The Death of a Furry Friend and Why the Pain is Good

The loss of a pet is very difficult. People who aren’t pet people sometimes don’t really understand the kind of grieving that people go through when losing a furry companion. I think it’s because when you don’t have pets as part of your life and you don’t know that bond that forms, it’s hard to understand what that grief is like. It’s different when we talk about human loss; even if you’ve never had a sibling you can understand to some extent the loss someone would experience when losing a brother or sister.

But nonetheless, companionship is companionship, and the loss of a companion is hard.

In 2012 we lost two cats in our house within just a few weeks of each other. When I lost Xena, my 14 year old tabby cat who had diabetes and a bad hip, I went into a four day stretch of grief I’d never known. The thought of her big goofy face not greeting me in the mornings when I wake or the fact that I would no longer find hair ties, toy mice, and random household baubles in my shoes, it was all just too much. It had been years since I’d lost a pet and it was something I wasn’t prepared for.

Last week I had to go through that experience again.

I finally had to say goodbye to my amazing cat companion, Loki. If you’ve been around me a while you know Loki well.

 

Loki’s “Hey you, up there” look that was saying “Shouldn’t you be feeding me, human?”

 

Loki was diagnosed with congestive heart failure back in June of 2016. In 2012 the vet discovered a slight gallop heartbeat, something that is often associated with heart failure, but he wasn’t concerned because it was so small. Over the last few years it never worried me because he never showed any signs of having problems. But a sudden late night incident in June of 2016 where a blot clot broke free and went to his brain would change everything.

For the last 8 months I’ve been doing all the crazy things I’ve had to do to keep him comfortable. Medication twice a day, watching and timing his breathing every day, feeding him extra to make sure he didn’t get too skinny because of the weight loss from the meds, and generally spending lots of time with him.

I think we both knew this would be his last Christmas, so he put up with this kind of shit.

My goal was always to make sure he had quality of life above all else. I always said that when the day came that he no longer purred just because I walked in the room, something he’s done since he was 10 weeks old, or when he stopped his other silly habits like singing to himself in the shower {I’m not kidding}, that this was when I would know his time was coming.

It was a long 8 months filled with lots of crying, lots of worrying, and having to come to terms that his end was coming. The fact that he had lots of good days and whole months often made accepting that inevitable end even harder. When something bad would happen and we’d have to rush him to the hospital it would all become very real.

Things got especially real in January when he had breathing problems and after doing x-rays the doctor found a mass in the center of his chest and nodules along his spine. I knew that if this was anything serious, like cancer, that at nearly 16 years old treatment wasn’t really an option, and the vet agreed. After a radiologist looked at his test results and x-rays it was determined these things were most likely benign. So we breathed a sign of relief there.

Since a little before Thanksgiving I knew we were coming toward the end because he stopped taking his meds willingly, which he’d always done. After lots of trial and error we got into a new routine but at the beginning of February he once again decided he didn’t want to take them and we were back to square one. Unfortunately this time we couldn’t get back into the swing of things.

In the early afternoon of February 19th he had either a heart attack or a blood clot break free. We took him to the emergency hospital and while the ER staff was able to stabilize him they found that he was in a lot of pain on his left side. They had to give him pain meds so they could put him in the oxygen room to help his breathing which was only getting slightly better.

It was clear what we had to do. If we’d taken him home he wouldn’t have been the same and it would have been selfish, quite honestly.

If anything was a blessing that day it was that it was a Sunday and that my husband was home. If this had happened and he wasn’t here or it was the middle of the day during the week I would have certainly fallen apart and been paralyzed with shock and fear.

I cried in the exam room and really beat myself up over the decision not to see him before they put him to sleep. I didn’t want to see him in pain and I knew that if he was looking better after being in oxygen, like has been the case before, that I would have second guessed myself. So we made the decision, the doctor agreed it was the right thing to do, and we went home.

 

Nothing will ever replace a furry companion when they go, and you shouldn’t expect anything to.

 

I spent the better part of 8 months saying goodbye to Loki because I knew he wouldn’t have too much time left. The doctor had initially said it would only be about 6 months, so those extra months, as hard as they were, were still good to have.

For the most part Loki was himself all the way until maybe his last two weeks. The purr did start to slow and he was spending a little less time with me and was preferring to curl up on the floor next to my side of the bed most of the time. I also noticed Pixel, our other cat, was acting a little different around him. She seemed almost concerned for him, walking up to him and sniffing his face a lot. I think she knew something we didn’t.

 

All three of these guys are now in kitty heaven together, finally reunited. On the left is Xena, Loki in the middle, and Pooh on the right. Xena and Pooh passed within weeks of each other in 2012. Pooh was Loki’s best kitty friend and he was lost without her.

 

We’d been together nearly 16 years. I got Loki when he was 10 weeks old from a friend I worked with at the time and we bonded the second I held him for the first time. He was hilarious, adorable, and most of all incredibly smart. Like, freakishly smart for a cat.

The hole he left was massive and it will never truly be filled. Any time we bring a pet into our home to be part of our lives we do it with the totally understanding that the chances are pretty damn good that we’re going to outlive them. All you do is give to each other with all you have while you’re together.

I know those who aren’t pet people don’t get how losing an “animal” could be so difficult. It’s that unconditional love and companionship they give and the fact that no matter how much of an asshole you are, they always see past it. That’s the thing about pets. They don’t ask for much, and they usually don’t need to. We love them because their adorable and fun and they love us because it’s just their way.

You never get over losing a pet but you do learn to move on. And because I’d been dealing with this for so long and I’d been saying goodbye a little each day for months, I felt I was ready to move on within a few days.

Don’t get me wrong! I cried…a lot! I fell apart in my husbands arms a half dozen times that Sunday night. I opened the pictures on my phone and was greeted by some of the cutest pictures I’ve ever taken of Loki that were done in the days prior and it broke my heart. But even still, I knew I didn’t need a long mourning period and that moving on but never forgetting was what I needed.

I also knew I didn’t want to wait too long to get a new kitten.

I had been thinking about a new kitten for a while because I knew this was coming. I knew I wanted another boy, preferably black, and I was going to probably name him Bodhi. So I kept my eye on the shelter website for new kittens. Since it’s the tail end {no pun intended} of one kitten season and the start of the next is a few months away, I wasn’t expecting to find anything.

Much to my surprise on February 24th the shelter we had adopted Pixel from got three kittens in. Two girls and a boy. I was really interested in the boy, who was an adorable mix of cream, orange, and caramel colors. By the time we got to the shelter early that evening he was gone as was one of the girls. The girl that was left was tiny, black, and adorable. So we adopted her.

Welcome to the family, Minerva!

It took the better part of a day to name her, mostly because I’d been thinking of boy names. My husband vetoed every idea I had. Luna, Kona, Kai, Lydia, Neko, Pema, and Miku were all passes for him. We narrowed it down to Morticia and Minerva.

We settled on Minerva. No, not for the Roman Goddess of wisdom and war, but Minerva as in Professor Minerva McGonagall. Yes, I named my new kitten after a Harry Potter character. And yes, it would have been better if she’d been a grey tabby, but you work with what you’ve got.

Prof McGonagall is my second favorite Hogwarts professor…Prof Trelawney is my first, but her name is Sybill and we agreed on “no people names” for our pets ages ago, which was another reason Lyida got shot down so fast {as in Lydia Deets in Beetlejuice}. I mean we look and sound crazy enough with our cats, so we don’t need to go that extra step. Since neither of us have ever met anyone named Minerva in real life it was OK.

Minerva is just about 10 weeks old and weighs 2.5lbs. She’s tiny! And she’s adorable. I’ve never seen a kitten enjoy tumbling like she does. She almost intentionally makes herself fall down so she can summersault all over the place. She’s all black except for the toes on her left foot which are white. Not her FOOT, just her TOES. It’s too freakin’ cute. When she isn’t running around like an idiot she insist on sitting in my lap or on my shoulder and she’s constantly licking my arms and fingers.

It’s going to be fun to see what she grows up to be like! I have a feeling this innocent look is going to fade fast…lol

 

Minerva will never replace Loki, nor am I looking for her to. But she certainly helps fill a gap that losing a cat, especially a black cat, leaves. And she’s already very curious about my altar, something Loki never really cared about. So there’s that too.

I like to think that the amount of pain you feel over the loss of any loved one, furry or otherwise, is a sign of how deeply you love. Once you’re able to move past that pain I think you need to do yourself and the world a big favor and love again.

 

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  • Lorna
    March 1, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I get it. I lost my dog in December to cancer. Rusty slept next to me whenever he could. He was my protector and best friend. I have had several furbabies over the years and each one has been a little harder to lose.

  • Kristy
    March 1, 2017 at 9:50 am

    I know exactly how you feel Jess. It seems that I have the start of a pet cemetery on my entertainment center. There are 3 dogs and 1 cat so far. I had them all cremated. I figured since we rent I would not just bury them with the chance of just leaving them there alone if we moved.
    I don’t think you ever get over the loss of a pet even if you do fill the void with another. It does help to replace the void as soon as you feel the time is right.
    Since the last loss of a furry child here which was my daughters kitty baby Simba we have added two more to our family. Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, and yes they are best friends! We too are Harry Potter fans!

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