Our writer follows up on his First Person essay about losing a pet.
I am truly overwhelmed by the responses to my story about our cat, Rosie, and the decision that it was time to end her life.
People have written to say they were moved to tears. They told their own stories about saying goodbye to a beloved pet, and their stories made me cry.
Of course, I was also called an "indulgent man child first discovering that other beings have worth" and—on fark.com—a "douche." (Although nine out of ten commenters said I wasn't a douche, so I take that as a ringing endorsement of my non-douchiness.)
Why such a response? Why the criticisms? And how is life without our cat Rosie?
Here are my thoughts.
The outpouring of comments, I think, is because we don't really talk about what it's like to end a pet's life. Even the euphemisms we use are detached: "put to sleep," "put down." Yet euthanasia is not something you do with detachment.
I kept thinking, "All our cat wants from us is love, full bowls of food and water, and a cozy place to curl up. And now I'm making a decision that goes way beyond that pact. I'm taking the pet's life, and I can't communicate that to her, I can't discuss it with her, I just have to do it."
But I didn't want to do it. I wanted to believe in the power of magical thinking: "Maybe she'll start using the litter box properly again. Or maybe fate will intervene and she'll expire of 'natural causes.'"
(As an aside, I will also tell you that one of the things we don't talk about is how much euthanasia can cost. Our wonderful vet in Montgomery County, Maryland, would have charged over $500. When he said we could certainly look for other, less expensive options, I found some animal-welfare groups that would euthanize a pet for around $100, but they were all too far away. I even looked up "do-it-yourself pet euthanasia" on the Internet. [Don't judge me: I'm a reporter, and I was curious.] Every site I found advised against it.)
The criticisms of my story typically focused on my statement that I didn't expect pet euthanasia to be so hard. I really, truly didn't think I would lose control and begin sobbing. I didn't expect to see my pet's life pass before my eyes: Searching for a tiny orange kitten all over the house and finding her hidden under a dresser ... with a little cat poo by her side. Our daughters standing outside on a stormy night and calling her in: "Rosie, Rosierosierosie!"—and of course she wouldn't come, and I'd think, "She's a goner," and then she'd show up in the morning, perhaps having used up one of her nine lives but looking none the worse for a night outside. Even trying to sneak a pill into her mouth when she had an infection (oy, don't ask!).
As I wrote, I assumed it would be a simple decision to say, "Time for her to go"—and in fact it was a difficult decision that I just couldn't make. I'd say, "Nobody else would clean up as much cat urine as we have!" Then I'd say, "What a whiner I am. So it's a little cat urine—how can I take her life away because of that?" I kept calling our daughters, who now live in Colorado, to say, "Well, I think it's time," and they'd say, "Dad, we understand. Do what you have to do." And I couldn't bring myself to do it.
Like many caregivers, I was focused on the here and now: We have to attend to an aging cat that has trouble making it to the litter box. I lost sight of the fact that over 20 years, our mostly silent cat (Rosie rarely meowed, or even purred) had so deeply insinuated herself into our family's life.
So how is life without our cat? A week after saying goodbye to Rosie, I still expect to see her around the house. At night, when I sprawl on the sofa to watch TV, I keep thinking she'll be there, trying to figure out if, at age 20, she has the get-up-and-go to jump on the couch. Some nights she did. Some nights I'd give her an assist. And while my wife frequently mocks my taste in TV, Rosie always let me pick the show—and never complained.
Rosierosierosie, I really do miss you!
Marc Silver is deputy director of text for National Geographic magazine and co-author of the new book My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice from Real-Life Teens.