Dealing with Guilt After the Death of a Beloved Pet

An angel in my sock drawer. 
An angel in my sock drawer.

Seven years ago, I made a decision that changed my life.

I’m a huge dog lover and desperately wanted to adopt a pup. I traveled regularly for work, lived in a condo (on the 15th floor) that didn’t allow dogs and also, I was 25-years-old. Dog = bad choice, so a friend suggested I get a cat.

Yuck.

Cats shed. Cats scratch. Cats hide and never come out except when you are sleeping, then then they lay on your face. Cats whine and meow and pee in a box. Cats smell.

Cats are gross.

But many a trusted person told me cats are actually pretty great and affectionate. In a moment of weakness, I thought about it and eventually decided, ah what the hell. There’s an adoption event at PetCo. I’ll just go and look.

Famous last words.

Once I arrived, I was shown to five or six crates that housed all sorts of cats. Tiny grey kitties, big fat black and white ones, huge fluff balls with big round eyes. Then, I saw a little white kitty with big green eyes. I thought:

“That’s my cat.”

She was so sweet and perfect and probably didn’t even smell like most of the other cats I’d met. I threw caution to the wind and told the adoption lady, “I’ll take the white one!” She smiled politely and said, “Sure, but we are only adopting kittens from that litter in pairs.”

I saw her siblings: another white cat, then two stripy guys. They all ignored me.

They were soooo not as cool!

I wanted the white one like crazy. Somebody at the adoption event casually mentioned that two cats are better than one because they play and keep each other company. Long story short, that’s how I ended up with Olive and Bogart.

Yin Yang Twins, not to be confused with Ying Yang Twins.
Yin Yang Twins, not to be confused with Ying Yang Twins.

As I expected, Olive and I bonded immediately.

Every morning, she’d follow me like a white shadow from bed, to the shower, to my closet, to the breakfast table. She knew her name and would come when I called. She slept next to me every night. She snuggled by me while I pulled all nighters for work. She was there to help mend broken hearts, kept me company during the two years I lived alone, and gave me the thumbs up when I fell in love with Josh. My other cat Bogart was there for all of that, too (and he is, in fact, an awesome cat)… but Olive was my sweetheart.

Yoga cat.
Yoga cat.

Three years ago, I brought both of the cats in for a routine check up. The vet ran some tests and determined Olive was born with itty-bitty kidneys. The vet suggested I put her on some special (and $$$$!) cat food and medicine to “help maintain her quality of life, and possibly prolong it a few more years.”

Excuse me?!

My heart sank. Of course, I forked over the money. Anything for this cat.

Not her best angle...
Not her best angle…

Everything was peachy, until we returned from Thanksgiving this year. As I dropped my duffel bag in our entry way, I was greeted by Bogart, but no Olive. After a few minutes, I caught her hobbling out of our guest room toward me. She looked skeletal, weak and completely blank in the eyes. She let out a pathetic, whimpering mew.

I scooped her up and started sobbing.

I wrapped her up in an orange hand towel and we headed to an animal ER (yes, they do exist). The vet took one look at her and said, “That’s a very sick kitty.” Apparently, she was in renal failure. Her body temperature was 10 degrees below normal. Her kidney values were off the charts and she was severely dehydrated. We all agreed that Olive should stay overnight, but it didn’t look good.

I spent that entire evening overwhelmed with guilt.

How long had I ignored her symptoms? Why didn’t we have someone check on the cats while we were away? Why had I waited to schedule their regular check-up (bringing them to the vet had been on my to-do list for a month!)?

And then there’s our dog Patsy, who we adopted last January. Puppies are a lot more work than full-grown cats. Over the past year, Patsy has become the focus of my attention. Now it’s she who follows me like a shadow from bed, to the shower, to my closet, to the breakfast table. She knows her name and comes when I call (sorta). She sleeps next to me every night. I still loved

Olive, but Patsy definitely moved in on her turf.

I couldn’t help but feel like I’d let my bestie down.

Can't we all just get along?
Can’t we all just get along?

We returned to the clinic at 8am the next morning. Olive seemed a bit perkier, but her body temp remained very low. The vet told me that I could maybe take her home, but she would likely need weekly IVs and lots of medication. Even with that, Olive was only expected to squeak out a few months, max.

That’s no life for a kitty.

Making the decision to put her down (#70) was actually a lot easier than I expected. It was the right choice, albeit a sad one. Josh and I hung out with her for almost an hour. I pet and cuddled her and scratched her belly. Eventually, the doctor came in with a syringe. Olive peacefully slipped away.

And here’s when I faced one of my biggest fears of all: Crying in public (#71).

I cried in the vet clinic. I cried our entire drive home. I cried in a crowded bar. I cried at work. I cried throughout an entire yoga class (fortunately, it was dim enough that no one noticed).

Crying in public makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

In fact, the only person I feel safe crying in front of is Josh. Some people cry so gracefully– blinking away a tear or two in silence. Not I. I hold back the waterworks until I can no longer take it, and then it’s guttural, loud, black mascara mess.

The following week, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could’ve done differently.

I was consumed by it, and honestly felt really uncomfortable telling people, “I’m acting crazy because my cat died.” I thought people would roll their eyes; there’s a lot of “I’m not a cat person” persons out there. But when I finally womanned up and admitted my issue aloud (#73), no one tried to make me feel stupid or dramatic. Everyone got it, and many shared a story of a special pet they’d lost.

Knowing you’ll probably outlive your pets is a big reason to not get one in the first place.

They become a part of your family and saying goodbye is so hard. However, I can’t even imagine my life without my four-legged kids. I will forever be indebted to their unconditional love and affection.

Give your dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rats, snakes, horses, pigs, cows or birds an extra hug and smooch tonight. They see & love you for the good person you are, warts and all.

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Comments (12)

  • Whitney Smith-Kinnaman 4 years ago Reply

    I’m sorry for your loss.
    Thank you so much for writing this post. We went through a similar situation in November of 2012…..from the sick kitty to the pup that came along and invaded her turf. I hope Patsy and Bogart help you through this difficult time.

  • molly mogren 4 years ago Reply

    Thanks, Whitney! Bogart & Patsy have been awesome (same with my Beyonce).

  • Debbie Quigg 4 years ago Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss. And I know the exact feeling. I miss my cat, Mr. Zachary Crabby Pants, every day, even though he has been gone for four years now. There are times when I still expect the hear his "nighttime song of loneliness" when I go to bed. Or to discover one of his "mouse gifts" when I wake up in the morning. I have always believed that our pets trust us to make the best decisions for them and to say goodbye to them when the time is right for THEM, not necessarily for us. Extra hugs for you, Patsy, Bogart (who MUST be missing his sister) and Josh.

  • April Hill 3 years ago Reply

    Sorry to hear about your kitty. It’s never easy to lose a pet. I’ve lost many dogs over the years and each one was so difficult. It is amazing how much animals become part of our lives.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    Thank you! I miss her so much. I literally cried over her more than any person I know who has died, not because it’s more sad necessarily (though it’s so sad!), but because as their person, you’re responsible for making all the decisions. It’s heavy, man!

  • @asandford 2 years ago Reply

    When I lost my "favorite" kitty (my Molly), I cried for a few days. She’d had breast cancer and I got a whole extra year with her after her surgery. When I lost my second kitty, my "less than favorite" (my Diva) a few months later, I BAWLED FOR THE ENTIRE WEEK. I was so grateful I had the whole week off to lie in bed and cry. I was truly alone for the first time in 17 years. What I’ve come to realize is the amount of pain we feel at their loss is equal to the amount of joy they gave us.

    • PS: Love the blog.
    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Thanks for sharing. And I think you are right about the joy/pain observation!

  • Shari 2 years ago Reply

    We just had to put asleep our 18 year old dog, Carlie. She lived a great, long life but it was still hard to do. I cried that day but since then know it was the right thing to do. It is always hard but it is better than letting them suffer longer.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I’m so sorry to hear that. Heartbreaking, even if you know it’s the right choice. Hang in there!

  • Caran Mollner 2 years ago Reply

    Molly, I read this when it happened, and read it again now, after the loss of my pet bird (cockatiel) Molly…purely random name choice 😕. It’s amazing to me that the loss of this bird had such an impact, although I had it for 24 years. That in itself should tell you something, but what I sincerely didn’t expect was the true sense of loss I wild experience!. This bird was there through my divorce, the graduation and college years of four children, the addition of my husband and his two children into my life, the marriage of three of our children, the birth of two of my grandchildren and many more life experiences. He was always in the background of any phone calls I made or received…my friends and coworkers will remember, my family will remember and I will always be grateful for the experience and impact that little bird had on my life. Pets are an important part of life and through my life and the life of my kids we have had many pets…all have created great memories and I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    It’s so true, and even for the non-snuggly pets like Molly! Sorry for your loss. I do think pets can provide a unique kind of love and calm that’s difficult to describe unless you have one. 🙂

  • sarah noon 1 year ago Reply

    This is exactly what happened to me. I’m only on day 6 without my bestfriend, and I’m a mess. Had to put my pumpkin down, his liver was failing. He wasn’t even 6 yet, his birthday is in may. I am dreading that day.

    Thank you for this amazing article, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one

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