Processing the Loss of a Pet

I am not someone who normally reacts in an overly emotional way to the loss of a pet. I’ve had over the 60 years of my life, many pets. There have been many cats, dogs, sheep, a rabbit, gerbils, birds and I think there were fish and even an ant farm at one point. And many times I had multiples at the same time. I think the only time there was no pet in my home was when I was not really home but living in temporary housing like a dorm room and I think even then my roommate and I had an illegal secret pet. I have always accepted that we normally outlive the animals we invite into our lives.

I’ve entered the plan to raise a pet with the upfront understanding of their expected life cycle. If lucky, cats live 15 years, dogs about 10 years. Sheep and rabbits make it about 8 years. Gerbils hang on for a much shorter period of time. I never expect that any of my pets will out live me.

Macha near the end of her life

But we lost a beloved dog, Macha, about 18 months ago and my husband took it very hard. She was 15 years old. He said he would divorce me if I brought home another dog and he seemed very serious about it. He was livid when I came home with two cats I rescued from the dumpster behind my office 10 years ago and actually disappeared for a day as a result. And since I rather like having him around I decided not to push my luck on this issue. That hasn’t kept me from begging for permission to adopt a Sheltie since this summer, but so far he has refused to budge. I’m just not willing to risk simply taking my usual route of “something followed me home.” “You can get one when I’m dead,” he says, “I can’t take losing another one.”

Jack at about age 2

We lost the first of those two cats shortly after moving into our current home. His name was Jack and was about six years old and had apparently encountered some sort of toxin on or near the property. Hard as we searched, we never figured out what he had gotten into. His brother, Samhain, was really lost without him and so, with great reluctance, my husband agreed to let me bring a tiny waif of a feral kitten into the house to keep Samhain company.

Samhain at age 7

Samhain was delighted. The baby was not. Her name is Chouette (pronounced “Sou-ette”.) She isn’t much fond of people either but seems most tolerant of my husband and will, in fact, sleep in the bed with him until I come to bed myself. She has been a difficult cat to maintain with a severe food allergy to chicken. What she has going for her is her complete fear of the out of doors so she happily stays in the house with an occasional venture onto the screened in porch. She is currently under treatment for a sinus infection and an eye infection. Like I said, she’s a high maintenance and rather fragile creature.

Chouette age 3

Because Chouette turned out not to be much of a companion to Samhain, and she seemed to prefer my husband over me, Samhain attached himself to me. I was never sure of his ancestry, but his personality and size made me think he was at least partly Main Coon or perhaps Ragdoll. He loved to be brushed and always had a nap in Ken’s lap every evening (he was too big to fit in my lap comfortably). But he talked to me. Constantly. Maybe he was part Siamese as well. But he would have whole conversations at times about his food, going outside, curiosity about what I was doing (especially when I was cooking), and sometimes, I swear, he just talked to himself. He would follow me from room to room and throw himself down nap on the floor like a dog. The one room he never ventured into was the studio for I think it smelled a little funny to him and it did not have a comfy rug on which to lay.

A rare day when Samhain and Chouette were getting along

At some point in his morning outdoor adventures in the past three months, he began to encounter something that inflicted wounds upon him. He would be patched up at the vet, but just over a week ago he came home wounded yet again. Since he sometimes recovered from these adventures without complication, I waited a few days to see how he fared.

This time wasn’t good. So, I hauled him into the vet’s office again. The only time he was truly miserable was while traveling in the car and he moaned and howled the entire way there and back. But in the office he was his normal, placid self, tolerating the poking and prodding with no objection. He was running a fever and as I reported, he had not eaten or appeared to have had a drink of water in the previous 24 hours but had used the litter box. So, they gave him a IV fluids and an antibiotic shot and sent him home with instructions to bring him back on Monday if not improved.

The next morning he could not stand, lost control of his bladder and we were at the office before they even officially opened. He was so jaundiced the inside of of ears looked like they had been colored with a yellow highlighter. He had not shown any sign of jaundice the day before. He was clearly suffering and with my husband’s support we made the difficult decision to let him go. I stayed with him through that last procedure as I had done with my dog some 18 months before. As with the dog, he went quickly and peacefully.

The autopsy done at my request, revealed that he was jaundiced throughout but his liver was not enlarged. The vet opted to send it off for further testing as at that point his curiosity was highly peaked. Samhain did have a mass on his pancreas, so at some point had he lived, we might have been dealing with diabetes, but that would not have caused the severe jaundice. He also had a bladder full of very thick, dark urine. Our vet was stumped. I’m hoping to learn more when the liver workup comes back as I’m hoping whatever killed him is not contagious.

But I have been a wreck every since his death and struggle with unexpected bouts of tears and find I’m not sleeping well and have no appetite at all. That’s not like me either. I don’t get emotional over the death of a pet. I just don’t. Not for days at a stretch. I’m almost worse over this then I was when my Dad died, so I don’t know what is going on with me.

I just know that the house is just too damned quiet and my comedian kitty isn’t there to distract me from the woes of the world.

I am, fortunately, at a point in my work that I have been able to “take off” for a couple of days and yesterday was able to do some of the mindless prep work to set up for the next painting. Today is the final day of “mindless prep” and tomorrow I’m off to a fund raising event with hubby and some friends. I’m hoping by Monday I can loose myself in the painting for a few hours and perhaps start to feel better.

A friend suggested that I should do a painting of him. I’ve done several of him previously and my sketchbook is filled with little sketches and gesture drawings of him. But I’m just not ready for the deep introspective looking required of doing a painting of him now. Perhaps later.

Samhain pretending to be a Roman God

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