How do you feel about mourning a family pet when it dies? What's the big deal? How does the death change your life; the life of other pets in the home? Given the choice to treat the pet at all costs or to euthanize it would you be able to decide what's best for the pet, or would you try to keep them alive as long as possible?
Our dear Himalayan cat had been in frail health since February. But this week she started showing signs of increased ill health and stress. She started wheezing several days ago which gradually kept getting worse. Monday night she was very restless and obviously distressed from breathing problems. She was still drinking water and eating soft food, but appeared weak and listless. I spent several hours through the night observing and comforting her.
Tuesday morning we decided to take her to the vet who confirmed that Koko was seriously ill. She suggested several things that could be causing Koko's symptoms, including cancer of the lungs. Would that have explained why Koko lost her meow a month ago? But she could still purr just fine even in the vet's office. Sometimes purring seems to be a coping mechanism.
Cats are very stoical, withdrawing into themselves without complaint until they're too sick to hide their suffering. I hate watching a cat, or any animal, suffer and increasing their suffering by putting them through a barrage of tests and treatments that only add to their stress. Now if she had been only two, or even ten years old, we may have consented to some tests and treatment if healing was a possibility. But how much time could we have borrowed for a fifteen-to-twenty year old cat? And what quality of life would she have had? Why would we put a pet we love through that? Just because we couldn't let her go? I believe we're being selfish, not loving, when we can't let go.
The vet said it isn't at all cruel to euthanize. We were prepared to hear the worst when we took Koko to the vet and had pretty well decided that euthanizing her might be necessary. It was hard. We stayed to comfort and pet Koko till she was gone. The struggle for each breath was gone. We brought her home and buried her beside Tabby in the backyard.
I cried off and on throughout the afternoon. When we have a pet as many years as we had Koko they become a part of the family. There are so many things in life that are uncertain. A pet becomes the one constant that's always there to share in our worry and stress. I frequently hug my cats who always seem to know when I need their warm and unconditional presence to comfort me.
Because of our pets consistent presence in our lives along with the routine of caring for them, they are greatly missed when they're gone. Who will be there to greet me at the door when I come home? What will I do to fill that time I spent feeding, playing, grooming, and, well, talking to them? What will be the "glue" that helps hold our family reunions together at holiday gatherings?
Bunny, our remaining cat, appears to be grieving. When we lost Tabby a couple of years ago, Bunny went around the house looking for her former playmate. If I remember right, it took her about three months before she was back to her playful self.
Yesterday I decided to let her see Koko lying inert and unresponsive in the box. She sniffed and watched Koko for a few minutes. The rest of the afternoon she was solemn as she followed me around the house. Even though Koko and Bunny didn't play together, when we were gone for a few hours or longer, they were there for each other. It will be interesting to observe Bunny's behavior in the weeks ahead.
Koko is on my mind constantly during this time of getting used to her being gone. I look for her in all the usual places: on one of the couches, behind the rocker, in the bathroom getting a drink, or at her dish grabbing a snack. The last few days I would find her in unusual places like under the grandfather clock; I sensed she was looking for a place to die, a natural behavior of dying animals.
Finally the realization hits me, that I will never see Koko again in this life. But I do expect to see her in the next life. On what do I base the belief that we will see our pets in heaven? Romans 8:21-22 reads, "All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Isaiah 11:6-9 depicts a new earth where Christ's perfect peace will dwell. I look forward to it with anticipation.