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bonnie looking up

Grief, animal friendships, and other people's reactions

In case you didn't see it on Facebook or Twitter, Karsten and I had to put our cat Bonnie to sleep yesterday morning.

It was a tough decision to build up to, but a surprisingly easy one to make the morning of. She had a squamous cell carcinoma growth on her tongue which was diagnosed nearly a year ago, and over the past few weeks it had grown enough to make it difficult for her to eat. Once she could no longer eat at all, there was no way we were going to let her suffer to death, so we helped her die without having to starve.

So we've been grieving pretty hard over the past 24 hours, and I expect that's no surprise to many people who know us. We're obviously animal lovers, after all -- when you're living with six cats at once, and you're vegan, and you advocate for animal rights, and you support organizations like Farm Sanctuary and HSUS and ASPCA and PETA, it should be pretty easy to be profiled as an animal lover.

But the thing is, there've been a number of interactions with people over the past day, both online and in person, that have suggested that those people view my grief as a little over the top. I'm not someone who goes out of my way to be emotionally dramatic, so it's a little surprising to get this reaction, but it's clear these people are genuinely surprised by my grief reaction in the first place, so I can't fault them for what feels like insensitivity.

In fact, I guess I feel a little sorry for people who don't seem to understand why Karsten and I are experiencing so much grief over losing Bonnie. They must not have ever had the kind of close relationship with an animal friend that forms a true, genuine connection.

Bonnie was more than a "pet" to us; she was part roommate, part hang-out buddy, part comic relief. I never thought of her as a child. (We don't generally think of these cats as our "furkids" as some folks do.) Bonnie was a good deal smarter than our other cats, and incredibly loving and sweet. She was one of the three tightly-bonded littermates we adopted in '98 -- our first time adopting animals as a couple -- and she was the surrogate mother-figure to her two brothers. She would nurture them and groom them, and then she'd swat them on the head when her patience ran out. She had so much obvious personality, it was hard not to imagine her as a human in a cat's body.

I've truly never met anyone like her, and I'm going to miss her like crazy. But I also know this: missing her doesn't make me crazy. It makes me someone who's lost a dear and special friend.
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I'm so sorry, Kate. I know just what this is like, and it's just awful.

Thanks, Jae. And I'm sorry you know what it's like.
I'm so sorry about Bonnie. I'm a bit behind on FB and I almost never check Twitter (yes, bad me).

When G and I lost Cato, we were also grieving. He was our one and only, so there was a huge difference in our lives when he was lost to us. I don't think you're overreacting. She'd been part of your lives for a great many years. I'm sure you guys provided her a wonderful home.
I'm not even sure I know someone who wouldn't understand that kind of grief. And I feel sorry for them, too.

I really did feel like Eddie was my child. I was ridiculously attached to him. So I know somewhat how you feel (I don't pretend to know exactly); I can sympathize. It's so hard to lose someone who's been with you for so long. I'm so sorry.
i'm sorry :( *hug*

I'm sorry for your loss. I know all too well how our furry friends work their way into our hearts.

Your grief is your grief, and losing any close member of your family no matter what the species is sad. *hugs* if you want them.
Losing a pet is always incredibly hard. *HUG*
hand on head - b&w

February 2011