National Geographic News
Rosie the cat.

Rosie loved a good cat nap.

Photograph by Daniela Silver

Marc Silver

National Geographic News

Published March 5, 2013

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.

15 comments
Kris Collins
Kris Collins

I recently lost my dear sweet cocker spaniel Shilo after sharing over 21 years of our lives together.  I was the hardest thing I had to do, when I finally called the vet and had her come help.  In the weeks before that fateful Saturday morning, I grieved, anticipatory grief, not wanting to let her go but also not wanting her to suffer.  I watched the beautiful, fun loving dog that had been by my side almost my entire adult life, slip further and further away.  Finally watching her became to painful and euthanasia was the only answer to help ease her pain.  I love you baby girl and will always remember our years together.  Thanks for being an ever faithful companion and putting up with my early years and every day standing beside me, with love and determination.  RIP my baby girl.

Cathy Miller
Cathy Miller

Pets are like our bestfriends. To write <a href="http://obituarieshelp.org/words_of_condolences_hub.html">condolences</a> for the loss pet, express your sympathy and focus on supporting your friend. Acknowledge the pet's namelike "I am so sorry to hear about Saskie. I know it meant so much for you and it was hard to make a decision to let him go." You may include sentences that states a recalling of experiences you had with your friend's pet. Just keep it short and sincere.

maureen mendoza
maureen mendoza

I have never been in favor of euthanasia but I cant stand the sight of my pet's suffering either.  But one thing I always make sure of before they pass away: I let them feel that I am with them until they breathed their last..

Melanie Penney
Melanie Penney

I found this really sad, we lost our cat a year ago, which lived to be 16. We didn't have the heart to put her down, and she died in our house. I sometimes still hear her running up the stairs, and I sometimes wake up and think "Did my sister take the cat out of my room again?" and then realise she isn't here anymore. 

Susie Squillions
Susie Squillions

What a moving article.  I haven't had a chance to read the first one, but I have no doubt it was also very touching.  I have worked as a volunteer in the field of pet loss for nearly nine years, and in a veterinary hospital for a year and a half.  One thing I have come to realize is that it's not fair to judge anyone for their decisions at the end of life.  We might never know how they will be affected once the goodbyes have been said.  If they learn from the experience just how precious their pet was to them, then that pet did his/her job of teaching that special level of love, compassion, and acceptance to the person with whom (s)he shared a home. 

Yesterday was the three year mark of saying farewell to our beautiful cat, T.J.  I still feel the ache of loss when I remember the end of his life, but along with it, I feel gratitude for having been his momcat.  I still misss his rumbling purr, the brutish, luggish manner that made us laugh (sorry, Teege, but it was pretty cute), and his enthusiasm for every moment of his life.  I always will, just ass I miss my mom & dad, my sister and other people I have lost.  

I really enjoyed reading about Rosie and the many ways in which she enriched your lives and made your house a home.

L'AntiChrista Du Soleil
L'AntiChrista Du Soleil

I have had several pets die in my lap. They deserve to die with the person who cared for them...Not to be dumped into the arms of someone with a needle of poison to kill them, because you cannot stand the emotions related to seeing a loved one pass on.

L'AntiChrista Du Soleil
L'AntiChrista Du Soleil

I have had several pets die in my lap. They deserve to die with the person who cared for them...Not to be dumped into the arms of someone with a needle of poison to kill them, because you cannot stand the emotions related to seeing a loved one pass on.

Kim Hall
Kim Hall

Several years ago, I lost The Princess Fea (The Ugly Princess). A truly ugly cat with a difficult personality, but she had wormed her way into my heart. I struggled, spent a lot of money to keep her alive - against my vet's advice. Then in the middle of a Saturday night as we both slept outside in the garden she sooooo loved, I realized I was being selfish and cruel. It was her time to go, I packed her up and had her put down immediately. Interestingly about 3 months later, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I wished that I had not had to see him suffer. I am about to lose his cat, Emmy Lou – a bundle of fun, love and joy. The vet and I have a plan in place for her. I want for her to be surrounded by love, spoiled absolutely rotten and celebrated for the gifts she brought to my life. And I want the same for myself when it is my time!

Shelli Golden
Shelli Golden

You were called names because the Internet is inhabited by inherently nasty and cynical people who have nothing nice to say for by all means, never dwell on that part of your grieving process.

I, too, have had to say goodbye to too many pets.  Most recently it was Phil, the kitten who was abandoned behind a neighbor's house almost 17 years earlier and, despite being in our lives all 17 of those years, never actually took a shine to us.  But I tried to love him anyway (which usually involved 30 seconds of petting before he'd hiss and spit and bite me), and took good care of him, and the day I brought him in, although he couldn't walk anymore and was constantly puking, he actually looked pretty good.  It was incredibly hard to justify in my mind what I knew was the humane thing to do.  And despite the fact that he spent his life hating everyone (although to my credit, I think he hated me less than everyone else) I cried my eyes out saying goodbye to him as I was left alone after the doctor gave him his shot (it was the only time he ever let me pet him as long as I wanted, after all).   Even when it's the right thing to do, saying goodbye to anything you love is never easy.  Period.  I'm also in Montgomery Co, MD and with both my cats I got their ashes returned in a lovely little box with their name on it, and I believe that my vet's office also made a donation in my pet's names to an animal welfare group.  It doesn't replace them, but it takes the sting out a little.

One last thing -- I wish that the vet I had brought my first cat in to when she had to be put down had told me that their eyes don't close after they take their last breath.  That would have been helpful information at the time and would have drastically reduced the amount of trauma.

    


Chrissie Raffensperger
Chrissie Raffensperger

When I was in my senior year of high school, my little darling Victoria died. I didn't even know she was so near to the end. I found her under my bed, struggling to breathe, struggling really to die. I held her in a panic wondering what was wrong my dear, beloved cat. She died in my arms, eye wide, mouth open as she panted. I didn't even know something was wrong. We had recently gotten a new dog - since our old one had died. I thought Victoria was just hiding from her. We got her as an adult cat, so we never knew how old she was. But as I held her, I felt the life just go. And I cried so very hard because she suffered and because I lost her. Almost 7 years later, I found a delightful kitten in my backyard. He was sick, obviously abandoned by his mother, so I took him into my life. He's only 9 months old right now. I love him more than anything. Yet, I already know that once he gets too old and too sick, that I will take him to the vet to euthanize him. Why? I don't want him to suffer like Victoria, struggling with every breath, eyes wide, mouth wide, her whole body heaving with her. I couldn't ask him to stay because I wanted a few moments longer with him when he's hurting. That seems incredibly selfish. But like Victoria I do want him to go with me right there, holding him, loving him. I think you did the right thing. 

Dawna Owen
Dawna Owen

Your story has inspired so many people. "Life Without Rosie" says it all. Our cat, Sprite, 17 years, passed last July.  I could not bring myself to make that decision. Sprite lost the use of his back legs - so hard to see Spirte like that. I still thought that he would get up and walk. Sprite tried so hard to walk. He was still eating - the  next day he stopped eating. I  knew I had to call the vet - and did. I started to pray - like I never prayed in my life. I knew in my heart - I had to let go. God heard my prayers. Thirty minutes before the appointment, Sprite passed of natural causes. Sprite is forever in my heart. Spite's spirit is with me each and every day.

Amy Harris
Amy Harris

I had to euthanize my beloved cat, Smokey, on this past Christmas Eve.  She had a tumor growing on her neck and for about 3 months I watched her slowly decline.  I blame only myself for the timing because I was selfish and I did not want to let her go, but every time she looked at me I could see in her eyes that she was miserable.  She also tried on every occasion possible to run out the door and take matters in her own paws.

It was a pretty sad holiday season, but now I seem to be okay.  I still feel as if she will be waiting at the door for me when I come home from work meowing at me to give her some food, and I even feel her presence around me in the house at times.

Losing a pet is so hard, but it was so much harder making the decision for her. 

Ron Whittaker
Ron Whittaker

When a dog or cat got very old and lost its abilities to move around and function I have always made the decision to put it to sleep. (I'm 75, so I've been through quite a few animals.) At the same time I have always wondered if that should be my decision.

Recently, a cat I'd had for well over 20 years had stopped eating, drinking, or even doing much moving. (She was given to me as an adult cat so I'm not really sure how far beyond 20 years she was, but, clearly, she was at the end of a long life.)  I decided this time to just let nature take its course. 

I moved her outside into a sheltered dog house and onto a soft mat (the weather was warm) and just let her live out what was left of her life. I put water and her favorite cat food nearby, in case she would want it.  She never touched either.

I regularly checked on her and she didn't seem to be in any pain -- but with a cat I guess it's hard to tell.

On the day she died she opened her eyes for a moment, which was quite unusual at that point, and momentarily looked at me.  I don't know if she was asking for help or saying goodbye. Within a couple hours she was gone.

I take some comfort in knowing that she seemed to go peacefully.

Dana Lewis Dvm
Dana Lewis Dvm

As a veterinarian who only does end of life care, (in-home hospice and euthanasia), I work with clients who like you have a difficult time making this decision for their fur baby.  It appears to me that you really thought this through and that Rosie's quality of life was in serious decline.  I know how much you miss her but I think you made a decision that was in her best interests.  May memories of Rosie bring you joy and peace.

Dana Lewis, DVM

www.LapofLove.com

Jane A.
Jane A.

I don't think you should have gotten nasty comments like that. I really feel sorry for you.

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