shoot him, he'll go away". Which is probably why I don't own a gun. And despite the fact that Crack has been a very sick cat for 8 years, and I knew that she was starting to fail beyond what we could fix with all the medications, tests and therapies we had, and despite the fact that I had made the decision, and despite the fact that the vet is a friend of my husband's, who has often come to our house, I was furious that today he was coming to take away my cat.

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Crack's mother was given to us as a rescue from the cruel suburbs of Baltimore. Her owners had failed to spay her or keep her inside, and weren't happy when she became pregnant at 7 months old. They threatened horrible things about her, and their neighbors brought the little patched tabby to us. Baby gave birth to 5 kittens one HOT August day. In the garage. Which we had closed up so no cats could get in and bake to death. One kitten, Tinkerbelle, was born behind the work table. The other 4? In the rafters, of course. Cracks little black tail and tiny white foot dangling over the side is the only way we spotted the kittens. A quick rescue and trip to the vet later and all five kittens were happy and healthy and relocated to a more suitable place!

All of the kittens (But the little black and white sweetheart) had their mother's personality. Kinda evil. A bit sadistic. Wildly entertaining. Just a bit scary. We heard stories from their new homes. Tinkerbelle would steal the dog bones and drag them behind the sofa, waiting to smack the dog's nose when he tried to get his bone. Gremlin was a tack room cat. She liked to hide amongst the saddle racks and leap out, scaring riders as they came to gather up their equipment. Another liked to wait for nighttime bathroom trips and rush out, attacking her owner's feet.

And Crack? From day one I had to have her. She was playful, but in a weird way. She played fetch. Reliably and frequently. With pennies. She didn't like dimes, or quarters, just pennies. And she would chase them down, bring them back, demand they be thrown again for anyone and everyone.

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She didn't really like other cats, but she liked kittens. Certain kittens. Kittens that were like her. She would mentor them to be sinisterly fun like she was. She was also a good teacher for dogs, and several times we had friends bring their exuberant pups for some manner lessons with Crack. Crack had no problems teaching them to be respectful of cats!

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I do not suffer fools, puny human.

Crack didn't take nothin' from no-one! She taught me how handle cats with questionable temperament  how to keep them from becoming aggressive, and how to deal with it if they did. When I became a Certified Feline Master Groomer, Crack was right there to help me practice my skills, test new products, become an expert with Soft Paws and provided endless anecdotes for me to share with my clients. Many, many people heard a Crack Story, told to reassure them that I could handle and understand their cat, or to reassure them that they weren't bad owners - heck, I'm a CFMG and can't trim my own cat's nails at home! (True story.) Or whatever the day called for.

But most of all, Crack was my friend. She greeted me at the door when I came home. She cuddled with me on the sofa. She knew exactly one hour before mealtime and would relentless remind us it's almost time to feed the cat. 


Did I mention she liked to be involved with everything?

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I'm lucky to have had her for so many years. She had gotten a rare microbacterial infection that would never go away. Our vets went out of their way to research, look for treatments, try to find a way to make her better. Sometimes they would find something, but nothing really helped. Nothing would be able to cure her, but we learned how to keep her mostly healthy and mostly held the infection in check. Apparently it's gotten common enough to be talked about at conferences, but no one has come up with anything better than the protocols our vets used. No one's ever fully recovered. And Crack was at the longer end of the life span. So for 8 years, it always felt like at any time, the disease would worsen and we'd lose her. Many times it was close, my husband always telling me 'one more day' and she would get better. But I always knew she wouldn't go peacefully in her sleep. That I would have to decide to put her down. Mostly, I tried not to think about it.

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The last few weeks I've tried to spent as much time with her as I could. Spoiling her with extra treats. Taking her outside to look at the squirrels and sniff the fresh air. Trying hard to maximize my time with her..without pissing her off. Because she didn't know. And things happen on Crack's terms. So I took advantage of her when she was being cuddly, even if it was inconvenient at the time. Even if the book I was reading was really good and I couldn't wait to see what happened. I could wait, if it meant some extra purrs. You bet.

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Crack CAN haz cheesburgers!

And her last day, she wasn't feeling well. She didn't really want to play or cuddle or bap the puppy. I let her be. Only taking what affection was offered. It was hard. I just wanted to hold her. wouldn't make her happy. I took Haiku to a friend's house. And my husband and I spent that last bit of time sitting together with our little cat. She went easily and peacefully. The best one could hope for. We petted her as she feel asleep, and she passed with her head on my hand. And then my little 'larger than life, personality-plus' cat was gone.

It's amazing how big a whole a little 10 pound cat can leave. There's no one to greet me at the door. No one to smack Haiku when she's being over excited. Or in paw-reach. You know, whatever. No one to let me know that's it's 5:30-which-is-almost-an-hour-away-from-it-being-time-for-dinner. No one to suddenly jump between me and my book. No one to causally reeeeeach over and knock something off the table. The house just seems so empty. I keep wondering where she is, if she's gotten into something, why she isn't trying to steal my dinner, I'd better give her pills before I forget...and on and on.

We're headed to Florida for a few days. I thought hard about the timing. Did I want to go away right after? Would it make things easier? Or would I just be sad while we were away? Turns out, I don't really want to be home right now. Hopefully being somewhere totally new will make it easier. Allow the loss to soften a bit. I have my 2 favorite Siberian Cats to groom today. Then packing, taking Haiku for her sleepover with her second family, and then it will be time to go. I'm glad for the distance. And soon I'll be able to remember my bad little cat without weeping. But not today.

Everyone has their own ways to deal with loss. And no way is better or worse than the other, it just depends on who you are and what works for you. I'll not be joining a support group, or seeing a therapist. I can't begin to imagine getting another cat. I choose avoidance. I'll work hard, go out of town, avoid talking about it, after this blog post that is! I'll even avoid talking to certain people for a few days. (Sorry Dad). I need to give things a little bit of time to smooth over before I can pick them up. I do thank everyone for their kindness, empathy, shared stories, pictures and hugs. It means so much to me. It really does. For right now, I'm not ready to acknowledge it yet. Thank you.

I miss my cat.

1 comment:

  1. Pet lovers still have feelings for their pets, I remember one of my friend had a cat and she lost her. My friend didn't eat anything for 2 days and she does miss her cat till now.