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updated: 11/21/2013 4:27 PM

Loss of a pet is felt by everyone, even other animals

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  • Cashmere, a domestic longhair, male is about 9 years old.

    Cashmere, a domestic longhair, male is about 9 years old.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Duncan, a domestic shorthair, male is 1 year old.

    Duncan, a domestic shorthair, male is 1 year old.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Mary Hayashi

The loss of a pet that is treated as a true family member can cause dramatic emotional consequences.

In multiple feline households, the animals deeply understand the loss and they adjust their behavior to each other and you in subtle ways. We as caretakers have to be understanding and open to these new behaviors after a loss.

During the grieving period, the hierarchy changes are motivated by their conduct and yours. Sometimes understanding this process makes the passing of your feline easier to cope with. For anyone that does not have a multiple feline household, "hierarchy" is a term of art when discussing a multiple-cat environment.

It is loosely defined as the order of rank from alpha to subordinate and somewhere in between. To paraphrase, it is social pecking order to describe how they interact with you and each other to try and maintain some semblance of household order.

How do you recognize these subtle changes in them and in you? Try to be extra observant. Did the feline that passed on have a favorite napping spot, toy or bowl with very specific food?

Are your felines reluctant to use those items, or are they constantly smelling those items as if to ask, "Where is my missing friend?" They too are grieving, but with a hope they may see their friend again.

This process goes on in my house for a period of three weeks to a month. The loss is felt throughout the entire household.

When a feline makes a move to take the fallen feline's favorite cat tree shelf or favorite bedding, "hierarchy" has changed and the loss will shortly be accepted by all.

Next, let us address your conduct in relation to the other felines. Is your conduct suggesting who the new alpha may be, or if there is going to be a shift in the middle of the order? You know, you are unwittingly picking a new favorite.

For instance, I made a conscious decision to move my deceased Maine Coons' milk bowl (lactose free) from his favorite spot to the community feeding area. I noticed the order in which they consumed the milk changed with the new location. Somehow the change helped me with the grieving process because no one was allowed to feed at his special place.

When grieving over the loss of a special pet, try to console yourself by remembering the positive firsts. I will lovingly remember my Maine Coon boy for his firsts. Bitsey was my first Maine Coon, caught in a "Have-a-Heart" trap.

Before Bitsey, never before had I enjoyed a feline that watched, waited and greeted me upon arriving home, no matter the time of day or evening. This boy was also an envoy to bringing together many of Buddy's volunteers and members in the early days of our existence.

I will also remember him as the gentle ruler he was, as the alpha feline, and how all of my felines looked up to him for an opportunity to bask in his company, whether eating, playing or sleeping.

So, shine on, sweet angel boy! You will always be my first of all felines; not a cat, not a dog-like cat, but simply my best friend and "Buddy."

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