Linda Arnold: Saying goodbye to a cat who wandered away
R.I.P.: I’ve seen this way too much lately in connection with beloved pets who have departed.
And now I’ve become a member of this club again. Last week my husband John and I said goodbye to our fur baby, Teester.
In the beginning
It was ten years ago that the mysterious gray tabby showed up on our deck. I had just come home from work one night and kept hearing this crying sound outside. John was out of town, and I figured I’d just give the kitty a little something to comfort him.
Knowing that cats like milk, I went to the frig. We didn’t have any milk, so I looked in the cabinet and found a can of salmon. The next thing I knew, I had a new best friend.
We had never had a cat before, and this little guy joined our family- much to the chagrin of our long time dog, Chloe. The little tabby immediately took to John and was much more affectionate than I’d realized at first. We learned the “joys” of paw presses and snuggling caresses at every turn - whether it suited us or not!
Even though he always had a full water bowl, that kitty developed a fascination with the cold toilet water. This led to closed bathroom doors and the nickname of Toilet Toes. This affectionate moniker got shortened to T-Squared - and then T’ster or Teester.
Since we didn’t know much about cats, he went along on trips with us just like Chloe. We learned later that cats don’t traditionally travel very well. This became clear at a rest stop in North Carolina where we let him out of the car - and he freaked out by running into the woods.
I waited in the car while John went to look for him. Passers by joined in the search. We waited. And waited. Finally, John just sat down by a tree and, eventually, Teester came up to him.
Ten years later we were faced with that very tough decision I mentioned. We’ve had former pets who chose to curl up and depart when they knew it was “their time.” And, unfortunately, we had one who was hit by a car. This time it was different, though.
While all of our pet transitions were difficult, we’ve never had to participate in the decision to end one of their lives. Teester had become so ill and there was no chance for recovery. So, the vet encouraged us to end his pain.
I’m quite familiar with the concept of palliative care. In fact, John and I have been very pleased with the care we received from Hospice with respect to all four of our parents, as well as my brother.
This concept just isn’t in my wheelhouse when it comes to the animal kingdom. I’m the one who retrieves spiders, snails - and even stinkbugs - from our house to usher them outside for a second chance. John knows I’ll be opening the front door when he hears me coming down the stairs, shouting “saving a life.”
So, when faced with the decision of hastening the end of Teester’s life, I questioned, “What right do I have to make this decision?”
We thought about this long and hard, as Teester had been having challenges for quite awhile. We just kept putting it off. Then we were greatly comforted by a phone conversation with Patty at the kennel where Teester was boarded during our travels.
“Aunt Patty” had observed Teester during some of his visits to camp, and even took him to the vet during one of those times. She explained that his quality of life had severely diminished, and that he was suffering.
“Your pet doesn’t experience time the way you do,” says animal ethicist Bernard Rollin, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and animal sciences at Colorado State University. “To the animal mind, there is only present quality of life,” he explained. “And it is the pet’s experience that is most important.” I’ll admit this gave me some comfort.
We still held out for another month - and finally succumbed to taking Teester in for a consultation. Our vet could not have been more compassionate and convincing about the appropriate path to choose. While he acknowledged that the final decision rested with us, he reiterated some of the same points as Aunt Patty.
It became more apparent that we’d made the right decision when our vet had difficulty even finding a vein to administer the medication to put Teester to sleep. After three attempts he finally found a vein that wouldn’t collapse, and he noted that Teester’s blood pressure had dropped significantly.
Between tears, John and I managed to say goodbye (for now) to Teester, while we held him.
We brought him home for his final resting place, and I was greatly touched that the contractors who were working at our house had built a nice wooden casket with handles while we gone - and had also dug a grave. Thanks, Gary and Smokey. What a wonderful gesture.
The Rainbow Bridge
We then held a graveside burial in the side yard where Teester’s siblings have their final resting places - and took turns reading stanzas of The Rainbow Bridge. Many pet lovers know this emotional and heartwarming poem, describing an other-worldly place - said to connect Heaven and Earth - where pets go upon death, eventually to be reunited with their owners. Here are a few excerpts:
All the animals who have been ill are restored to health and vigor. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly, he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass.
You have been spotted. You cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face. Your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet so long gone from your life, but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.
Hearts and Souls
Our fur babies are such special spirits. They come into our lives to teach us lessons, and they find their way into our hearts. Then, when they depart, they leave a hole in our souls.
R.I.P., Baby Teester. You’ll always know how much you are loved.
Linda Arnold Live Life Fully, all rights reserved. Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and Founder of a multistate marketing company.