When Orson, who just happened to be the best dog in the world, passed away in my arms in 2009, I remembered hearing someone comment, “Pets are an investment in heartbreak.”
Yes, they are. They’re almost always going to go before you. You’re almost always going to have to say goodbye. With Orson, it was after a sudden illness, a week and a half of options running out, until I finally made the decision to put him down. But on the morning I was going to take him in, he decided that he wanted to begin his journey from home.
Cecil, who just happened to be the best tuxedo cat in the world, has now also moved on. I got him just a few months after I moved to L.A. I never knew his exact birthday but I figured it must have been in January of 2000.
I came home from work Friday to hear him crying somewhere in the house. It took me a few minutes to find him… he had crawled under the bed, was panting furiously like he couldn’t get his breath, and his hind legs seemed to be immobile. When I left for work that morning, he had been fine.
I rushed him to the vet, fearing the worst. He was 14, after all. While still alert, still eating me out of house and home, still willing to play with Lionheart, I could tell the last 2 or 3 years that he was slowing down. I had known in my mind that someday, maybe soon, I was going to have to say goodbye.
Long ago I made the decision that no pet of mine will ever suffer. I won’t keep one alive if he can’t enjoy being alive. Animals don’t understand why they have to suffer. I refuse to put a beloved pet through that. If only we humans had the same right.
The news was as bad as I had feared, and yes, I had already steeled myself to make the call.
Cecil was in congestive heart failure. A blood clot which apparently had been in his heart for some time had come loose and damaged his aorta, which caused his hind legs to stop working. The distress exacerbated his heart condition, and his lungs had begun to fill with fluid. The vet began explaining that if he was going to pull through, it would be a couple of weeks of ICU, and then constant monitoring and medication, and most likely he would have trouble moving.
And worse, even if Cecil survived, this was going to happen again in a matter of weeks or months.
They brought him to me one last time. I held him in my lap and said goodbye. The vet sent him off to sleep… it only took a couple of minutes, and then his suffering was done. I must have asked the vet 50 times, “Have I done the right thing?” Each time, she said yes.
It felt so strange, rubbing his head the way he liked. Cecil could purr louder than any cat I ever heard, and one of his favorite things was having me kiss his forehead. That always brought about thunderous throbbing you could feel in the furniture. Always.
Except this time.
The absence of it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Pets are an investment in heartbreak. But it’s an investment we’ll keep making, because along with the heartbreak are dividends of years of love and companionship. Cecil was my constant sidekick longer than I’ve known many of my friends.
Yeah, he was just a cat. Just a pet. But what a huge unfillable hole to leave behind. It will be years before I can believe he’s gone.
Goodbye, my friend. Say hi to Orson. He’s been waiting for you.