It's not 'just a pet'
We know people grieve over their pets. But have you ever heard the phrase "It's just a cat," or "It's just a dog"?
Well, first of all, they are not an "it," they have names, they are a "he" or "she" -- they are buddies, companions, members of your household, even members of the family. They are fun and comforting in many ways.
I had quite a scare recently -- Sheba, my black-and-white kitty, had an episode where she fainted or had a stroke … something happened. She froze, closed her eyes, twitched her right paw, and fell right off the stool where she was sitting at 7 a.m., and landed on her side twitching her back right leg. She could not stand up.
But by the time I called the vet and got out her travel stroller, she got up and walked away, a bit dazed. A few minutes later, she was acting perfectly normal. She's only 6 years old (about 40 in human years). After a check up and blood test, the vet couldn't pinpoint any medical problem, and her heart seemed OK.
The thought of losing my sweet Sheba was terrifying. My two kitties are sisters, litter mates, and I got them from a barn when they were 3 months old. They were born two weeks after my dear husband Baheej died.
Since I brought them home, they have been 100 percent inside cats. I really don't know how I would have made it with out family, friends, and my kitties. Luckily Sheba has been perfectly OK since that scary episode.
My kitties have been in the "I Love Cats" magazines eight times, big multi-photo spreads showing their funny antics and sisterly love and friendship. ut they don't know, so cat celebrity didn't go to their heads!
My friend Diane, who is both a sociologist and an artist, surprised me with large pastel drawings of my two kitties, Coffee Cat and Sheba. So pretty. She did the portraits from photos I'm always sending people. two typical poses. Such a treasure. So I will always have these.
Evelyn Waugh, the infamous British humorist, wrote a novel about pet cemeteries called The Loved One, many years ago. It was poking fun at the great lengths people will go to memorialize their pets, and about all the expense involved in pet care, pet cemeteries, etc.
When I was much younger and didn't understand, I thought it was funny indeed. And we used to marvel at the two huge aisles in the grocery store devoted to pet supplies, pet food, pet toys.
But of course, now I do understand -- we take care of them, love them, and the death of a pet is very sad to their humans. And I don't bat an eyelash paying a vet for medical care. And I would buy a gravestone or other memorial.
Hopefully not for many years, though. Cats usually live to 16, or 20 years or more.
So the point is -- don't be surprised if you or someone you know is grieving over their lost pet, even if was some years ago. People get very attached to their pets and there is long-term grief over pets too.
There are steps you can take to manage such grief. Some tips:
• It's OK to miss your pet. There are lots of people out there who understand.
• Be aware of other people who lost a beloved pet and need your sympathy.
• Employ some human coping mechanisms -- for example, get out some nice photos of your pet and frame them.
• Talk about your loss with friends; you do not need to forget your pets.
• It is OK to get another pet, not to replace but just to care for, help, and enjoy. I named my Sheba after a childhood cat named Sheba.
• Shelters are full of sweet pets who need love and a home.
• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at DailyHerald.anderson-khleif.