When The 'Family' Pet Dies After Divorce: How I Said Goodbye
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September 17, 2015

I never had a pet growing up. Not even a goldfish. So when my then-husband suggested I adopt an ASPCA kitten from a work event I was attending while he was toiling away at the office late one night back in 1999, I hesitantly agreed. A few hours later, I was on my way home with our first “baby.”

IMG_0894.jpgAnd baby he was, especially as his love and companionship helped bring me back from a bout of depression I suffered after miscarrying my first pregnancy at 11 weeks.

When I did eventually become a mother for the first time a little over a year later, the cat was already an integral part of our family.

He died unexpectedly at the age of three while I was pregnant with my second daughter, and I vowed never again to own another pet. Losing an animal, especially one I loved so dearly and who was closely associated with a trauma in my life, was something I never wanted to experience again.

My husband, a long-time animal lover, had other ideas.

It was on a weekend visit to a pet store with our baby girls strapped wide-eyed into their double stroller, unwitting accessories to what was about to happen, that a store clerk directed us to a cage housing a Ragdoll kitten inside.

The store clerk complicitly handed the kitten to my husband, who introduced the frightened animal to our young girls.

“Would you like to hold him?” my husband asked.

“No,” I adamantly replied, maintaining my distance.

“Just hold him,” my husband urged, placing the kitten into my arms.

When I did, that tiny kitten looked directly at me. Right then, I knew he was ours.

Almost two weeks ago, more than 13 years later, I found myself driving that same little guy, our Louie, from one hospital to another, the second of which would be better equipped to offer him the emergency care he needed.

For the duration of the 40-minute drive, he lay next to me in my eldest daughter’s arms, wrapped in a blanket. Midway through the trip, I caught him out of the corner of my eye, arching his head back toward me.

“What is he doing?” I asked my daughter as I continued to focus on the road.

“He’s trying to see you, Mommy,” she answered.

I glanced over and immediately met his upside down stare. The look we exchanged was the same as on the day we first met.

Forty-eight hours later, he was gone.

We are each grieving in our own way for the loss of our beloved pet, family member, friend, and confidante.

But, for me, there is something more — the loss of yet another connection to life before my divorce.

Louie grew up with our family. When he was young, he traveled to Hong Kong and lived with us there for three years, and was just as much a part of the welcoming committee as my daughters were when my husband and I brought our son home from the hospital for the first time.

For years, Louie remained my three children’s playmate, suffering through countless costume changes and photo shoots, as well as endless and not always so gentle hugs and kisses. He was a good sport throughout and my guess is loved (almost) every minute of it.

Louie grew up with me as well as I began my new life as a divorced, single parent, never letting me sleep alone, not once, while my kids were away with their dad or allowing me to sit by myself on the couch watching TV. He helped fill what I at one time believed was an unfillable void in my life.

When Louie got sick, I was willing to go to extreme measures (and expense) to save him. My ex-husband, not so much. It was clear he had long since moved on — from me, from Louie, from our life together — and advised I put the cat down without a fight.  

I didn’t listen.

As Louie fought to come home, first surviving a risky procedure only to face new complications afterward, emotions ran high. So, too, did the medical bill.

A few short hours later, the doctors made us choose: rigorous treatment or euthanasia.

We made the decision as a family. Secretly, I hoped the children would be the excuse I needed to prolong his life. They weren’t. They were the rational ones, refusing to let Louie suffer any longer than he needed to.

The loss of Louie, of our “family” pet, as devastating as it is, is a gentle reminder that there eventually comes a point when we must let go of our past. As I have learned over the last few years since my separation, letting go comes piecemeal, and does not necessarily become any easier even with the passage time.

In the days following Louie’s death, I suggested to my children we welcome another cat into our lives one day.

They responded in very much the same way as I had so many years ago, telling me they do not want another pet.

Having loved Louie for more than 13 years, today I know better.

Quietly, I have begun the search.

If, as I suspect, I am met with resistance down the road, I know exactly what I will say: “Just hold him.”

Because that’s exactly what I intend to do.

How have you begun to let go of the past?

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