Goodbye, Pete

For the first time in thirty years, I woke up this morning to neither a dog to walk nor a cat demanding to be fed. I said good-bye to my 17-year-old tomcat yesterday. I watched, masked and from a distance, as a vet drugged him into oblivion. He will be my last animal companion for a very long time, if ever again. I am both sad and relieved.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and love and how it can reach a tipping point. With people, with animals, with any passion, there comes a moment when maintaining the relationships, the dedication, starts to feel like one’s life is draining away. This last year has aged me, short-circuited my brain, turned me into an insomniac. I’ve cried more, slept less, been less. Love and sacrifice have never been far apart. I have few regrets about this, but I’m tired.

Things had gotten bad with my cat buddy, Pete, but I didn’t realize how bad until this morning when I woke up without him. Feline dementia had him yowling throughout the night, sometimes during the day. In our small house, it was impossible to escape and his deafness meant no volume control. I would often get up to comfort him, turn on lights, anything to keep him from waking up the rest of the family.  I’d learned to get by on 4-5 hours of sleep. Last night I slept for 7.

He’d started to paw my feet to get attention while I was reading or writing and it was rapidly becoming an obsessive behavior. I couldn’t focus for more than 15 minutes at a time. And he’d returned to feral ways when it came to the litterbox. I spent quite a bit of time doing clean up. It happened slowly at first, until our house became a patchwork of plastic mats and makeshift litterboxes. After he was gone, I spent several hours with enzyme cleaners and hot, soapy water returning our home to a more hospitable state.

Making the decision to end another creature’s life is never easy. Like a person with Alzheimer’s, Pete would have moments of clarity and seem his old self and even as I knew I was making the right decision, I was riddled with doubt. It wouldn’t get better and I was exhausted. Pete was now anxious most of the time and began to lose his appetite, his hearing and vision, and arthritis turned his stealth walk into a bit of a lumber. In the end, he began not to recognize me, nor want human attention.

2003ElliottCominginfromtheSnow
Elliott, 1989-2003

Pete is one of four pets I’ve seen through long lives and silent deaths. Elliott was a Scottish Terrier who’d been marked down in a local pet shop. Sitting in his cage in a puddle of pee, he was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. He was there through college and grad school, through crappy jobs, and even worse boyfriends. He was ferociously loyal and playful and I took him everywhere with me. In college, I taught private flute lessons (not a euphemism) and I sometimes used play time with him as an incentive for the younger students. He died at the age of 14. To this day, I feel a twinge of pain when I think of him. Some losses really stick with you.

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August, Adopted 2003-2008

For the next 16 years, I lived with cats. I adopted Pete and August from the local humane society. Pete was a kitten, August a cantankerous middle-aged cat who tolerated him. When August got kidney disease and I had to make the decision to end her life, I remember my daughter saying good-bye to her before preschool. August sat there, always the proper lady, while my 4-year old chattered away. When I returned from dropoff, August staggered to her blanket and collapsed.

Pete started getting a little more vocal after August was gone, strengthening his pipes for future yowling. We thought it was mourning and adopted Owney, a fickle, older Tortie. Owney had no interest in Pete and often took an active disliking to him. He

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Owney, Adopted 2008-2019

followed her, slept as close to her as she would allow, drove her insane with his constant lurking presence. She also succumbed to kidney disease. Near the end, she and Pete were still not friends, but she no longer hissed at him when he came near. That was last year.

Pete outlived his housemates. He was a laid back, gentle giant who had a rumbly purr and a penchant for suddenly flopping over in front of you while you were walking. Being underfoot was his trademark. He rarely took offense and even as his cognitive abilities began to slip away, never struck out in fear. He was, as we humans are wont to say about male creatures, a very good boy.

Pete in one of his favorite spots.
Pete, 2003-2020

There is a little garden in our backyard that hold the ashes of my animal companions. On the stone bench, the squirrels like to sit and chatter away before raiding our birdfeeders. The birdbath hosts cardinals and finches and dark-eyed juncos. At night, raccoons teeter on the wooden fence behind it, munching the Concord grapes. Occasionally neighborhood cats show up, eat some catnip and loll about in the grass. Pete has spent years in the study window meowing and chittering at the menagerie of critters. And now he’ll join that natural world, leaving me behind, to imagine I hear him meowing in the night. Grief is a funny old process.

30 thoughts on “Goodbye, Pete

  1. Very sorry to hear about your pet. We’ve had dogs and cats over the years and the major downside of looking after animals is, one day, they have to leave us. We had a lovely little cat we rescued for a taverna in Greece. She was a feisty little madam and, very sadly, she was hit and killed by a stupid car driver who was driving far too fast.. She always was a bit of a wanderer but she was so very playful and comical to watch. It is always difficult to see animals suffer, particularly when they get old and sick. They leave a big hold in your life when they do go away.

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    1. Thank you. That is always the way with animal friends – we usually have to see them to the end. I’m at the point where I don’t want to experience that anymore. It might be a function of getting older – but it seems like I’m losing friends, family, and pets at an exponentially faster rate. Time for a break.

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  2. Even when our fur babies live long lives, like yours did, we have them for too short a time. Letting them go is an agonizing decision, but the most loving thing we can do. I am sorry for your loss, I’m pretty sure I know how you feel, having been through it myself five times, with one dog and four cats. It’s been almost three years since my said good-bye to my last cat and much as I miss having them around, I just can’t do it again. Losing Bartlett did me in. It’s lovely they’re in your garden and other critters are coming to hang out with them.

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    1. I am very glad that I had animal companions, but now I’m very glad not to. It’s just been too much over the last year and a half. I feel like I’ve been in a state of perpetual grief and anxiety. I just want a little time when nothing is happening, which is probably too much to ask in the midst of a pandemic. Maybe just nothing in our house.

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  3. Ahh, Michelle. So sorry. A tough decision even in the best of times. Right now, when everything is uneven and discordant, a horrible addition to the burdens we are already carrying. You did your best. Now it is time to rest. XO

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  4. Love to you, Michelle, my stranger-friend, who moves my heart in such familiar ways. The love effort, exhaustion, hard choices of living, followed by the grief and surprisingly by the joy…life. thank you for including me. Kiora

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    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts. The day after Pete died, a Baltimore Oriole showed up at our feeder for the first time. It’s a bright bird with a long whistle and although I am very sad, it was a reminder of the delights still ahead.

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  5. I’m so sorry, Michelle. I know how much you love creatures. And I remember Elliot, he was adorable. Here’s hoping for better days for you.

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  6. i feel sorry for your loss.. i know the pain of losing a pet. I had two chicks {pink and yellow colour} one suffered a brutal and prolonged death[he had something stuck in his wind pipe] and the other one was taken away by cat while he was roaming peacefully on our rooftop

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