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.