Why is the death of a pet so devastating?
It’s cold out but I still find myself walking up to that rock. I fist my hands in my pockets and tuck my arms close to my body, thinking to myself, Why is it that this grave, marked only by this simple rock, is the only grave I have ever visited? Why is it that I visit the grave of a cat, three years after her death, while I still haven’t made the trip to mourn the loss of my other family members at their headstones in a cemetery? This is not to say that I wasn’t sad when those family members passed because I grieved deeply at those times. But when my cat died, I felt the deepest devastation and loss I have ever felt in my life. Why is it that the loss of a pet felt similar to the loss of a person?
Ever since I came into this world, Chatta was by my side. From infancy to toddler years and beyond, that orange spotted black cat accompanied me on all my adventures. My cousins, siblings, and I all took turns tugging her tail and clutching her, begging her to cuddle with us until she surrendered to our toddler arms. We embellished her in ridiculous clothing, swaddled her in blankets, fed her from our palm. She was our version of a baby doll.
My cousins would be splashing Pacific ocean sized waves in the tub during a nighttime bath while Chatta proudly brought vermin to the foot of my grandparents’ bed.
As we kids grew older and more mischievous, so did Chatta. There were always plenty of us grandchildren to keep in line around the house, and that Torti cat may as well have been one of us. At the age of four I’d be “tattooing” myself with permanent marker as Chatta leaped onto the kitchen counter and snatched the freshly baked dinner off the pan. My cousins would be splashing Pacific ocean sized waves in the tub during a nighttime bath while Chatta proudly brought vermin to the foot of my grandparents’ bed. The bellows of my grandparents’ scolds resonated throughout the house, my grandmother calling out every name she knew before she finally stumbled upon the name she intended to yell.
We grew and so did Chatta. As patches of grey hair appeared in her fur, our heights were being documented and labeled in pencil on the kitchen wall. Time came and went, and an abundance of chuckles rained over the Thanksgiving table every year while we all tried to keep Chatta off the counter and away from the turkey. At Christmas, it was an orchestra of jangles and clashes as Chatta wrestled with the tree ornaments.
The most important service that cat ever provided for me was silent support. Being the only grandchild who lived in the house, I often felt lonely. It was that furry, mischievous, soft, quiet cat that kept me company on the most isolated of nights. Routinely I would leave my door open a crack and wait. I’d watch with excitement as the sliver cast upon my wall from the hallway light grew and Chatta came prancing in. With careful paws, she’d knead the duvet to her comfort and curl up. Some restless nights I’d watch as her green eyes would slowly close. I’d then allow the up and down rhythm of her dark shadow to usher me to sleep. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
I guess I always knew there would come a day that Chatta wouldn’t be around, but there was never a time that I could’ve been prepared for it. I was a freshman when she died, at the height of my need of support. I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was wearing when my grandma delivered the news that we would have to put Chatta down. She had gone blind a couple weeks back and I remember being so angry that we couldn’t just let her adjust. “She’ll get used to her surroundings,” I pleaded. Deep down I knew that it was the best decision, I couldn’t bear seeing that energetic cat so helpless, bumping into furniture every corner she turned.
Yes, this small skeleton had housed the soul of my childhood best friend, but this body, this lifeless and immobile body, was not my cat.
That moment in front of the Humane Society I experienced the most profound sense of loss I have ever felt. I sobbed as I helped place her into the wire cage, her cloudy eyes searching for a familiar face but only being met with the continuing darkness. Shortly after I said goodbye, a veterinarian returned with a pitying look on her face and placed Chatta’s body, wrapped in a blanket, into my arms. I felt where her small head was and prayed that this was all some masochistic joke. Underneath this red blanket was my cat, but also not my cat. Yes, this small skeleton had housed the soul of my childhood best friend, but this body, this lifeless and immobile body, was not my cat. The animation, the personality, the playfulness of Chatta was somewhere where expired lives disappear to. As my grandpa and I buried her in the backyard I wished with all my might to see the movement of her rhythmic breathing that coaxed me to sleep every night. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Three years later I still find myself filled with emotion remembering her life. Why is it that this animal, this pet, affected me in such a way? Was it her constant gratitude? Was it her silent support? Was it her playful personality? Was it because she loved all of us grandkids unconditionally, the way I wanted to love every important person in my life?
Yes. Chatta was all those things to me and more. That’s why I find myself kneeling at the rock that documents her final resting place. And it’s why I leave my bedroom door open a crack every night in the hopes that she’ll come prancing in and cuddle up to me.