By Jason Menard
He said it to us in confidence — a half-whispered commiseration designed to contextualize our sadness. “If we knew how this day would feel,” he said. “Nobody would ever have a pet.”
These words were uttered by our vet as we found ourselves in tears awaiting the end of our cat Chloe’s suffering. It was a gentle sentiment, but one that’s not exactly correct.
It’s a half truth, and I’ll get to the other half by sharing our story.
After 14 years of friendship, companionship, and love, we came to the agonizing decision to euthanize our cat, Chloe. For the last few months, she was suffering from kidney issues, the occasional seizure, a limp caused by a loose paw, an inability to groom, and dramatic weight loss. Her world was restricted to the family room and a hallway, where we had moved her litter.
Yet, despite her difficulty, she was still Chloe. The eyes still reflected her intelligence and caring; her voice still interacted with us, replying to our conversation — frequent as it was, because we never treated Chloe as a cat.
In fact, she was more human than some humans I know.
But, eventually, we realized that we were only prolonging her suffering for our selfish needs. I could justify it by saying, “She’s not in pain…” but she didn’t have that quality of life she deserved. She was still Chloe, but we were keeping her alive not because she was getting better, but because we weren’t ready to say goodbye.
We finally mustered up the strength to end her suffering. And for a week, we understood the concept in abstract. My daughter, who has never known a day without Chloe in her life, spent as much time as possible with her — although she always did. And we kept going knowing that Tuesday was on the calendar.
I’m not ashamed to admit that, for a few minutes at the vet, I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t crying — it was more like my heart and soul was leaking out of my body. There were no sobs or wails, but rather a steady stream from my eyes, a tightening of my chest, and a constriction of the throat.
We spent the last few minutes of her life with her. Petting her, kissing her, and comforting her. She had trusted us with every moment of her life since the day we picked her up, as a four-month-old kitten, at the SPCA in Montreal to Tuesday night.
I cried more before the needle; my wife cried more after. We were both comforted by how quickly her suffering ended once the needle was administered, and we both lingered with her now-lifeless body. Not ready to take our final leave; not ready to face life without her.
Because that’s the half of the story our vet forgot. The moments and joy that you have with your pet. The simple pleasures that you take for granted when they’re alive, but so acutely miss once they’re gone.
There’s an emptiness in the home without her presence. I still expect her to yell at me as I come down the stairs; I still expect to see her curled up under her favourite chair; I still find myself preparing to say, “Chloe, where are you?” before I remember.
There are still tears; my eyes are watering as I type this. But it’s getting better.
Over the years, we’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s just a cat” or “I don’t know why people go crazy for their dogs… they’re just dumb animals.” And we know, right then and there, they’ve never had a pet.
Forevermore, she’ll be in our heart and will be remembered fondly. We remember all the good times — and not so good times. But what we’ll remember most was how she was a part of our family. It’s not about a specific memory or a personality trait (although we’ll always remember those); it’s more of a feeling and completeness. They’re not ‘just’ animals. And the word pet, for many of us, isn’t enough.
And that’s the other half that completes the vet’s truth. It’s true, knowing how you feel the moment you have to euthanize your cat would discourage anyone from pet ownership. Because if you knew, up front, the joy, happiness, and family completion that a pet can bring to you, every house would have one.
So, knowing what I know of the pain we’ve felt since Tuesday, would I do it again? Without a doubt. While there will never be another Chloe, we’re grateful for every day she spent with us.
And that’s the whole truth.