Losing a furry or feathered family member can be difficult, as mentioned in the Day Four assignment. When a pet dies, we can feel a hole in our heart or soul that needs filling or closing. While extremely sad about our loss, we each have our unique manner of replacement behavior. Some of us never want to adopt another pet; ever. Others want to have a period of mourning, but wish to begin thinking about a new adoption. Still others have a need to fill the hole in our hearts immediately, because although our lost loved one can never be replaced, it is about filling that hole. Many of us have tried all three ways of coping with the loss of a furry friend, especially as we age and our children have left the nest.
Personally, I have never felt that I never want another pet again. But my husband had sworn that we would never adopt another dog when our last one died of cancer at the age of seventeen. And so. For the first time in many, many years, our home had no dog. Izzy, a mini schnauzer mix, died about six years ago, and my husband would not even discuss adopting another dog. We had a cat, Velvet, who was about four years younger than Izzy, and she would have to do. For a year, Velvet reigned the household for the first time in her life. She was becoming cranky. Whether from aging or loneliness, we couldn’t tell. We finally opted for loneliness and decided to adopt a kitten, as there was a “no dog” policy in effect. But Joe was adamant that we look for a Russian Blue mix, and began an Internet search of local cat adoption groups. We found Stanly, pictured in such a laid-back pose that he immediately caught Joe’s eye. When we emailed about adopting him, we were told that he had just found a new home earlier in the day. Joe was heartbroken, especially since this was the only young Russian Blue recently listed for adoption.
All of our pets are shelter or rescue animals. Our viewpoint for years has been that there are far too many lovely cats and dogs waiting for a forever home. To us, spending a great deal of money on a pet from a private breeder was too much of a headache, as they seemed constantly to be kidnapped for ransom or simply stolen. Certainly there are many good reasons to buy, especially if allergies or temperament is a key quality. But joe and I also liked the element of surprise that comes with a pet whose ancestry is unknown. It was one of the reasons that Joe was so disappointed that we were too late to adopt the Russian Blue mix.
We decided to keep checking the Internet for another one that became available. Two weeks of searching and calling or emailing made it clear that it would be a difficult search.
During our weekly Saturday “long walk,” we passed the park near our home and noticed that there was a kitten adoption fair going on. At the same time, we noticed a black kitten (we both love black cats; Velvet was a black cat) climbing the side of a large crate that displayed five or six kittens of various hues. This one was clearly trying to get at a bird that was sitting on a tree branch about six inches from the crate. No slouch, this one. It wanted to play with that bird. Instantly, we fell in love and decided to adopt this obviously un-Russian Blue kitten.
About six weeks later, I received an email saying that Stanly, the kitten whose Internet photo Joe had loved, was not working out in his new home. We’re we interested in meeting him? We drove from our apartment in Beverly Hills to a veterinary office in Pasadena, and met a super friendly beautiful young male cat. He had already been spayed, and we could take him home the same day, if we liked. Joe was extatic, and, although I really didn’t want a third cat in the house, I couldn’t overrule him. We changed the spelling to Stan Lee ( yes, Joe loves his comics), and brought him home. Velvet was already disgusted that Shadow was in the house. She was even more disgruntled when Stan Lee joined our family. Shadow, after a few hours of hesitation, decided she really liked having a new playmate in the house–Velvet was far too standoffish and above the idea of idle play–and for almost a year the two younger cats were almost inseparable. They didn’t grow apart until Stan reached full adulthood, and tried to assert himself against a very independent-minded Shadow. But they remained besties despite their dominance issues.
At about that time, I reasserted my need for a dog in the house. I had recuperated from my third back surgery and needed more motivation to get out and walk. To me, a dog was the perfect answer. Joe fought me about this. He was too emotionally affected by Izzy’s loss, which was somehow linked to his childhood and his dog being taken away from him. In his mind, Izzy had died only a few months earlier. He hadn’t realized that he had been mourning for over two years. So he relented, on the condition that I would be solely responsible for any dog that came into the household; he could not deal with the loss of yet another dog.
And so, I began visiting the local animal shelter and checking out the possibilities. I visited at least once a week for almost a month. One puppy caught my eye and would be available for adoption in one week. The deal was, you couldn’t reserve a puppy in advance of his availability. And the pup would go to the first person to claim him. I was first in line on the day he became available. But he was clearly more interested in a competitor and I backed off, despite my first-come status. Disappointed, I cruised the cages of puppies with little expectation of finding a new pet that day. So it surprised me when this one pup, in a cage with much older and bigger dogs, kept yapping at me. I asked to meet him. Yes, this pup was trying to adopt me. I asked about having him “tested” for getting along with cats, something this shelter did regularly for people who already had a different species at home. He proved to be quite happy to play with cats, and didn’t try immediately to eat them; and he took no offense over an occasional set of claws gripping his snout (although I was a bit concerned about seeing this reaction from an older cat). OK. Clearly, this pup could live among cats, was sweet, wanted me as his person. What could I do? I had to adopt him.
Rincewind came into our home with a one around his head the following day. The shelter policy is that no pet gets adopted until after he has been spayed or neutered. Poor little thing. A wretched collar, a new home, and three cats who wanted nothing more than to torment him, when they bothered to pay any attention to him at all. Stan was the first of the cats to actually befriend Rincey, and even that took more than a week. Thus, we “found” two kitties one year and found a dog the next.
All was well until Joe “found” a new job on an island in the middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of the Caribbean. By then, we knew that Velvet–seventeen years old–was suffering from tumors that were riddling her internal organs. We knew we would have to put her down because she was in a great deal of pain, but mostly because we were certain she could not survive the long trip to a new home.
Sometimes, finding and losing come too close together. Tearfully, we held Velvet at the veterinary clinic as she silently found a new path…
Very beautiful and moving.
Our last kitty was 18 years old when she let us know it was time. In our travels we’ve taken a couple of rentals with pets so we could get just a little animal fix.
Animals are wonderful to have.
Yes, they are. Our cats and dogs were or are family. Thanks for your reply.
Your observation is so true about posts writing themselves, and this one exquisitely captures what’s found and lost and found again when one loves animals.
Thank you for your kind words. Until I started Writing 101, I truly had no idea what authors mean when they say their stories write themselves. Some of the prompts and twists end up as relatively short posts; others want to swell up and be told in full. It frankly surprised me that this one refused to end as another loss. We love our pets, who usually live quite long lives. And I had forgotten how difficult it can be to make the decision to end a pet’s suffering. When I was growing up, it was unusual for dogs to live more than 8 or 9 years. Cats seemed to last a bit longer, but not by much. With cats and dogs living well into their teens and even twenties under modern veterinary care, sometimes difficult choices need to be made. It hurts me more to watch a pet suffer than to have them move on peacefully in my or my husband’s arms. Again, thank you.