Mama Madison: Saying goodbye to a pet

...and thinking about when to get another one

She was just shy of twenty. I have no idea what that means in people, or even dog, years. But according to the vet it was very old. Izzy spent the last five years of her life looking very much like a real-life version of Grizabella, the geriatric alley cat from Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Memory"-producing musical. She was matted and scroungy; I am not sure she ever weighed more than 4 or 5 pounds. We were just waiting for a sign that it was time. I felt blessed the vet could take her last Saturday morning. The sign, that she could no longer use her hind legs, came on with a vengeance on Friday night.

This wasn't the first time my kids have been through the loss of a pet. This coming January will mark the two-year anniversary of when we put another beloved cat, also 19, to sleep. And in many ways that one was much harder. We may have had three cats, one more than acceptable if you don't want to be considered "crazy cat people." But Emmy, a soft, sweet black and white shorthair, was the only one who paid the least little bit of attention to the children. The other two, an angry orange tabby we inherited from my father-in-law and Izzy, who was already starting to keep to herself in her twilight years, weren't particularly affectionate. Emmy was their lap cat. She was their pet in the very best sense of the word.

A few weeks prior, my husband noticed she had slowed down significantly, and then one Friday, this time in the morning, she was having a hard time standing. We let everyone stay home from school so that they could come to the noon vet appointment. I think I knew that it was a goodbye, but hadn't brought myself to be so sure when talking with the kids. We had discussed that the vet might tell us "it was time." But it was clear they were quietly praying that the cat doctor would have some miraculous cure that would allow for a "tenth life." They had hope--and I may have incorrectly encouraged it. At 11:45 a.m., we wrapped her in a blanket and climbed into the car for the five-minute ride. All three kids took turns holding her, no cat kennel, in the back seat. I told them she wanted to be cuddled. But the truth was I knew there was no way I could drive an empty carrier home.

The vet was kind, but direct. While it was possible Emmy's advanced kidney disease would allow her to live another couple of weeks, it was an equally compassionate choice to put her to sleep as part of this appointment. For me it was like pulling off a bandage. I just wanted to get it over with, to get to the other side. The idea of going to sleep each night worrying that my daughter would awaken the next morning to the cat lifeless in her bed sounded dreadful. The kids and my husband all said their goodbyes and left the room, where I stayed to hold Emmy as she gently drifted off.

The kids didn't go back to school that day and when we got home I asked them what I could do to help them feel just a little better. My oldest son didn't miss a beat. "The only thing that will make me feel better is to get another cat." And within two hours of one of the worst moments of their lives we were off to a different vet"this one with a sign out front advertising kittens for adoption. It was ridiculous, I knew, to even entertain the thought. We still had two cats at home and we certainly hadn't engaged in anything close to a respectable mourning period. But ice cream, my usual fallback for the hard times, wasn't going to cut it. And we welcomed Desi into our family that night.

It was different this time, though. The signs were so obvious and the kids didn't feel the need to hear the "Circle of Life" speech again. We all went quietly to the appointment knowing exactly what was going to happen. Everyone gently kissed her fur, and I again held her in her last moments.

This time we came home and reminisced about what an exciting life Izzy had led. We remembered how she had been purchased for the equivalent of 27 cents in a Mexican pet store. We remembered that she had traveled throughout North America spending quality time in Mexico City, DC, Boston and Chicago before becoming a Cheesehead kitty. We remembered how in her final weeks she'd taken to sleeping upstairs in the boys' room again, reclaiming the space annexed months earlier by the new kitten.

And we remembered that this time we probably didn't need another cat, especially that evening. But that isn't keeping my husband and daughter from talking about getting a dog. And I guess I'm open. Because that's what loving and losing a pet teaches you. That you can adore them with all your heart and that your heart can be broken. But you also learn that hearts open up again, especially for warm furry things that curl up on your lap.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Talking about race with Families for Justice

Like many parents, I look at the wide world around my kids and do my best to prepare them for life. We talk about working hard, being kind and responsible, Internet safety, stranger danger, and the (gulp) birds and the bees. But what about a topic such as race?

Mama Madison: Checking it twice

If you're like me, looking around your house in the weeks before Christmas will probably have you convinced that the last thing your kids need to find underneath the tree is a pile of new toys.

Mama Madison: Managing holiday lists

I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about how lucky we are to have what we have. Though our house is tiny and our van is unequipped with automatic doors, we have all we could ever need, and a lot of what we want.

Girls on the Run of Dane County marks a decade of changing young lives

On the evening of Nov. 6, a throng of people gathered at Monona Terrace. They were there to attend an impressive anniversary shindig, but the real buzz of excitement centered on the event's guest of honor.

Mama Madison: Mom dates are hard

You may call them "play dates," but I like the term "mom dates," especially since my kids are still too young to really care that there's another small person to squabble over toys with.

Mama Madison: No judgments with No Excuse Mom

If there is an excuse for not working out and eating healthy, I have used it: I don't have time. I'm too tired. I'll start tomorrow. I'm no good at this, I give up. I don't know where to start. Yes, I have used all of these and more.

Mama Madison: Introducing kids to your CSA box

At almost a year old, my kids are in the blissful stage of life where they'll eat nearly anything that I put in front of them (at least as long as it doesn't require much in the way of molar action).

Mama Madison: Changing tables, changing times

My family recently went through something that we have not experienced in over eight years. We have become a household that no longer harbors a crib or a changing table.

From museum to school with MMoCA

"There really is no wrong way to do it." That's how Madeline, age 13, describes creating artwork. She and her classmates at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie are honing their artistic skills by participating in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Art on Tour program.

Mama Madison: Coping with toddlers in a Wisconsin winter

I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.

Mama Madison: Melissa Wardy pushes positive messages

I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.

Mama Madison: Three cheers for reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival

Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.

Mama Madison: What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.

Mama Madison: Eugster's is more than just a visit to the farm

At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.

Help for home-schoolers at the Madison Mentor Center

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.