This week at work I had a customer come in to the store. She comes in often, buying cans of cat food for her cat, hanging around to pet the dogs who come in. I always chat with her about things- nothing special, just a very kind lady. Instead of going to the cans like she usually does she came straight up to the counter with a bag of stuff. She said “Hi, I’d like to return a few things.” This was nothing new for me, I have customers do this many times a day and I proceeded to ring up the items. However, because it was this woman, returning these specific items (a bunch of unopened cans of cat food) that made my heart sink and ruined the rest of my evening. I knew why she was here and what had happened.
A week prior it was about eight o’clock and I was sweeping and and getting ready to close the store. I hear the ding of the door signaling some one had come in. It was the lady and she, like she usually did went straight to the cans of food. After a few minutes I walk over and ask her if she had any questions. She paused for a second and then said “I have a very picky cat. She gets tired of food so easy. I’ve tried most of these but she just won’t eat them any more.” I get this question all the time, so I start to show her some of the most popular cans that have the most success with picky cats. We stood quiet for a second looking at the cans. She sighed and hung her head low. Obviously this was about more than just a picky cat. She raised her head and said “well the thing is… my cat is 15 years old. She’s not eating much of anything and when she does a lot of the time it comes right back up.” I paused and finally understood her grief and frustration. Her cat was dying and there was nothing she could do to stop it from happening.
She was holding on to the last little bit of hope, trying to find a miracle food that will cure her cat. She and I both knew though, nothing was going to help save her precious friend. She started going more in depth about what was wrong with the cat. The cat has had a long battle of illnesses complimented by a long list of veterinary bills. We began talking about the cat in it’s prime and how much of a friend the cat had been to her. She couldn’t believe it was coming time to make the decision that all pet parents have to make at some point. She didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that she was going to have to put down her friend. I really felt for her, I had just recently made this decision just over a year ago. She began to tear up and was trying to tell me that she wishes that there was something that she could do to keep her around longer.
As the nurturing and caring soul I am, I felt compelled to comfort her. I was, as it turns out, kind of an expert in pet loss. I told her about my time living on a ranch; how animals have come and gone throughout my whole life. I’ve lost everything from a baby horse to a gold fish. She was surprised and kind of laughed- it’s always a surprise for people when I tell them I used to be a cowgirl. I told her about my goats and all of the horses that I’ve lost in my life and I told her something that surprised her again: it never gets easier. Out of all the animals I’ve ever lost, not one time did I neglect to shed some tears (minus an angry betta fish I had when I was 10). My heart broke every single time I thought of the times we had together and how full of life they could be one minute and gone the next. She related to this, she said that’s how it was with her cat.
Then I told her about my most recent and most heart breaking loss I’ve ever had: my Tawny kitty. This loss was the most surprising and hardest to deal with out of all of my furry friends. She asked me what happened to her and I told her the story of my friendship with Tawny. I got Tawny when I was six years old. I’ve always said she chose me instead of my choosing her. When we went to go pick out a kitten from a litter of kittens that had been abandoned and I had my eyes on a cute little calico. But while I was holding the other cat I felt something on my foot. I look down and see this plain little brown cat whose eyes weren’t even open yet. I put the calico down and told my mom I wanted the little kitty that was going to be named Tawny. On the car ride home she fell asleep in my lap and curled up into a cute little ball, I knew right then and there that she was going to be my best friend. The next twelve years were filled with many cuddles and many naps. She was there through everything, arguably the most consistent thing in my life. She was there through all the laughs I’ve ever had, and all the tears I’ve ever shed. She was my best friend. And it’s so weird to call a cat your best friend but I can’t find a word to describe it better.
It was coming up on my last month of my first year of college. I was excited to go home for the first time and see my family. My mom called one day and gave me some bad news. Tawny lost her voice last week and we can’t find out why and she was only getting worse. I didn’t take the news seriously, I knew cats at her age got sick more often, maybe I knew what was going to happen but was in denial. The day came to come home and as far as I knew Tawny wasn’t getting better but not getting worse either. I got home for the first time, ready for summer to start and to relax after finals. I walk into my room and on my bed is Tawny. Five pounds lighter, frail, and no light in her eyes. It all hit me when she looked at me and meowed and tried to get up to see me. Tawny was dying. I stayed up with her all night, hearing her wheezing, and go minutes without moving. I cried a lot that night. I knew what was going to happen in the morning. Tawny had waited for me to get home and she was finally letting go. The next morning I did what I had done a hundred times, we went next door and said our goodbyes. I had to be there for her, I owed her that much. I help her when she took her last breathe- sobbing the whole time. I thanked her for her years of friendship and told her I loved her. We took an imprint of her paw and with that she was gone. We buried her in the side yard and with that my best friend was gone.
Trying not to cry, I told my customer this story. She was on the brink of tears herself. She told me that’s exactly how she felt about her little baby and now she knew what she had to do. It was the best thing for the cat, she wouldn’t suffer and would be at peace. You never want a pet to keep trying when there’s simply no try left. My mom always told me it was “selfish” to keep a pet around longer than they need to, and I believe she’s right. It’s not about what we want, if it were up to us we would keep them forever, and with todays veterinary science, that’s almost possible. But is that fair? No it’s not. We need to let nature take its course. It’s one last thing we can do to show our friends we love them.
So fast forward one week and here was this customer standing in front of me, returning all of the can she had purchased the week before, unopened. I knew what had happened, she didn’t need to say it and I didn’t want to ask. She got her money back and I told her we have adoptions every weekend and we have a lot of good kitties looking for homes. Her eyes lit up, either with tears or hope. She said thank you and left knowing she would be going home to a house that her best friend once lived. But I knew she was grieving. Losing a best friend is never easy, whether they’re covered with fur or clothes. They mean so much to us and it’s never easy to say goodbye, but it’s most likely the best thing you can do for them. All you can do is say goodbye and thank them for all the fun times.
I miss you every day Tawny, I have your paw print on my left arm so you’re still with me. You will never be replaced and always remembered. I love you. Thanks for everything.