Dealing with Guilt After the Death of a Beloved Pet

An angel in my sock drawer. 

An angel in my sock drawer. 

Seven years ago, I made a decision that changed my life.

I'm a huge dog lover and desperately wanted to adopt a pup. I traveled regularly for work, lived in a condo (on the 15th floor) that didn't allow dogs and also, I was 25-years-old. Dog = bad choice, so a friend suggested I get a cat. 


Cats shed. Cats scratch. Cats hide and never come out except when you are sleeping, then then they lay on your face. Cats whine and meow and pee in a box. Cats smell.

Cats are gross. 

But many a trusted person told me cats are actually pretty great and affectionate. In a moment of weakness, I thought about it and eventually decided, ah what the hell. There's an adoption event at PetCo. I'll just go and look. 

Famous last words. 

Once I arrived, I was shown to five or six crates that housed all sorts of cats. Tiny grey kitties, big fat black and white ones, huge fluff balls with big round eyes. Then, I saw a little white kitty with big green eyes. I thought: 

"That's my cat." 

She was so sweet and perfect and probably didn't even smell like most of the other cats I'd met. I threw caution to the wind and told the adoption lady, "I'll take the white one!" She smiled politely and said, "Sure, but we are only adopting kittens from that litter in pairs."

I saw her siblings: another white cat, then two stripy guys. They all ignored me.

They were soooo not as cool!

I wanted the white one like crazy. Somebody at the adoption event casually mentioned that two cats are better than one because they play and keep each other company. Long story short, that's how I ended up with Olive and Bogart. 

Yin Yang Twins, not to be confused with Ying Yang Twins.

Yin Yang Twins, not to be confused with Ying Yang Twins.

As I expected, Olive and I bonded immediately.

Every morning, she'd follow me like a white shadow from bed, to the shower, to my closet, to the breakfast table. She knew her name and would come when I called. She slept next to me every night. She snuggled by me while I pulled all nighters for work. She was there to help mend broken hearts, kept me company during the two years I lived alone, and gave me the thumbs up when I fell in love with Josh. My other cat Bogart was there for all of that, too (and he is, in fact, an awesome cat)… but Olive was my sweetheart. 

Yoga cat.

Yoga cat.

Three years ago, I brought both of the cats in for a routine check up. The vet ran some tests and determined Olive was born with itty-bitty kidneys. The vet suggested I put her on some special (and $$$$!) cat food and medicine to "help maintain her quality of life, and possibly prolong it a few more years."

Excuse me?!

My heart sank. Of course, I forked over the money. Anything for this cat.

Not her best angle...

Not her best angle...

Everything was peachy, until we returned from Thanksgiving this year. As I dropped my duffel bag in our entry way, I was greeted by Bogart, but no Olive. After a few minutes, I caught her hobbling out of our guest room toward me. She looked skeletal, weak and completely blank in the eyes. She let out a pathetic, whimpering mew.

I scooped her up and started sobbing.

I wrapped her up in an orange hand towel and we headed to an animal ER (yes, they do exist). The vet took one look at her and said, "That's a very sick kitty." Apparently, she was in renal failure. Her body temperature was 10 degrees below normal. Her kidney values were off the charts and she was severely dehydrated. We all agreed that Olive should stay overnight, but it didn't look good.

I spent that entire evening overwhelmed with guilt.

How long had I ignored her symptoms? Why didn't we have someone check on the cats while we were away? Why had I waited to schedule their regular check-up (bringing them to the vet had been on my to-do list for a month!)?

And then there's our dog Patsy, who we adopted last January. Puppies are a lot more work than full-grown cats. Over the past year, Patsy has become the focus of my attention. Now it's she who follows me like a shadow from bed, to the shower, to my closet, to the breakfast table. She knows her name and comes when I call (sorta). She sleeps next to me every night. I still loved
Olive, but Patsy definitely moved in on her turf. 

I couldn't help but feel like I'd let my bestie down.

Can't we all just get along?

Can't we all just get along?

We returned to the clinic at 8am the next morning. Olive seemed a bit perkier, but her body temp remained very low. The vet told me that I could maybe take her home, but she would likely need weekly IVs and lots of medication. Even with that, Olive was only expected to squeak out a few months, max.

That's no life for a kitty. 

Making the decision to put her down (#70) was actually a lot easier than I expected. It was the right choice, albeit a sad one. Josh and I hung out with her for almost an hour. I pet and cuddled her and scratched her belly. Eventually, the doctor came in with a syringe. Olive peacefully slipped away.

And here's when I faced one of my biggest fears of all: Crying in public (#71).

I cried in the vet clinic. I cried our entire drive home. I cried in a crowded bar. I cried at work. I cried throughout an entire yoga class (fortunately, it was dim enough that no one noticed).

Crying in public makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

In fact, the only person I feel safe crying in front of is Josh. Some people cry so gracefully-- blinking away a tear or two in silence. Not I. I hold back the waterworks until I can no longer take it, and then it's guttural, loud, black mascara mess.

The following week, I couldn't stop thinking about what I could've done differently.

I was consumed by it, and honestly felt really uncomfortable telling people, "I'm acting crazy because my cat died." I thought people would roll their eyes; there's a lot of "I'm not a cat person" persons out there. But when I finally womanned up and admitted my issue aloud (#73), no one tried to make me feel stupid or dramatic. Everyone got it, and many shared a story of a special pet they'd lost. 

Knowing you'll probably outlive your pets is a big reason to not get one in the first place.

They become a part of your family and saying goodbye is so hard. However, I can't even imagine my life without my four-legged kids. I will forever be indebted to their unconditional love and affection.

Give your dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rats, snakes, horses, pigs, cows or birds an extra hug and smooch tonight. They see & love you for the good person you are, warts and all.