When pets are a part of your family, we tend to measure the passage of time based on which cat, dog, bird, fish or lizard was with us and our families during which portion of our lives.
Butch, my cat from 1985-2005, was my grade-school-to-high-school-to-college and first job cat. Holding him at my parent’s home as he crossed the rainbow bridge is one of those memories forever etched into my brain.
Recently, Addy and I were by the side of our longtime kitty, Shea, as she took her final breath at Lee’s Summit Animal Hospital, an equally painful and sad time in the history of pet ownership as my daughter was part of the grieving this time around.
I always tell people I “got Shea in the divorce,” but the truth is, I was pretty happy to have her and her nemesis, Kahlua, around the house.
Shea was an endless source of entertainment for the vast majority of her life, still acting like a kitten at times chasing balls and toy mice around the house, anticipating the sneak attacks at the paws of Kahlua, her Maine Coon rival to Shea’s Tortoiseshell demeanor.
Shea loved a good box. Or a laundry basket. Not necessarily a lap, although she would get close enough for scratches and love from Addy, whom, while aging to 3, 5, 7 and beyond, came to absolutely love this cat.
As she got older, Shea found her beanbag in the back of the house and we would see her less and less. But she always, always knew when Addy was home. Even through losing her hearing, within minutes of Addy coming home from school or walking in from soccer practice, Shea knew she was home and would waltz up, in no particular hurry, for some love and attention.
Although their relationship was tenuous and dicey for many years, I came home one day to find Shea asleep on the sofa and Kahlua lounging just a cushion down. Perhaps they’ve made peace, I thought. Or they’re both just aging and don’t care enough to battle it out as they cross paths to and from the food dish.
Whatever it was, Shea barely left that couch for the next year. With a blanket on her end cushion and a step-stool to help her up, that was her spot. As Addy did homework or watched TV or read books (to Shea and to herself), that was her spot. And, sadly, when it became apparent she had suffered some sort of spinal or back injury and couldn’t walk, that was the spot she strived to climb back to.
After helping her back to her beanbag, close to her food, water and litter, Shea could no longer move around on her own. But I’ll be damned if when Addy returned back to my house from a weekend away, that Shea didn’t find the strength to make it to the living room to see her. We laughed and cried, knowing this was about the time.
I took Addy out of school the next morning after it became clear from our veterinarian that Shea’s time had come. Addy stood with her, stroking her back and talking to her. Shea knew it was time, but it so warmed my heart that Shea could also tell Addy was there.
Those days are the worst. And yet, the conversations and memories that come from the lives of our pets somehow ease the pain of the days we have to say goodbye.
Kahlua roams the house solo now, aware of the absence, we think, and surrounded by memories of Shea and a photo of Addy reading “Puppy Place” to her on the couch.
And Addy, well, she now has a “that amazing, sweet pet I used to have” story forever more.