On Loving (and Losing) Pets

Cat and dog lovers give our hearts to our pets without reservations.

When we begin a new relationship with a person, experience has taught us to take care with our hearts. But with a new dog or cat, we don’t worry if they’ll like us back, if they are willing to commit, if they will ever cheat on us, or if we’ll outgrow each other. We know they’ll love us wholeheartedly.

My Tasha

My Tasha

We allow ourselves to be caught up—they’re so cute, sweet, and funny—that we can easily lose all sense of perspective. But we’re enjoying them too much to care if the anecdotes we tell about them have become tedious.

We overlook how annoying our pets are—the messes, the whining, the way they eat stuff they shouldn’t, wreck our things, chew/scratch/claw—it’s all OK, because we’re besotted.

We worry about their health, pay hundreds of dollars in vet bills, fuss over special foods, and adapt our schedules so we can take care of ailing pets.

Ultimately, we agonize over end-of-life decisions: Do we have the right to keep them going even when they’re sick and in pain, because we aren’t ready to lose them? How will we know when they’ve had enough? How can we bear to part with them?

Despite knowing we will likely outlive our pets, we willingly take on the cycle of loving/caretaking/loss, because our pets give us so much joy. Unreservedly.

For anyone who has lost a beloved pet recently—especially Beth, Pam, Margo, Becky, and me.




After Kor Am Tae Kwon Do class, Antonio, Jody, and Crystel bustle inside. Soon I hear, plop, plop, boom as workout bag after workout bag bounces off the basement steps and lands on the bottom.  Antonio walks over to where I’m sitting, my hand lying on Spirit.

“Did you brush Spirit?” Antonio asks.

“Yeah, I forgot she was dead.”

He laughs. It helps to have a sense of humor when your pet has just died.

This is the first time Antonio and Crystel been old enough to understand the death of a pet.

JoJo and Angel

Angel and JoJo

JoJo died on Crystel’s 4th birthday, but this was after Jody and I visited the vet for the sick cat. While burying JoJo in the backyard, I told the children that animals and people don’t die completely, but their spirit lives on, so you could pet their energy. I thought all was going well for the 4-year olds, and I was especially touched when they asked permission to pet JoJo. I said, yes, and had an image of them floating their small hands in the air, caressing him above his grave. Fortunately, I looked out the window before they had shoveled JoJo back up. My spiritual talk flew right up to heaven past their little heads.

Now that they are 11, they could participate in Spirit’s death. Two hours earlier, all of us including our two dogs and other cat, were surrounding Spirit as Dr. Rebecca from MN Pets talked about the process. Earlier in the day I had asked for referrals. MN Pets as well as Animal House Call Service were recommended.I didn’t want Spirit to go one more day in pain.

My morning routine with Spirit was for her to sit on my lap. She’d crane her neck to give me a head butt. I’d brush under her chin where she liked it the most while listening to her purr. Jody had an evening routine that involved Spirit curling between her legs as she brushed her teeth. Between morning and night, Antonio and Crystel visited Spirit in one of her many hiding places.

Dr. Rebecca made us feel good about our decision to let Spirit go. She pointed out the signs as Crystel lay nose to nose with Spirit. She told us about the sleepy drug that she would give Spirit and then the final injection that would stop her heart.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

I noticed that I was trying not to cry, but then I realized that wouldn’t help the children at all if I didn’t show that it was okay to cry. So I got a box of Kleenex and let my feelings eek out.  

Crystel lifted her head. “Can I have one of Spirit’s whiskers?”

“Let’s talk about that later, Crystel.” I said. I didn’t really have a problem with this but the cat wasn’t even dead yet. Seemed like we were getting a little ahead of ourselves.

“Yes, let’s wait on that one, Crystel,” Jody said.

Spirit’s heart had stopped beating before Jody, Antonio, and Crystel left for Tae Kwon Do but I assured them that she wouldn’t be buried until they got back.

While they are gone, I continue to pet and brush Spirit until the warmth leaves her body.

Spirit's brother Angel

Spirit’s brother Angel

When they return, I ask, “Antonio and Crystel, are you going to carry Spirit outside?”

They negotiate how they are going to manipulate the cat bed out the patio door without dropping Spirit.

Spirit still looks like herself. She isn’t cold. She isn’t stiff. She doesn’t look like a ghost or a cat skeleton.

After placing Spirit in the hole, I ask, “Who wants to be first to shovel dirt on her?”

“I do,” Crystel says.

Tears and soil fall on Spirit.

Because we didn’t rush Spirit into the ground, death was not scary for the children—especially, since they came home to find Mama Beth brushing a dead cat.   It wasn’t even necessary to give them a talk about how our spirits still lives after we die. They were living it.

“My Hamster is Dead.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“My hamster is dead,” Crystel tells me. I look at her. “Are you serious?” There are many times she is not and I can’t discern if this is one of those times. “Yes,” she says.

I’m still not convinced. “Are you sure?” I ask.

I walk into her room. Brownie has his eyes closed. He looks …at peace. But I also think that I smell the faint stink of something decomposing. I don’t want to touch him and feel his stiff body, though I know that will be forthcoming. It is my job to remove dead things. I get beckoned for spiders, June Bugs, a fly.

“How did he die?” I ask her. “I don’t know,” she says. She goes on to insist that he outlived the normal life span for a hamster. I’m not so sure about that. We travel back in our memory for how long we have had the hamster. I recall the tooth fairy bringing it to her. “Well, why did Antonio get one then?” “Because you got one,” I say.

I study the rodent. “Did someone choke it?” I imagine little fingers squeezing its neck. It would have been easy to do. I have refused to EVER touch the omnivore. It doesn’t seem normal to me having such an animal for a pet.

“No,” she insists. “He lived a normal life.”

“We will have to have a funeral soon,” I tell her. What I’m thinking is that we need to get this dead thing out of the house.

July 11, 2013 022Crystel has the burial place already decided. “By my window,” she says. Jody isn’t so sure. In front of her bedroom window is a spirea and rocks for landscaping. But it isn’t like the hamster needs a large burial plot.

I reached into Brownie’s apartment with a Kleenex and wrapped him in it.

July 11, 2013 024Crystel and I covered Brownie with dirt and rocks, called Jody over, and said a few words. Crystel found a nearby rock for a gravestone.

Antonio would need to learn about Brownie later. He was at a sleepover. Decomposition waits for no person.