My friend’s dog died this weekend. She texted me that she found her in her yard. The dog was old and sick. The dog had a good life. The dog was loved and cared for. But still, my heart is breaking for her. Losing a pet is devastating. Every time.
When I was pregnant with Carson, we came home from a family dinner to a random stray cat in our downstairs living room. She appeared to be pregnant like me. I could not bring myself to turn another pregnant lady out into the cold. So we let her stay. Turns out she was not pregnant. She was just fat. But she was so sweet. My kids loved her. She had been with us for weeks before we realized she was never going to have babies. Rachel had named her (Jackie Cat). Therefore she was ours. She wasn’t the most house trained (which I suspect is the reason she was abandoned to our neck of the woods). But she was a good, loving cat. At night, she used to perch herself on the edge of Rachel’s bed in the most protective stance I have ever seen. I like to think she was determined to keep the littles safe. The kids could love her as hard as they wanted, and she would never flinch. She would just let them. She seemed to love it. She never scratched or showed aggression. She was sweet. We loved her.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, there was a short period where Lilly was extremely concerned we would kill Jackie and eat her. We had just raised meat chickens and taken them to slaughter. Lilly was convinced Jackie Cat faced the same fate. Lilly didn’t eat meat for years after this. She is still a vegetarian.
I am not great at laundry. I never have been. The number of times I have had to re-start the washer because the clothes have gotten moldy is embarrassing. There’s a ripe load in the washer right now (I really should stop writing and get some things done). Laundry sits on my bed for days before I work up the gumption to actually fold it. And by fold it, I mean sort it. I don’t turn anything right-side-out. I just put it into piles depending on which kid I think it belongs to. To this day, I have a habit of restarting the dryer to fluff up the laundry up before I fold it. It helps with wrinkles after the clothes have been sitting there for days. Shortly after adopting Jackie, I came downstairs to the laundry room, and the open dryer door. I shut the door and started the dryer. Just like I had done dozens of times before. I remember hearing a few thumps and wondering about it. I paused for a moment as I walked back up the stairs. Something subconscious in me decided I should check. I don’t know why. It easily could have been a pair of shoes. I opened the dryer door and Jackie Cat climbed out. A little dizzy and a little worse for the wear. But mostly ok. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not gone back to check.
I am telling these stories for no other reason than they come to mind. And because I think they illustrate how important this stray cat became to us.
I have no idea how old Jackie Cat was when she landed in our home. She was an adult, and she seemed wizened. She lived with us for more than a dozen years before she stopped being fat. Before she stopped eating vigorously. She started to sleep a lot. She lost weight. Eventually she became frail. I should have noticed sooner. For months, I figured it was just Jackie getting older. My kids begged me to take her in to get a checkup. I meant to. But I just kept putting it off. Only after her claws started to come out of her paws did I take her in to the vet. I will never forgive myself for this. I should have done it sooner. I should have taken better care of her. I should have I should have I should have. When I finally did take her in, the news was not good. I knew it would be bad the second they weighed her. She went from being a 20lb cat that needed to go on a diet to an 11lb shell of herself. The diagnosis was feline cancer. With very little hope of treatment or recovery. We put her down the next day. I have never cried so hard as I did when her life left her body. And I didn’t even think I liked her all that much. Lilly did not stay in the room when we put her down. She couldn’t. Later, she said she could hear my sobs from the car.
During the very worst part of my marriage, my husband found a stray dog at a gas station while on a business trip. He brought the sweet dog home. We bathed her, named her (Ginger). And then we found her owner. Ginger loved us. She wanted to be with all of us all the time. I would guess she was at least 50lbs, but she would still sit in our laps any chance she got. We made plans for her owner to drive down from Twin Falls to pick her up. When he arrived, I opened the door and Ginger sprinted out. Never in my life have I seen an animal so beside themself. Her tail wagged so hard I thought it might fall off. The dog that we thought would be ours forever lost her mind when she saw her person.
Considering our tenuous marital situation, I did not want to try for another dog. But Shelby came home with one anyway. An action that at the time felt akin to intentionally getting pregnant in hopes of saving the marriage. Penny was Labrador-Pit mix that made me nervous. I was never a fan of Pits. I heard all the horror stories, and I was wary. She did not get along with the cats, and she was unsure about the kids. I did not want her in my home. Any time I let her outside, she would figure out a way to get over our 6-foot fence and roam the neighborhood. 9 times out of 10 she would find a pile of poop to roll in. And I would have to add her to the list of creatures that needed a bath on any given night. When my husband finally did move out, he couldn’t take the damn dog with him. The intention was always that he would take her when he was in the right situation. But being in the right situation took ages. In the meantime I got used to her. I began to rely on her. I grew to love her. Fiercely. And she grew to love me. She learned how to deal with the cats and the kids, and I learned to appreciate her. She still has the habit of climbing our six-foot-fence to experience the world. And she is still impossible when it comes to walks. But she loves the kids. And even the cat. She makes me feel safe and loved. She is my protector and my friend. When the kids are not here, she is my person.
We have a strict rule about not feeding the dog human food. My rhetoric is that it’s bad for her. And if we love the dog, and want her to live as long as possible, she needs to eat her (very expensive) dog food, and her dog food only. My kids break this rule regularly. And I get after them. And when they are gone, I share all my dinners with Penny. A few bites here and there. I want to say no. But she is just so cute.
Penny will not live forever. By my calculations, she will pass around the same time that Emmy graduates from high school. I will cry and cry, and I will never be the same. I will be inconsolable. I will blame myself.
Pets, especially dogs and cats, bring nothing but joy. We will outlive our pets pretty much every time. But we have them anyway. By bringing them into our homes, we are setting ourselves up for sadness and sorrow. Every time. But also joy.
I remember hearing stories about people spending thousands of dollar on this treatment or that, only to prolong or improve the life of their pet. I would shake my head. I would wonder what the point was. I was so naive.
I have never seen a John Wick film. I love Keanu Reeves more than I have ever loved a celebrity. He is not the world’s best actor, but he seems good and kind. And he is absolutely so fun to see on the big screen. I watched an interview with him recently about one of the John Wick movies. The interviewer said something like “you kill hundreds of people in these films, and nobody bats an eye, but when your dog dies, people lose their mind”. He responds with something like “it’s because the animal is innocent.” That is exactly right. Our pets do nothing but love us. They are intrinsically good. And they rely on us to love them. Abusing this love, this privilege is nothing short of evil.
My current cat Isabell is a giant bitch. As I am writing this post, she is attacking me. I have no idea what she even wants. She acts like she wants me to pet her, but if I do pet her for more than 15 seconds she bites me. She has a habit of lying in wait for any victim. Me, the kids, the poor dog who is utterly terrified of her. She pounces. And we are all scarred. She serves no functional purpose. Hell, she is technically not even my cat. She belongs to Lilly. When she dies, which I know she will, I will bawl my eyes out. Despite her seeming uselessness, I would do anything to keep her safe and healthy. I will take all the bites and scratches if it means she feels loved and protected. I don’t even know why. I just love her.
I saw my friend today. I asked her how she was and she just sobbed. She said a few fragmented sentences. I gathered “I let her down. I should have done better. I am jinxed.” I know my friend did all she could for her sweet Bella. I know she loved her. I know Bella passing was a result of poor health and age. And I know that saying any of these things to my friend will not help. She lost her companion. She lost her love. There are no words that will help her process this grief. So I said nothing. I just let her cry. It takes time. That’s all. My friend also swore she will never get another pet. This I don’t believe. Once you experience the joy of loving an innocent animal, as we do our pets, you never go back.
We will nearly never outlive our pets. They will always break our hearts. But we still have them, and keep them. We protect them. Because they add to our quality of life. Because they make everything just a little bit better. Penny makes me feel safe and loved. Isabelle, despite her violence, helps me feel a little less alone. They love, unconditionally.
If Penny were to contract some terrible disease that I could eradicate with a few thousand dollars, I would do it in a heartbeat. I would like to believe that if it was hopeless, and that any treatment would just elongate the inevitable, I would have the strength and the wisdom to let her go. But I don’t know.