“When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there – in sunny weather — stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?” ~ Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain
Eight years ago my family lost a beloved pet and I dedicated a post to his memory. And now we have said goodbye to another. Our daughter and son-in-law, Lyn and Paul, have lost their precious 11-year-old Maxx to cancer. This post is dedicated to his memory.
Our pets bring joy and love to our lives and it is our wondrous and sometimes heavy responsibility to care for them properly. One of the heaviest parts of that responsibility is to take action when they can no longer function or enjoy the quality of life they deserve. That usually involves a gut-wrenching end-of-life decision. It is never clearer than at this point in the human-pet relationship how respect, which is the basis of etiquette, for our pets overshadows our own desires. The pet that has brought us joy, love, companionship and entertainment — that was always there for us no matter what had happened to us during the course of the day, the pet that we nurtured, cuddled, played with, cared for in sickness and in health and cherished (sometimes beyond all reason) — has never needed us more than when it nears the end of its life and depends on us to spare it from chronic and increasing pain and dysfunction. That is the understanding of trust and love — the ultimate ethical and empathetic connection between human and pet.
Maxx was my husband, Ted’s, and my grandkitty. We followed his life from kittenhood when he was adopted by our daughter and through the years when he and his adopted sister, our other grandkitty, Mushu, have stayed with us and when we cat-sat for them. And because our daughter, and later our son-in-law, loved them so much, there was an additional dimension to our feelings for these cats, almost as though they were as much a part of our lives as our own cats have been. We have seen for ourselves and heard about Maxx and Mushu’s antics, their ups and downs, trials and triumphs for many years. So it was with trepidation that we took the news that Maxx was sick and not getting better, and with broken hearts when we learned that we would be losing him.
Grief over losing a pet is one of the strongest emotions that a person can feel. Having a pet that we have cared for through many years has the intensity of caring for a creature that is perpetually dependent on us, often for a decade or longer. The bond is deep. We who live with pets with which we can communicate on an emotional level — cats, dogs, birds, ponies, horses, for some examples — tend not to think too much about the day that will inevitably come when we will have to say goodbye. Sometimes the end is out of our hands — an accident, for example. But most often it is a day in which we must decide for the noblest of reasons to end a life that we love — to protect that pet from pain and suffering that cannot be stopped otherwise. But through the grief and mourning of letting go of a companion that we will miss, there is the realization that we have done the very best for an animal that has trusted us throughout its life, right up until the end.
Lyn adopted Maxx when he was six months old and he would have turned 12 years old later this year. A striking striped orange tabby, Maxx was from the very beginning entertaining, funny, adorable, affectionate with a slightly quirky but lovable personality. But like some of the other rescued cats in our family he arrived with some medical issues that would bother him from time to time. But despite those issues this very lucky cat lived a good-ole life from the moment that Lyn first held in her arms the little fluff ball she ultimately named “Maxx” to the final time she held him. Also fortunately for Maxx, he had the best veterinarian on the planet, Dr. Cynthia Eldredge, who has been our various cats’ vet for nearly 17 years. Dr. Eldredge has been there for Maxx practically his whole life, from kittenhood up until his last day when she tenderly cared for him one last time.
As cat lovers, our family has had many felines share our lives — two seal-coated Siamese, a blue-eyed white female, a solid black male and currently a black and white female, a Russian Blue/tabby mix male and a gray tabby female. Maxx was the only orange striped tabby, sometimes called a marmalade tabby, and a beauty he was. And just as a point of historical interest, the late great Sir Winston Churchill was a famous cat-lover and one of his favorites was a marmalade tabby like Maxx, named Tango.
Of course, when we lose a loved one there is often the question of an afterlife. In the case of our pets it is a lovely thought that they will live on blissfully in another dimension, possibly a kitty heaven. Some religions believe that all animals go to the same heaven that includes humans. In fact, Pope Francis declared several years ago that cats do indeed go to heaven! On the other hand, non-religious and scientific thought subscribes to a definite end to any form of life, whether human or cat. But who knows? Certainly not I! So if our beloved orange tabby (along with all our other departed pets) is in some big catnip field in the sky, my message to him is: Please do not forget us, dear Maxx, because we will never forget you.
Until next time,
2 thoughts on “THE ETIQUETTE, ETHICS AND EMPATHY OF SAYING GOODBYE TO A PET: IN MEMORY OF MAXX (2008-2020)”
Wonderful dedication. Sorry for your family’s loss. Any Pet gives us the amazing experience to learn nurturing, acceptance, and an amazing communication with another living thing(!).. Thank you for writing this. -Karen
Thank you so much, Karen, for your kind comment. You might be interested in reading my dedication to our other departed cat: https://jeannenelson.net/2012/06/05/pet-protocol/. I should write more about our living pets! We are also dog lovers and have had two wonderful canines. I see that you have worked with rescued dogs — thank you for doing that.