EDITOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know needs help coping with the death of a cat, dog or any pet, we suggest visiting the Lap of Love pet loss resources page.
After the kids went to sleep and the house was quiet, a small furry four-legged friend would creep toward the living room.
Lizzy was the smallest and most passive of our three pets, therefore, the low animal on the totem pole. She scared easily and spent much of her time in the corner of a windowsill or under beds. The kids’ bedtime was when she would make her grand appearance.
Every night, after I put the last child to bed, I’d collapse on the couch and watch TV. Like clockwork, Lizzy cautiously made her way toward the couch. She would sit at the corner and look up at me, waiting for an invitation. Many times, I pretended not to see her though I’d watch her from the corner of my eye. Sometimes, she would lift her paw and gently nudge my leg. After acknowledging her, I patted the space next to me. Lizzy would jump up into the area and purr as I scratched her head.
Several months ago, Lizzy lost weight. Already a skinny cat, the weight loss was quick and dramatic. I was sick with COVID-19 at the time and couldn’t take her to the vet, so my brother-in-law made the many trips back and forth, relaying the vet’s messages. The vet said several things could be wrong, but diagnosed diabetes. Lizzy was given a new routine of receiving insulin shots in the morning and evening after her meals.
Lizzy belonged to my teenage daughter and she took up the responsibility of giving Lizzy her shots in the evening. I took the morning shift. Every day, I crawled under the bed to fetch Lizzy by sliding her out. While she was in my arms, I made my way into the kitchen while petting her. I readied the insulin shot before I brought her in and would hold her tightly in my arms while injecting her. After petting her some more, she’d run off to find a hiding spot. We did this for a month.
At first, Lizzy responded well. She became stronger and put on a little weight. It thrilled my daughter. And, it thrilled me that my daughter was happy, because she’s had a rough couple of years. Lizzy became her comfort animal as life and circumstances delivered blow after blow.
We buy our cat food at Costco, and as most Costco customers know, a product you’ve enjoyed for years might suddenly vanish. This happened with Lizzy’s food. We bought other food for her, but she didn’t like it. Lizzy was a picky eater. Because she was already underweight and on insulin, and could only receive insulin after eating, her health quickly deteriorated. Once we could order the food she liked, it was too late.
I contacted the vet, but the vet was in surgery that day and couldn’t see any animals. I was told if she needed immediate help to take her to the animal emergency room. When I walked toward Lizzy, she ran and jumped up on the windowsill. I assumed if she was healthy enough to jump that high that we could wait another day for the vet. So, I went on with my busy day. When I came home later that afternoon, it was apparent Lizzy was in horrible shape and needed immediate help.
My daughter wrapped Lizzy up into her favorite blanket and we drove to the animal emergency room. As the vet checked her out, he said frankly, “This cat is dying.” I explained her treatments and her history and asked if there were any way they could help her, but he shook his head. I asked him if we could talk it over and he left the room.
With one hand slowly petting Lizzy, my other hand made circles on my daughter’s back, trying to comfort her. My daughter’s heart was breaking as we looked upon her sick cat. I asked her what she wanted to do, and in a broken and brave voice, my daughter replied, “I don’t want Lizzy to suffer.” And we agreed to put Lizzy to sleep.
I act indifferent about the animals in my house and it probably annoys my family. The truth is, I care about them. While standing in the backroom at the animal emergency room, I was tasked with two important jobs. One, I had to be strong for my daughter and give her the dad she needs. And two, I needed to comfort Lizzy in her last minutes of life. It was a moment that I didn’t predict would be as hard as it was.
We drove home later with my daughter holding an empty blanket. Many tears were shed on the way. After arriving at home, her mom was waiting with open arms and held her close. The next few days were hard as every room shared memories of Lizzy.
After all the kids were asleep and the house was quiet in those next nights, there was no Lizzy to jump into the space next to me on the couch. I had no idea that a pet’s death would affect me as hard as it did. During the more intense moments, I was sad because my daughter was heartbroken about the loss of her kitty. And she was my focus. In the quiet time of the night, I was sad because my moment of Zen included a little purring cat and she was gone.
As the days passed, we moved forward and the other animals in the house, another cat and a dog, showed up in situations that normally would have been Lizzy’s job. It’s as if they knew we were grieving, or maybe they were grieving too. Our pets have an important job that I didn’t realize they held before. They are more than a living plaything, but also a friend and comforter. Something they’ve known all along.