9 December

Saying Goodbye To Flo

by Jon Katz

Except for our deaths, I’m not sure there is any more universal experience in American life than losing a beloved pet or deciding to kill one to keep them from suffering.

Nobody knows for sure, but according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, 76 811 305 million dogs and cats live in households in the United States. 38.4 million of those are dogs, and 25.4 million are cats.

In many of those households, many more animals have lived there in the past. The total number would be staggering. Pets and grieving are almost synonymous.

None of those millions of animals will likely live as long as we do. That translates into a flowing river of grieving and loss.

I would venture that there is no one reading this who has not lost a dog or a cat they loved and grieved for them.

When we lose a pet we love, it is easy to forget this.

I try to keep that in mind when I write about it.  I never tell anyone about my loss when they tell me about theirs. It just is never the same.

The tricky thing about the loss of a dog or cat or horse or donkey is that it is a huge deal. Yet, in many ways, it isn’t. It is a commonplace thing.

Our barn cat Flo, the first cat I have learned to love, is dying. She is fading almost by the hour, indeed the day. She is rarely awake; her eyes can’t stay open, and she is not eating.

She can’t open her eyes for more than a second or two. Once in a while, she sits up and tries to drink some water.

This is a hard thing to see from such a strong-willed, tough and independent creature who has lived almost all of her life free and alone in barns, prowling pastures up in our woodshed.

I always thought of her as the Bedlam Farm marauder; every morning, pieces of dead things were waiting for me by the back door. Flo was usually dozing near them, too full to eat cat food.

Once in a while, she even ended up in my lap or Maria’s. I never knew an animal like Flo.

We all have the right – even obligation – to grieve and mourn in our way.

Just as no two people are precisely the same, no two people grieve the same way. I respect that.

Early on, I learned never to tell people to move on, not make a big deal out of it, to get on with your life, and to avoid drama, even though I believe in those things for myself.

I am no better than anyone else, and I have no greater or lesser right to make my own decisions. They are rarely the decisions most other people make.

What is always foremost in my mind when a pet dies is that everyone I know – every single one – has lost a beloved animal and knows what it feels like. There is nothing I can tell them that they don’t know.

They don’t need to learn or hear anything from me except I’m sorry.  It is essential for me always to remember that my suffering is nothing new or unique to me.

The death of a pet binds us in many ways and connects me to other human beings. It cares nothing about politics, color, wealth,  gender, or faith. It slices across all the barriers we manage to put up against one another.

It is a private thing for me. I always share the experience and write about it, but it isn’t easy talking about my feelings. It’s not something I would bring to social media away from my blog.

And I will be honest and say I suffer, but not very much at this point in my life regarding the death of my pets or animals. Not as much as people might think.

Having a dog or cat is a great gift to me, for which I am grateful. My time with them is precious, and I thank them for it.

I have evolved in this way. I wouldn’t say I like to demean them by making such a wonderful thing about my loss.

They have always been good for me. I feel like animals like Red and Flo have given me so much more than I have given them.

Dogs do not live nearly as long as we do, and to have the gift of owning dogs or cats means preparing myself for their death and accepting it,  as it will always come, usually sooner than I wish or think. I believe in radical acceptance.

My choice is always to get another dog as soon as soon as is respectful and possible. That is what works for me. The truth is that I would rather love a dog or cat than grieve for one, given a choice.

And it is, after all, my choice, just as your choice is yours. I do not tell other people what to feel and think, and I don’t accept it when they try to tell me what to think, think, or say.

My time with my dogs, and now my cat,  has always been exceptional and enriching, and to be selfish, wonderful. It is nothing to be too sad about when I think about it.

I feel gratitude more than anything.

And I believe in moving on, even though I have no right to tell anyone else what to do or be critical of their choices. No one has the right to tell anyone else how to grieve. I never do it.

Last night, I thanked Flo for loving me.

I don’t think any cat has ever loved me like that or reached so deeply into my heart. I can’t speak for her before she discovered us, but I can testify that her life with us was perfect.

Maria brought pillows and blankets into Flo’s woodshed lair; there were soft bales of hay to sleep on and pastures full of mice and moles and other things to the back door which she left for us to see.

She often made her way up a ladder and slept in the big barn’s upstairs loft. She loved sleeping on the front porch the last few years. She typified the independent woman, strong and resourceful and always independent.

Much like my wife.

She was loving and murderous all at the same time—what a mix.

In the last few years, she always wanted to be with me, sit in my lap, and let me scratch her neck and head. I never felt I gave her enough attention; there is so much going on here.

She always showed up when I sat outside, looking for some love.

I don’t know cats as well as dogs, and I was never quite sure what to do. It didn’t come easily or naturally to me.

Flo believed in conditional love.

She never hesitated to dump me when a better offer turned up, usually in the form of some bird or tiny four-legged creature.

She was a chaos machine, killing, slaughtering, torturing, even while she batted those green eyes at me and seduced me into paying attention to her.

It always had to be her idea, and it didn’t last a minute more than she wanted it to.

We’ve left Flo alone to die the natural death of a barn cat.

Normally, barn cats go out into the woods and die alone. She is ending her life in a heated cat house in our basement, which is warm, dry, and comfortable.

Maria has the biggest heart.

We are beginning to discuss when we should end her suffering and our sadness and ask the vet to help her leave the world in dignity and comfort.

It looks like Monday will be that day if she hasn’t died over the weekend. I hope she does.

I’ve said my piece to her, and I no longer believe she sees me or recognizes me. She is moving away in my consciousness.

We’ve lost a lot of animals here at the farm; life and death go together up here. We know the drill.

Maria, loving and nurturing, visits her regularly, holds her, talks to her, and ensures she has water if she needs it.

I’m beginning to let go. This may be a trauma issue or a measure of self-protection, but I always start to let go before they go.

So that’s my Flo report. In my life, she is one of a kind.

I expect the next message will be the last. Thanks for loving her; that meant and meant a lot to me.


  1. May her journey be warm, smooth and swift. It sounds as if her end is very near. My condolences to you and Maria
    Susan M

  2. Jon and Maria,
    I’m so sorry . Yes, we’ve all been there many times, and each time we are surprised by buckets of tears.

  3. A barn cat who came to appreciate and be a true friend with her householder humans … what a gift! And through your writing, we got to appreciate her. Thanks, Jon! Thanks, Flo!

  4. Witnessing your pain and Flo getting ready to pass on. It is a thing of rare dignity. I hope she will drift off naturally. Standing with you in the sadness. I am sure she will tell the ancient cats awaiting her about the great, great golden years on the farm you and Maria gave her!

  5. My therapist recommended your blog to me a few years ago. I no longer she her, but I still follow your blog. Often times you touch my life in very unexpected ways. I’m sorry to hear about sweet Flo. As I sit hear with my blind cat Tess, I am thankful for the love and joy she brings to my life. She’s not much of a hunter but she amazes and teaches me so much, navigating the world without sight. I love how you share how all your animals and pets have touched your life. They can’t be with us for our entire life, but we are there for theirs and that is a special gift.

  6. Flo has had a wonderful life, she has done it her way, and been very loved by so many, she is not aware of.
    Thank you Jon and Maria. ❤️?

  7. Thank you Flo for being such a photogenic member of the Army of Good’s remote-pet family. We love you too. And your spirit remains, curled up on the red wooden chair, wallpapering my phone. Peaceful and content.

  8. As a lifelong dog owner, one thing I’ve always wished is that, after a long and healthy life, my dog would lay down for a nap and never wake up. Just once I’d like to have nature decide so I don’t have to make the decision. It’s never happened yet. I make the decision, I make the final trip to the vet and I cry when it’s over. And yet I eventually get another dog and start the process over again. I guess that’s the definition of both love and responsibility.

  9. Jon. Thank you for Flo. We just lost our cat Opal. We had her almost 15 years. She had a good life. I could see it in the final days so I called the vet one Monday morning and they said to bring her in at 2;30 in the afternoon but she died on her own bed just 2 hrs earlier. I kept telling her that it was going to be OK so I think she kinda knew .

  10. Hi Jon So sorry to hear about you friend. It is the hardest thing we do for our much loved critters. This morning though I found a story of hope. I do not know if you can open it but hopefully you can. It is a pretty great story I think you will appreciate. Thinking of you and your decision today, Diane

  11. My love to you and your family and your sweet barn cat Flo. Thank you for writing about your experience. Prayers of comfort. What a beautiful and sacred time. Safe passage little Flo.

  12. Mr. Meow, our beloved barn cat, loved by all (the smallest child could pick him up and we would not claw or scratch nut simply escape as soon as possible) was looking ill; we took him to the vet and had every test done..nothing! They sent us home with vitamins and appetite stimulant but he was having none of it. Fed him daily (tiny morsels only) We kept him warm and safe and, after days he slipped away peacefully.always independent He was loved by all for joy hebrough and is buried under his favorite rosebush…never to be forgotten

  13. So sorry about Flo. I have enjoyed her life story. Her companion cat will miss her.
    I lost my cat, Maria, some time ago. She became very sick. She had been rescued from a terrible situation before coming to me. I still miss her, but not the crunchy ouch, from cat litter, on my bare feet .
    Other family members have cats and they share the pics .and fun cat stories,
    I see her every day. Her picture is the wallpaper on my IPhone.
    When asked if I want another (I know they need homes.), I say no.
    I can barely take care of myself. In fact, I don’t. My daughter shops for me and takes me to my many medical appointments. Yesterday, she brought me the perfect Christmas tree. It’s already decorated and it doesn’t shed, Hooray! Maria cat would have made “short work” of it. It’s a big balloon.
    May you all enjoy this holiday season. Most of all; may it bring hope and comfort.
    May God’s Spirit bless us all.

  14. The love that you are given from all of the animals you have been involved with in your time at both your farms, is a testament to your own love and loyalty to them. You have been a wonderful provider and Master! Alas we all have to say goodbye. My heartfelt wishes, as you move forward <3

  15. I’ll miss the photos of Flo on the front porch keeping warm, knowing you both are near always, far less wild than the 1st part of her life. Cats teach us how to relax and she did this with you Jon in your lap. Our cat died in my lap before we reached the vet and actually I was glad to be with her at that moment. I’ll miss Flo too. Thank you for sharing her so much with us…..

  16. You can put it in words so beautiful. I am thinking of you and Maria both. Take care❤️ Flo was an amazing cat an had an amazing life

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