Anderson-Khleif: Furry friends help fill the emptiness

Posted6/9/2018 7:35 AM
  • Sheba and Coffee Cat follow Susan Anderson-Khleifaround the house demanding attention and adding fun and affection to her life.

    Sheba and Coffee Cat follow Susan Anderson-Khleifaround the house demanding attention and adding fun and affection to her life. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Pets are very important in managing long-term grief. Keep them or get them, you'll be glad.

Because my husband and I were constantly traveling on business, research, and vacations, we did not have any pets, but I always wanted cats. For you, it could be a dog, but in my case it is kitty-cats.

A couple months into the first year after my husband Baheej died, I was talking to dear friend Jolie about cats. One day she came by and said a work colleague, who has a farm, had some kitties to give away. So on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2012, we went out there -- driving far into Illinois farmland on back roads and I came home with two sweet kitties. I named them Sheba after our childhood cat, and Coffee Cat because she was a calico.

I had contemplated whether to take one or two cats. But the farm woman said they were best friends and litter mates, and sleep together. So I took the pair. She thought the black-and-white cat, Sheba, was a male, but later the vet assured me, she's female … sisters. They were born two weeks after my husband died. He knew I wanted kitties.

Thank goodness I took both because they have been such a Godsend, and a joy. They were only 3 months old when I first took them home, and now are almost 6 years old. They are funny, smart, entertaining, and such a pleasure to have around! With your furry friends padding about the house, it doesn't seem so empty and they are great company, whether cats or dogs.

It's true that pets are some expense. Even if they were "free," they really are not. The first week includes a stop at the vet for health checkup, shots, and then later spaying or neutering. Of course, there are vet visits if they get sick. Costs for equipment, food, toys, etc. also add up, although toys can be simple such as a cardboard box or a ball to chase.

I have raised my kitties as 100 percent inside cats, even though they were born in a barn. (They may not remember the barn at this point.) Going outside seemed too dangerous: hawks, coyotes, cars, bugs. They are happy and well-trained, have lots of running and climbing and perching space, and windows to watch what's going on outside.

The additional benefits to having pets is that you must take care of them, pay attention to them, feed them, walk a dog, play with them, give affection, train them to be sociable and friendly. Yes, cats can be trained, not just dogs -- Mine are, they understand lots of English words and human gestures.

Anyway, the point is all this takes your time and attention, and is very positive for you in managing long-term grief. For starters, one must get up in the morning and feed them. You must give affection, security, good food, a comfortable place to sleep, a routine.

Pets need a routine, regular meals and habits. And dogs need to be walked a couple times a day. All this is good for you.

There's also lots of things to learn -- what to feed, how much, how often, how to communicate with your pets. My kitties have had photo spreads eight times in the "I Love Cats" magazine, featuring their cute and funny antics and their sisterly friendship.

All these things are engaging in a positive way for you in managing grief. My kitties follow me around the house and demand attention, just as dogs do. So they are fun and add a lot to everyday life.

They wait at the door for you, they are glad when you come home. They appreciate what you do for them.

So do consider having pets -- it's rewarding and healthy for you.

• 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 or see her blog

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