We shaved our cat.
Correction: We had our cat shaved, by a professional cat groomer. When Mr. ABF told me the cost in a rather "Shit, I'm sorry, this is a killer" way, I said, "Seriously, what is a good price for SHAVING A CAT?!" Talk about a thankless job.
Tucker, our Maine Coon that we rescued off the cold streets of Chicago, is sixteen this year, and has decided to stop grooming himself. Because of his thick, long coat, it happened rather overnight-ish, and we suspected his thyroid was wonky again, and guiltily trudged him into the vet expecting to be berated for negligence. The vet was wildly sympathetic, his thyroid and everything else was normal/great (despite the fact that we occasionally miss a dose), and she sighed and said, "He's sixteen. Sometimes cats just get tired of grooming themselves."
So he came home a thin wee rather-freaky skinny thing, and I ran out and bought a comb determined to get in the habit of grooming him once a week. Despite the crazy schedule, the daily medications both cats get, houseguests, heat, a toddler, a garden that desperately needs harvested, laundry, playdates, car maintenance, birthday parties . . . I will take care of this cat. I love this cat. He has stood by me, through everything.
I distinctly remember the afternoon, a whole geological era ago now, that I went into the bathroom and realized I was miscarrying my first pregnancy. I went on the bed to sob and yell and call the OB and catch my breath and when I came out of my fog I realized I was surrounded by pets: both cats (Tucker and Kirby) and my dog (Max) had silently but loyally jumped on the bed and taken positions all around me. To comfort? Protect? They knew, they obviously knew I was upset and came just to be. Just to be near me. To abide. When I came home from the D&C months later ("leftover product" wouldn't ya know) I scooped them all up and rubbed chins and told them a baby was coming, but I'd never forget them.
The night I labored with Bella (two years and four months after the crying on the bed incident, thank you infertility) I went into the living room and told my husband to sleep. The contractions were tough, but far apart, and I'd need him later. Tucker however, abandoned his usual digs for the night and sat on the floor right next to me. All night. He never left my side.
None of the pets really dug Bella; there is in fact a lovely and slightly sad picture of Tucker peering around a couch days after bringing Bella home from the hospital. Here was a screaming, loud, running being grabbing for their tails and occasionally succeeding in clenching tufts of hair. They all dealt, but clearly missed us, the zookeepers. Max eventually forgot about frisbee lunches, Kirby had to give up the chokeable glitter balls he used to retrieve like a dog, and we began to ease up on Tucker's grooming. There was plenty of love to go around, but never quite enough time.
We moved to our new house five years ago, and while Max has always seemed a bit out of sorts in the city, Tucker and Kirby especially seemed to thrive here. There were window seats galore, nooks and corners, heated tile floors. And again, the night I got up early to phone the hospital to see about my induction for Maddy, Tucker came and sat on the couch next to me.
There was no screaming being this time. Well, there was, but it was a familiar face who I suppose at least didn't grab at tails or tufts of fur. I wailed, I sobbed, I curled up in a quiet ball on the bed. I stayed up late, I had to go on antidepressants because I couldn't bring myself to get up and care for my toddler. I was distracted and distraught, I didn't speak to people, I usually remembered to walk the dog and feed the animals. But for all intents and purposes, I ignored the lot of them. I hated taking Max for walks because it meant I had to go out in public. I forgot about them, moved around my house as though it was unoccupied -- hell, moved around my life as though it was unoccupied. I floated and bobbed around my daughter and husband, my neighbors, my family, the people at the grocery. My pets were nonentities, just anonymous flotsam, bobbing along with me, camouflaged against the dark water.
Three months after Maddy died we adopted Buddy, a one-year-old golden retriever who had been abandoned at an emergency vet's office after a run in with a car that left him with two plates in his back leg. We wondered what we were doing, as did a few family members. "Are you sure this a good idea?" tentatively asked my father in one phone call. So concerned were we by this crazy half-baked idea that we even ran it by our grief therapist -- was adopting a dog at this moment so blatantly, obviously, Freudian-ly, obnoxiously replacing? I was on antidepressants for not being able to lift my body in order to keep my toddler form tumbling down the stairs and out the front door, did we really need another dog? Another pet? Something else to deal with and try and keep alive? "Well," said the therapist with a smile, "I think if you want him you should take him home."
And we did. Buddy helped me realize I could in fact take care of a mammal in need of medical assistance. But perhaps more importantly, he made me wake up and rediscover my other animals again. I knew when we brought him in the house we'd need to make a conscious effort to let the other animals know we still loved them, and here I hadn't let them know that for months. I began petting and walking, allowing cats in my lap and grooming. I threw balls in the yard, I drove to water therapy, doled out treats, I scratched chins and tummies. And like those awesome human friends of mine who didn't take the lapse in communication personally, my pets quietly and lovingly took up their old positions. The foot of the bed, the door when we came home, the computer keyboard. They were simply abiding, the whole time.
I scooped them all up and whispered, "There is no baby. But I will still love you."
An experiment mentioned previously on this website concluded that people feel less pain when someone else is simply in the room with them rather than undergoing the trial alone. I would like to posit that the same goes for furry beings as well: they couldn't hold my hand or say her name, they didn't bring me roasted chicken or fresh kleenex. But nor did they sting me with empty platitudes, and stop talking with me entirely after ignoring them for three months. They didn't assume I was angry with them for not paying attention to them for a spell, and pee all over everything, literally or figuratively. They never stood us up (well, ok, maybe occasionally for a squirrel -- I can excuse that), or grew tired of tears. They continued to silently pile on the bed, or next to me during a late night on the couch or computer, and just be with me.
Tucker's curled up next to me on the floor, as I write this, his soft short coat curled in a tight ball with his head under his leg. Buddy is here, too, sound asleep. But near, always near. Amazingly, they never lost faith in me.
There will be no more babies, and the Inn is full -- there will be no more pets. (Except that wee fish.) I am here now, for you. Thank you so much you naughty, adorable, shedding, loyal animals, for being there for me.
Do you have pets of any sort? Did you have them before/during or acquire them after the death of your child(ren)? Have they hindered your grief in any way(s), or helped in any way(s)? Did those ways surprise you? Oh, and rub those ears for me, would you?