As I start this new blog, I thought I would share some of my pet memories, and how these furbabies shaped my life. I have had many pets; however, I only want to focus on a few that really shaped my life and helped me learn how to cope with loss.
Patches was a tortoiseshell calico who made up for being the runt of the litter. She was a pudgy cat with a small head who had quite an attitude. She was quirky, drooled any time you pet her, and she loved breath mints. My parents and I adopted her and her sister, Midnight from a neighbor’s house.They were two cute little kittens who stole everyone’s hearts.
I was super excited to have my own cat (Finally!), and I made sure Patches was fed every day, had plenty of water, and had a clean litterbox. This was my first time being responsible for a pet, and I was taking it seriously! Some of Patches quirks were endearing; however, some were a little more frustrating. For example, if I left home overnight, Patches would leave me a “present” to find when I arrived home. I never thought a cat would seek revenge, but Patches proved me wrong.
When I moved out of the house at 19, Patches was by my side…she wasn’t happy to move, but she acclimated after a little time. As time moved on, and I got married to my high school sweetheart, her revenge became a daily occurence. Since my new husband and I lived in an apartment, I felt Patches needed to move back to my parent’s house.
My parents cared for Patches and Midnight until they were old and ill. My mom is responsible for bringing her and Midnight to the vet when they were ready to cross the rainbow bridge. I regret not being there. I regret putting that responsibility on my mom’s shoulders.
When I look back on my time with Patches, I realize there was so much I didn’t know about cat behavior. I didn’t know declawing was a horrific surgery. I didn’t know that cat body language can speak volumes. I didn’t know that multiple cats in a household need multiple access points to a litter box.
There were so many things to learn, and I thank Patches for the beginning of that journey.
One of the reasons for Patches moving back to my parent’s house was that my husband and I adopted an amazingly beautiful and young Maine Coon named Harley. Harley was a super chill cat who would get along with everyone, and who loved to be close to his people. He was the only cat I could hang upside down or wrap around my neck. The only problem was that Patches did not like him, and he nonchalantly made sure that she became the pariah in that relationship. To better serve Patches (and to keep our deposit), she went to live with my parents.
After Patches left, Harley didn’t stay alone very long. We ended up adopting a 4 week old female DMH, who we named Aprilia. Their introduction would make most Behaviorists cringe. My husband and I brought Aprilia home and then promptly placed her in front of Harley. (We call this a baptism, yikes!) To our amazement, Harley sniffed Aprilia and started grooming her. His paternal instincts showed through up until the day he passed away.
My husband and I lived in Washington at this time, and fleas were a problem in the area. My vet recommended we give both Harley and Aprilia a bath to get rid of the fleas. I purchased a good flea shampoo, drew a bath, and was able to bathe Aprilia with no problem. Once I put Harley in the tub to try and clean him off, he let out a low gutteral sound, and stopped breathing. I scooped him up, yelled for my husband, took Harley into my room and tried to give him CPR. His body was rigid, his body expelled feces, and I could not get him to breathe. I called the vet, and they told us to come in immediately. We rushed him to the office. It only took us about 10 minutes to get to the vet’s office; but it seemed like it took hours.
The vet gave Harley an injection that was supposed to jumpstart his heart, but it didn’t work. Harley had actually passed away in my arms at home. I was devasted. Did I do something wrong when I tried to bathe him? Did I press on his back too hard, or did he inhale deadly fumes? What will happen to Aprilia? Is she going to die too? There were so many unanswered questions, and at that time test results seemed to take forever to come in.
The vet did an autopsy and determined Harley’s heart suddenly stopped. This incidence was similar to when an athlete collapses on the court or the field. There is no telling why or how it happened; it just does. Harley had only been a part of our family for a year…at most. I continued to beat myself up as I thought I caused his death. Should I have really given him a bath? Did I get the wrong shampoo? Or…could it have been something like heartworms? I still don’t understand his death to this day…and it was 18 years ago.
Looking back on his death, I realize, Harley is the one who led me into the animal welfare sector. He is the one who taught me to continue loving my pets as well as those in the shelters; to learn how animal behavior works, and to see that each animal is treated with love and dignity – in life and in death.
Aprilia is one of my most recent pet memories, and it is still raw. After Harley’s death, I annoyed Aprilia with how close I monitored her health. Any sniffle, weird looking nodule, or awkward meow, I rushed her to the vet. Once the wounds started to heal, I got to know Aprilia for who she really was.
Aprilia was a goofy little girl, who loved to drink from the faucet and groom my husband’s beard. She would climb up tapestries and Christmas trees, and zoom around the apartment. She didn’t like to snuggle, but she would lay close to us and let her motor roar while we fell asleep. She was an amazing little cat.
My husband and I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 2003, and the journey from Washing to Arizona was an interesting one. Aprilia took it like a trooper. We moved into my husband’s uncle’s casita and then to 1 bedroom apartment. In this time, my baby had been exposed to my in-law’s house (and their dog), multiple hotel rooms, and other small spaces.
When I began volunteering at a rescue, she was introduced to many different friends. Her first friend was Abel, 17 pound DSH, who became a failed foster. Soon after that, she was subjected to three tiny kittens, Mozart, Brahms, and Francesca. Once they were adopted, I fell in love with an Alaskan Malamute named Roc. Not only was she introduced to these cats and dog, she had moved four more times.
Aprilia lived to be 18 (passing away in the last few months). Her entire life was filled with constant change; be it through the lives and deaths of a few favorite friends, the births of my three boys, and moving to yet another house. Aprilia was a trooper, and she allowed me to learn how cats interact with other pets as well as humans; the nuances in body language and that even though I may have failed her in some ways, she still forgave me, and loved me…unconditionally.
Her last days were hard. A cat who is fastidious with grooming and litterbox became incontinent and unkempt. She stopped eating and couldn’t get up. I couldn’t stand to see her in such distress, so I had her humanely euthanized with myself and my sons surrounding her and giving her love.
I sit here crying now because I love her. She was my companion my entire adult life, and she experienced everything with me. I miss her to this day, and pray that I didn’t wait to long too let her go.
This story is probably the hardest for me. Roc was an Alaskan Malamute that came into a limited intake shelter with his brother Koda. We almost didn’t take either of them in because Malamutes are stoic and can be hard to read in those circumstances. Come to find out, Roc and his brother probably did a little better in the shelter than most dogs because of the stoicism. Weeks went by and nobody wanted to adopt either of these amazing northern breeds. (Who blames them? We were in the desert and Mals belong in the snow.) After a couple months, his brother Koda was adopted. I was taken aback because Koda had Valley Fever, while Roc was completely healthy.
As time went on, Roc became my favorite dog in the shelter. Anytime I taught classes or was working in the behavior department, I brought him out. I didn’t want to take him home because Malamutes don’t do well with smaller animals due to their prey drive, but I found out the cattery was actually using him to dog test the cats! I immediately told my husband, and we decided to foster him.
Fostering did not work out for us. Within a week, Roc was a member of the family. He was a six year old Malamute, who got along with our cats, Aprilia and Abel, who was house-trained, and who loved his family.
Roc was there when I went through a miscarriage in my first pregnancy. He taught my husband how to read my emotions and how to help me through an incredibly difficult time. When I brought my firstborn son home, Roc did not leave my son’s side. My son wasn’t my baby…he was Roc’s baby. He was the same with my other two boys. Even as I went through a heavy postpartum depression, Roc was always there to reassure me that things were going to be ok.
My Roc-Roc lived to be almost 17. I feel that even though I failed him on so many levels, he loved me unconditionally. He forgave me for the hard times we went through, and he just wanted to make sure that our family would remain in tact after he was gone.
Roc taught me so much in the 10 years he was with us. He never left my side. He cared for the cats as well as his humans. There was so much love given that my heart overflows even thinking about him. In his last moments, he was surrounded by his favorite human, my oldest son (6 at the time), my husband, and myself.
To this day, I thank him for getting me through the toughest times in my life.
So, these are just a few stories of the pet memories that have changed my life. It was a learning experience, and each furbaby brought a different story to my life. I now want to share with you what I have learned from these family members, and hope to help you in the future.