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Health & Wellness

Coping with Losing a Pet: Kate’s Story

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As we’ve learned, there are a number of reasons owning a pet may be a game-changer.

From helping to combat loneliness to increasing exercise, there are so many ways pets can make us happier and healthier in our day-to-day lives. For some, they can’t imagine life without their beloved pets. Experiencing the death of a pet can be a profound experience of grief and loss.

Read on for Kate’s story of finding hope (and Lemmy).

As I write this, the tiniest, cutest, most snuggly Siamese(ish) cat is curled up next to me, his ear twitching every so often as my fingers stroke the keyboard. He’s the newest addition to our house, and my husband and I have quickly fallen in love with the little guy. If you’d told me a month ago I’d soon be fawning over a 6-year-old cat, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But today, just two weeks after becoming acquainted with Lemmy, I have no doubt our home is a better place with him in it. Turns out, we didn’t know we were ready for a new pet until we met him.  

It’s been a tough few years on the pet census. In 2012, we said goodbye to Carl, a 12-year-old tabby cat — slightly overweight and more than a little jumpy — who followed me around like a puppy and lived for burrowing his cold little nose just behind my ear. Then, three years ago, my heart broke for Lucille, our endlessly energetic, too-smart-for-her-own-good Shepherd/heeler mix, who, at just 7 years old was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer. I still tear up when I walk by the places I’d take her jogging. Heck, I’m tearing up as I write this. Last May, it was Suzanne. The bossy, 18-year-old black maven of a cat who fell ill and we were faced, once again, with the devastating decision to say goodbye.

That night, coming home to an empty apartment felt foreign. It was the first time in nearly 20 years that I’d been home without any animals.  My husband and I both cried as we took her litter box out to the alley. Then we channeled our grief into cleaning the house.

Weeks and months passed and the pain started to fall into the background. We went on a few trips and discovered a new ease to our pet-free household. We didn’t miss scooping clumps of litter or smelling unpleasant scents or paying for veterinarian visits. We knew we wanted to, one day, have a pet-filled house again, but we weren’t sure when that day would be.

In February, a friend posted photos of a cat on social media that caught my eye. The “before” photo showed a tiny, forlorn creature that looked skinny and lost, his eyes closed in pain. In the “after” photo, those pretty blue eyes were open — a bit crossed, really — and his little pink tongue stuck out of his mouth. His face was about the cutest I’d ever seen. Then I read his story.

He’s a former barn cat, 5 or 6 years old, who’d been living in a town about four hours outside of Chicago, where we live. He was so friendly that people around town thought he was lost. They’d picked him up and taken him to animal control enough times that the barn owner microchipped him. Last winter, someone picked the little guy up and drove him to Chicago, where, for some reason, he was left outside to fend for himself. Just before Christmas, he peered into a window at a home where a woman was feeding her cats. Hungry and freezing, he tapped on the window and she brought him inside. She called a local nonprofit, which took him in. He was in need of surgery, and it was all taken care of through donations. By the time his photo and story were posted, he had recovered. The only thing missing from his life was a warm, welcoming home.

It was all I needed to read. The cat was a superhero. He’d made his way from a small town to the big city. When he was hungry and cold, he found food and warmth. Against all odds, he managed to save himself. I hadn’t even met the little guy, and I already wanted to write a children’s book about his plight. I reached out to the nonprofit and set up a time for my husband and I to meet him. He came home with us that night.

Every day since, this sweet, curious purr-ball has made us smile and laugh and vie for his affection. I feel my face light up when I walk in the door to a dark house and remember that Lemmy is here. When my husband comes home from work, I watch him smile, cheek-to-cheek, as he greets Lemmy and lifts him up for a cat hug. All of a sudden, we’re talking in animated, high-pitched voices to the cat; we’re taking time out to stroke his soft belly: or we’re watching him bat around a toy mouse. Lemmy has reminded us how satisfying it is to just enjoy the simple things, like a warm beam of sun on a cool day.

Our house wasn’t missing anything before we got Lemmy. We were perfectly content with life as it was. But when a sweet kitty hops up on the bed and snuggles into the crook of your arm for the night, or jumps up by your side as you’re working on the computer by the day, it makes everything just a little bit better.

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