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Family & Relationships

From Paul's Perspective: It's Not "Just a Cat"

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When my little black cat, Reed, had to be euthanized recently, I was surprised by how hard her death hit me. Over 14 years, we had certainly bonded.

Found abandoned in an alleyway in Manhattan, she was clearly the runt of the litter, and she remained petite and kittenish up to the end. 

At the time we adopted her, I was in a stressful transition – moving from one role to another inside my company – and I had to study intensively if I was going to pass rigorous certification exams. Almost 60, I hadn’t taken a serious test in decades.

Reed was my constant companion – a “study buddy” – climbing into my lap or onto my shoulders as I pored over textbooks.

When I retired several years ago, she remained my little six-pound sidekick. I started a one-person public relations consulting firm and called it Black Cat Communications.  Whenever I left the house, she’d sit at the door, more like a dog, and keep a vigil.  Whenever I returned, she’d race out the door and run straight into my waiting arms.  She was sweet-tempered, friendly with everyone, and perplexed when visitors, including canines, were stand-offish.

In her last year, she developed cancer.  We took every reasonable medical step to save her. But on the final day, when I decided it was kinder to let her go, my wife and I wept as we held her in our arms one last time.

I’m not one to overly anthropomorphize an animal. But it's been reported that contact with a pet releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with human affection.  Having a pet, especially in later years, can be an antidote to stress, anxiety, and loneliness. 

Connecting across species without words requires empathy. In war, soldiers often “adopt” a stray dog or cat, allowing them to express gentler feelings; I’ve seen it happen myself, in Vietnam. 

Simply put, I believe animals make us better people.

Still, I was reluctant to let people know how deeply I was grieving. For one thing, how can you compare the heartbreak of losing a pet to the sadness of losing a friend? For another, you can’t expect everyone to be sympathetic. One well-meaning friend said, “Well, it’s just a cat.”

Not to me. 

I’ll never forget the comfort she provided in times of stress – or the joy on a sunny spring day. Watching her bound across the yard in hot pursuit of a butterfly, or perched atop the refrigerator, observing curiously, as Patty prepared a meal.  And even as she slowed in her later years, it thrilled me every time she burrowed under a blanket to get close on a cold winter night.

It’s hard to know how grief may affect you until you’ve experienced it. If someone had told me when I first laid eyes on Reed that I’d feel this way, I’m not sure I would have believed them. But sometimes, in our grief, we’re freer to realize the full impact of our relationships.

I’m admitting it.  I loved her, I miss her, and she’ll be in my heart forever. 

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