Anyone who knows me can attest to my being a cat fanatic. My younger daughter, Chloe, and her friends, often play a game where they go around the house in search of cat paraphernalia – not hard to find – and then will share the number count with me. At last count, I believe we were up to over 250 cat related items – everything from toothpick and paper roll holders to floppy stuffed cats adorning the window sill next to the two large baskets on which our two live cats sunned themselves.
But I would gladly give every piece of cat paraphernalia away in exchange for more time with either of my two live cats. Slinky and Cadbury have been members of our family for fourteen and thirteen years respectively. Slinky came to live with us when our older daughter, Talia, was only 5 years old.
When Cadbury came to live with us a year later, Slinky welcomed him. They became soul mates. It was rare to see them apart. And it was comforting to know that on days that we were all out of the house, they had one another. On days that Talia or Chloe were upset or angry at us, they confided in Slinky. She listened to them patiently, purring against them, loving them, and us, unconditionally.
Slinky’s slow decline was barely perceptible. It’s only in retrospect that we think back over the past few months and realize that Cadbury was sometimes alone, looking for extra attention as his partner spent more and more time sleeping and less time frolicking with him. I guess we didn’t notice it so much because sleeping is part of what cats do and somewhere in the back of our minds, we knew that she had become a geriatric cat.
However, we weren’t at all ready for her sudden decline over her last couple of weeks – from a cat who seemingly slept contentedly to one who slept because of the lethargy that had overcome her. We certainly weren’t ready to hear that she was in renal failure, that her kidneys were shutting down. And so began what became one of the most painful times in my life – that of watching a beloved pet, a member of our family, withdraw and shrivel in front of our eyes. And feeling such a sense of powerlessness to do anything to bring back the vibrancy in her step, the twinkle in her eyes. Anyone who knows and loves animals will understand that even though their beloved four legged furry family members cannot smile, laugh or cry, there is a definite change of expression when they are sick or sad.
One of the hardest jobs we have as parents is talking to our children about death. But when a pet is sick or dying, there’s no avoiding talking about it as we struggle to determine when to play God in putting her out of her supposed misery, at counting the number of bad versus good days, at coming to terms with when our need to have her stay is greater than her desire to leave this earth. The joy that having a pet in one’s life is immeasurable, as is the pain of letting her go. As I prepared for the daunting task of having to break the news to our children, I struggled with figuring out how to talk about such an emotional issue in a rational manner.
At first, they did not want to listen, did not want to know, did not want to even talk about it. So, I said very little. I just planted a small seed from which our conversation could grow. The following day, when they asked a few questions, I answered honestly that her condition was irreversible and that I honestly didn’t know how much longer we had with her but that we would take one day at a time. Unfortunately, we were all quickly forced to confront Slinky’s mortality as her condition became graver each day. I never pushed the children to deal with her eventual demise. I could see that they were dealing with it in their own way. I noticed that they were spending more time with her – stroking and talking to her gently.
Chloe eventually talked about her living in our hearts forever and Talia talked about the emptiness that she would forever feel, about the void that would be difficult to fill. We talked about whether or when we should consider another playmate for Cadbury, even talked about perhaps adding a dog to our family.
One of the most difficult discussions was about where to euthanize her – at home or at our loving vet’s office and whether she would be cremated or buried and where. We decided against burying her or her ashes in the back yard for, as the girls said, we would never want to sell our house. Talking was difficult but essential. There was no way that my husband and I could make these decisions without their knowledge and input.
Booking an appointment to euthanize her was one of the most difficult things we had to do. The night before, we struggled with the knowledge that this was to be Slinky’s last night with us, but we felt confident in our decision as we watched her struggling to even lap the water that she so craved.
The day of our appointment, I tore the blanket that our two cats shared in two. One half for Cadbury and the other to cradle her in. Chloe wrapped the blanket around Slinky’s tiny frame and, tears streaming down her face, walked her to the car. A few minutes later we arrived at Green Lane Animal Hospital and Talia carried her in. Dr. Tara Sermer kissed Slinky’s head and reassured us that we were making the right decision. As she mercifully administered the medicine to send Slinky into forever sleep, Talia and I stroked her. She was finally at peace. Then, as planned, we drove her to the Havelberg Pet Cemetery at the Jungle Cat World in Orono and honoured her with a proper burial and tombstone. Their handwritten notes tucked under her head “for her to read when she’s in heaven.” The ritual gave us peace of mind and allowed us the closure we needed.
The first few days after she was buried were difficult to bear. It was especially hard seeing her companion lie alone. A constant reminder of Slinky’s absence. We gathered strength from one another and took turns at consoling and wiping away each others tears. I feel proud of the way in which our family have worked through and experienced this loss together.
I am sure that in time, we will come to tell stories of Slinky without tears running down our cheeks, will be able to look at Cadbury without seeing Slinky’s shadow there too. Perhaps we will even be brave enough to bring another pet into our lives and risk falling in love again.
Postscript after a few months: We are now the proud owners of three beautiful Siamese cats. Cadbury is much happier since the addition of kittens, Flurry and Flicka. Although it took a few weeks for them to adjust to one another, they are now loving and content together!
Postscript after a couple of years: Along with three cats, we have now added a dog to our family!