We recently euthanized our beloved, beautiful 12-year-old Maine Coon cat, Sweetie, and we're profoundly saddened. We were a family of three, aging together, and we're forever diminished by losing her.
Sweetie's lymphoma was diagnosed suddenly and unexpectedly while my husband and I were on a cruise in the middle of the South Pacific. She who had stayed by my side and in my lap for a dozen years was half a world apart from me at the end. There was no way I could get to her.
The best I could do right before she died was to whisper in her ear, "I will always love you, beautiful girl" from the ship's phone, while her caring sitter cradled her just as I would have.
And because I was floating on a ship with over a thousand people I hardly knew, and showing the sorrow I would have been able to hide if I were grieving at home, I experienced a surprising range of responses to her death, far different from the expected condolences of friends.
Those who had lost animals themselves were genuinely moved by our 10-day, long-distance saga of ship-to-shore calls to the vet and oncologist, a last-ditch round of chemo and blood-tests, and our tearful goodbye to Sweetie. One of the crew members who heard most of the ordeal as we huddled by our cell phone in the alcove off the main deck, burst into tears herself when it was all over, and gave me a long, hard hug.
But many people don't get it. One couple at our lunch table in the dining room actually giggled at the extent of our sorrow, and talked about cat ladies, implying our eccentricity. Others said things like, "Don't worry. It's not like she's human. She probably couldn't tell at the end if it was you or someone else." And "You'll feel better in a few days. After all, she was just a cat."
I've met many "just-a-cat" people through the years. One sub-group seems to think that because cats are independent creatures, there couldn't possible be a deep bond between human and feline. These folks may have huge empathy for dogs, cats ... not so much. They give lip service, but not a whole lot of understanding.
And there are those who don't enjoy animals in general, and who never went through the loss of a loving pet that offered up unconditional love, endless intimacies, and reciprocal kindnesses. These people may be indifferent, clueless, or afraid, and seem to find animals dirty or bothersome. They may not be mean, but they sure don't feel your pain.
The toughest are the hard-core cat haters, who can't help bringing up negative factoids even while you are mourning: the bird population is decimated by outdoor cats; you shouldn't leave a cat and a baby alone in the same room; feral cats can give you diseases.
This type of "just-a-cat" person made a face when we mentioned sending Sweetie to an animal oncologist in hopes of giving her a few more good months. Spend that kind of money? On a potential bird killer?