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Dealing With the Death of Our Pets: A True Story

My husband and I are huge pet lovers and started our life together by adopting two kittens who were litter mates. Having both come from families that included dog and cat siblings, it made perfect sense to start our family by adopting pets. After I began a career in pet rescue and adoption, our family grew. After seven years together (and no human kids), we had a brood of five cats: the two “originals,” another adoptee and two failed fosters. These were our children. This was our family.

Almost exactly one year ago, we had to deal with the hardest thing ever. The loss of not just one, but two of our cats, within less than two weeks of each other.

The first one we were sort of prepared for. He was one of our failed fosters who ended up being MUCH older than we thought when we took him in. The vet guessed 17. So, we knew we wouldn’t have him for long. He had already lived a long life and then had almost two years of the loveliest retirement an old tomcat could ask for with our family. He had thyroid disease. He had kidney disease. He had arthritis. And, any medication we tried to give him made him violently ill. There wasn’t much we could do besides love him and make him as comfortable as possible. We knew the end was near when he stopped using the litter box. He literally could not control his bladder any more, and his urine was just water – his kidneys had stopped functioning.

So, what could we do? This was a 19-year-old cat, who would just pee anywhere he was and could barely get up and down anymore. We decided that it was time to have him humanely euthanized. We didn’t want to subject him to more vet visits, more drugs, more diapers to contain the urine and (most importantly) more pain. Of course we second-guessed ourselves. We didn’t want to lose our boy. We loved him. But, every "what if," every "maybe," every "possibly" was for our benefit, not his.

There were several options for humane euthanasia. Most vets will provide the service after an exam to determine that it is indeed in the animal’s best interest. My vet knew our cat and his many issues and was able to give us options over the phone. Luckily, my vet also recommended a service that provided at-home euthanasia. We knew instantly that this was what we wanted to do. To be able to remove the stress of a car ride and vet visit and instead let him pass peacefully at home, completely free of pain? It wasn’t even a question.

Then we had to pick a date. In a situation like this, it was difficult to decide because although we knew he was suffering to an extent, he wasn’t dying that instant. We didn’t HAVE to do it immediately. During the consultation regarding the at-home euthanasia, they told us that the pet would "tell" us when they were ready to go. I thought that was a bunch of baloney. But, just two days after that conversation, this old cat climbed up onto my chest and just stared into my eyes. He didn’t do that. Ever. He was telling me that it was time. I cried and said, "OK." I set the appointment for the next day. That night, he slept on the bed, in between my husband and me. He didn’t do that. Ever. It really was time.

The actual euthanasia was, well, easy. The service vets that came and performed the procedure were wonderful and caring. We were able to be with him and say goodbye and hold him while he passed. It was quiet and calm (besides our crying). It was still one of the most difficult situations I have ever encountered, but we were at peace. At peace with when and how and why.

But, shortly after this, we noticed that one of our original boys didn’t seem himself. At first, I thought that he was depressed and missing his friend. But, he was lethargic like never before and had bad breath. He had dental health issues in the past, so I thought he may have a tooth that needed to be extracted and made an appointment to see my regular vet the following Monday, only five days later. By Friday, I knew he really wasn’t feeling well and warned my husband that if he still wasn’t right in the morning, we may need to take him to the emergency vet.

Saturday morning I went off to work and left my husband instructions to take the cat to the emergency vet and call me as soon as he knew anything. I was still pretty convinced this was a minor dental issue, but I was worried. When my husband called from the ER, they had run a couple of tests and it wasn’t looking good. This was NOT a minor dental issue. This was major. I hysterically left work with the instructions to the vet: DO ANYTHING YOU HAVE TO DO! SAVE MY BABY! I don’t know how I made the drive, but I got to the vet and decisions had to be made. This was a 7-year-old cat who had never been sick in his life. I didn’t understand. I needed more information. I had them run the additional tests and perform the procedures that would make him more stable.

So, as you know from the beginning of this, he couldn’t be saved. My original, at the relatively young age of seven was dying. And soon. He wouldn’t even make it to the scheduled visit we had with our regular vet on Monday. The emergency vet wanted to humanely euthanize him immediately. I wasn’t ready. I had just let go of my other cat. I could never have been prepared to lose another one so soon. So, I asked the vet to make him comfortable and give me what I needed to keep him pain-free, but that I was taking him home. I needed more time. I needed to be able to say goodbye.

By the next morning, we knew it was cruel to keep him alive any longer. We didn’t have the luxury of picking a date and letting him tell us he was ready. We called the same at-home euthanasia service and had them come once again. Less than two weeks after their previous visit. It was horrible and unimaginable. This was a much more difficult decision, but seeing my baby suffer was something that will haunt me forever and so I knew it was right.

I still mourn both of my cats. I miss them both and, one year later, still cry for them. Especially my original. He made me a mom. He made us a family. And, it wasn’t our choice. It seems like that would make it easier, but it didn’t. It was much more difficult to make peace with. It was traumatic.

And, going so quickly from five cats down to three, our home felt empty (non-cat people will laugh, “Empty!?! With three cats?!?"). So we headed down to the animal shelter and adopted another cat. We didn’t wait long, only a couple of weeks. We needed the distraction. We needed the life. Some people will feel the complete opposite of that. Some people cannot imagine "replacing" their pet so soon. I respect that completely, but I knew I could never replace them and I wasn’t trying to. I just knew that we had room in our home and our hearts for another baby. We have even very recently added a small dog to the mix.

We are back to having five pets, and they are what get me through the hard times and the sad times. They are what make our family whole again, and help us to deal with the loss. To find peace.

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