If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might have seen that my sweet kitty, Sammy, died two weeks ago. He was 16.
Sammy was the third of our kitties to pass in about three years which makes it that much worse. They were all pretty old, but that also means that all three were part of the family for my kids' entire lives.
Sammy was the best cat I ever had by far. He was very friendly and liked to be scratched and cuddled. He liked to be with me wherever I was. He sat on my lap often. He never peed or pooped outside of the litter box. (What a blessing!) He was just a really, really good, sweet boy.
About a year ago, I noticed that Sammy was looking bad, but I hesitated to take him to the vet because I knew it would cost at least $300 to do blood work and so on and that it was entirely possible that he was just getting old. So I waited.
Then one day, I noticed him sitting in front of the food bowl and just looking at it. Concerned, I scooped him up and looked in his mouth. He had only his four canine teeth and a couple in the front - no others. No wonder he looked bad. He was starving because he couldn't eat the solid food.
From that day on, I fed poor old Sammy six times a day, always locked in the bathroom together so that our three kittens wouldn't push him out of his dish of food. I would sit with him while he ate and tell him what a good boy he was and pet him.
When he was hungry, he would find me and reach up to paw at my leg. Some days, he ate more than six times but rarely less.
In the last couple of weeks, I noticed that he was getting thinner than usual, and I determined to call the new vet at the end of our road. (Our old vet is about a twenty-minute drive, and that really stressed poor Sammy out. Plus it was a fancy animal hospital and everything was super expensive.) But our cruise was coming up, and I couldn't really spare the money to take him. So I waited again.
When our cruise was cancelled (thanks to Hurricane Irma), I could free up some money to take Sammy in. The morning that I called, he stopped eating all together. He did ask to eat in his usual way, but when I fed him, he only licked the food and took one tiny nibble. I tried to feed him again later on, and he wouldn't eat at all.
I called the vet's office and they gave me an appointment for the afternoon. When we took him in, my sweet boy was stoic. He never complained as the vet felt his underweight body, even though she said afterwards that he had to have been in a lot of pain because of the kidney failure. They drew blood and before long, we knew that his condition was terminal.
The vet gave me several options including daily IV fluids, special low protein food, and daily meds, but I didn't feel that would be fair to the sweet boy who had brought me so much joy over the last 15 years to keep him alive for months with daily injections and pills. Why put him through that? I chose to euthanize him because it was the best way to relieve his suffering.
I cry as I type these words. I'm so sad to have lost him and so thankful that our cruise was cancelled. If we had gone, he would have stopped eating and probably died at home, alone, and I wouldn't have gotten a chance to say goodbye.
Just like the last time we had to say goodbye to one of my old babies, we wasted no time in getting a kitten to take his place. Both times, it has helped tremendously with our grieving process to have a new personality to love.
In this case, our first new kitten, Henry who is gray, was very shy (he was so outgoing at the shelter!), and my kids were pretty upset about that. After a week or so, he eventually did settle in and get more adventurous, but it took the addition of a fifth kitty to bring him out of his shell. That was Nittany who is all black and a crazy, wild man. (Pity poor Joe who doesn't like cats.)
It's funny how things happen. I wanted Nittany from the beginning, having seen him on the shelter's website. But he was living at the vet's office for a couple of weeks as one of his bunkmates had ringworm. I couldn't get him, so I let the girls choose someone else and that was Henry. But after I decided that Henry was too shy and we needed another kitten, Nittany was back at the shelter and adoptable. Yay for me! So we all got just the kitten that we wanted.
Grace is 10 now, and she remembers pretty clearly when my mom died four years ago. I didn't need to explain anything about death or heaven to her because she already knows. She knows that Grandma is in heaven, and she believes that all our other kitties are in heaven with Grandma. Grace chose to stay in the room with me when the vet administered the medicine to put Sammy to sleep.
Allie on the other hand is just 6, and she has no recollection of Grandma at all. She does remember some of our other kitties who have passed, but she still has questions about Sammy and what happened, so I went in search of some books on the subject.
10 Best Books for Kids About the Death of a Pet
- Some of the books from my Books on Grief for Children list apply to a pet. There is one specifically called Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children that is wonderful to have in your collection because it applies to every life and death situation. Every living thing is born, lives, and then dies, and it treats it as just a fact of life. I love this book.
- When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers - Can you ever go wrong with a book written by Mr. Rodgers? I'm pretty sure that you can't. This book is reassuring that the pain of grief won't last forever and that it will get easier to remember the good times children had. It looks old because it was written in the eighties, but this is a wonderful book.
- Cat Heaven - I absolutely positively love this book. I mean love love love love more than any other book on the list. I don't know if it is Biblical (I sort of suspect that it isn't), but I sure hope it's true. It talks about how cats go to heaven, and how God walks around sometimes with a cat on his head and feeds them right off the counter. Also to note is that, while God is depicted as an old man, he and the angels are colored in many different multi-cultural hues throughout the book. There is a book by the same author called Dog Heaven if your pet is a pooch.
- The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye - Cue. the. tears. I knew how this book was going to end, and I had to have Grace read it to Allie for me. I just couldn't handle it. The book focuses on Tiger Rose's full life and not so much on her death. She goes around saying goodbye to all her friends and family, and then at the end of the book, she leaps up into the sky and is gone forever.
- The Tenth Good Thing About Barney - Thankfully, this is not about the purple Barney. It's about a cat named Barney and the little boy who loves him. Of course, Barney dies which just about ripped out my heart, and the little boy's mom suggests that he write a list of 10 things he loved about Barney to read at his funeral. The little boy can only think of 9 things, but his dad comes through with something to help in the end. I love this one for the plain kid language and the endearing little boy.
- I'll Always Love You - The little boy in this story knows that he told his dog "I'll always love you" every night before bed. The story tells about how the boy and his dog get older and older, and the dog eventually dies. It deals with all the feelings that little kids have as they see their pet aging and then as they grieve. The watercolor illustrations are especially beautiful.
- The Rainbow Bridge - There is a poem by this name that was given to me by a vet's office many years ago when I put my first cat to sleep (a 4-month old kitten with an incurable heart infection). It goes like this:
The Rainbow Bridge
By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.
For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.
The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over together.
The poem is well known among pet owners, and the book is based on the poem. It talks about how deceased family members will be caring for the pets (although it doesn't specify in heaven or elsewhere) until they can be reunited with their real owners. As with all the books on the list, it is quite sad as a little boy's dog dies, but it focuses more on the great place where pets go when they die.
- Saying Goodbye to Lulu - This one was super hard for me because the little girl in the story has a hard time dealing with the death of her dog. There is a line that I really identified with that says, "I tried to say goodbye but all I could do was cry." Oh my. I felt like this little girl was speaking just for me, and there is no way I can get through this one without crying ugly tears.
- Sammy in the Sky - This is a beautifully illustrated story of a child (who could be either a girl or boy) and her dog, who gets sick and dies. As with all these books, it will make you cry immensely, but it will explain death and dying to your children as they say goodbye to their beloved pet. What makes this book special is the celebration that the family has to remember Sammy.
- The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend - Sister Bear really loves her goldfish, but wakes up one morning to find a new fish in the tank. It turns out that her dad has replaced the dead fish with a new one, and then he lies to make her think it's the old one. I like this book because it deals with pets other than cats and dogs, but if your kids are older, they may question the big lie.
- Goodbye Mousie - This book is written for the very young, like preschoolers. The little boy's mouse won't wake up one morning, and his dad explains to him what has happened without getting into too much detail for little ones. They pack up some things for the mouse to keep warm and have fun with after he's buried, and then they bury him. It is a very nice and gentle introduction to the death of a pet for very small children.
The most important thing to remember about your child and the pet you lost is to validate her feelings. Let her know that it's totally normal to be feeling sad and missing her pet. Repeat her sadness back to her, and let her cry. Be there to support her, but never ever tell her to quit crying or that it's not so bad. To her, it really is that bad. It really does hurt that much.
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