Coping with the Sudden Loss of a Pet

September 23, 2013 | By Dr. V

My cat Apollo died yesterday. I’m still looking at the keyboard in disbelief when I write that, my eyes furtively darting over to where his food bowl still sits, expecting him to pop around the corner and meow with a loud annoying demanding tone like he does every morning. Did.

After losing three dogs in a row to cancer, a long, lingering, painful sort of process, having a pet die suddenly reminded me all too well that having things happen this way is equally as bad, albeit in a different sort of way. There’s no time to prepare. You wake up in the morning and go about your daily routine, and at 6 pm you’re back at home, emotionally exhausted, $700 worth of testing poorer, and short one cat.

I spent the afternoon running from place to place, eventually landing at our local specialty hospital wanting confirmation of my suspicions that Apollo had a blood clot in his pelvis, a painful condition known as a saddle thrombus. Scratch that. I didn’t want confirmation, I actually wanted someone to correct me and say, oh no, it’s just that he fell off the couch and sprained his hind end. Take this medication and he’ll be right as rain tomorrow.

I knew better, but sometimes I’m wrong. I wasn’t wrong.

I did all the things that people do when they’re panicky and worried about their loved one. I parked crooked in the parking lot, my right side hanging right over the white line, something I didn’t notice until I was leaving.

I missed half the entries on the intake form, simple things like “Is this a cat or a dog?”

I apologized profusely for him soiling himself in his carrier, something that happens all the time and staff always deals with professionally and kindly.

I cried in the lobby, red nosed and sniffly, indelicate. People were kind and asked if there was anything I wanted. Aside from my cat to not be dying, though, the answer was no.

I declined intensive treatment. It happens to people a lot, veterinarians offering you all sorts of very complex things that may or may not work. I understand the concern they will be disappointed or judgmental if you decide not to do those things (they aren’t; at least not the ones I know.) They do it because they have those things to offer and some people want to do them. Those who do not, like me, go home to say goodbye. It wasn’t a money thing, though that is a valid concern as well. It was the reality of the likelihood of failure. Hint: When a veterinarian tells you “Miracles happen,” that’s not a great sign.

I even put my sunglasses on in the lobby when I realized I was frightening small children, in an attempt to make it not totally obvious I was a mess. It didn’t work, for several reasons.

1. My nose was red and raw from all my sniffling, so if I wasn’t crying over my cat I was either suffering from a horrific cold or perhaps drunk. Either way I was still not in a normal state.

2. My sunglasses aren’t darkened. It was still pretty clear I had swollen puffy eyes. Now I was just drawing attention to the fact.

So I took them off and owned it, marching up to pay my bill with my frightening visage.

“Is your cat staying here?” the receptionist asked.

“No,” I said, and left it at that. His suffering was something modern medicine was not equipped to cure without the helpful addition of a miracle, something I’ve learned not to count on.

I have been through this process with countless clients over the years, and too many of my own pets. Knowing what is going to happen may give you insight, it may give you perspective, and it may even give you more peace that you have made the right decision, but nothing in the world can save you from the exact same swell of grief that each and every one of us knows all too well.

Nor would I want it to.

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