When we take an animal into our homes, we don’t think of the hard reality that their lifespans are much shorter than ours
There is the joy of a new companion whether a puppy or kitten or of an older rescued animal who needs a home. We grow together, learn their personalities, their food preferences and their interactions with other family members and animals.
We develop bonds of trust with them, we are their carers and protectors, the leaders of their pack. In simple terms, we grow to love them.
Although I used to have a dog, these days our animal companions are cats. Until last week I had three cats two girls and a boy. As previous cats have lived to a ripe old age of twenty-one I confidently expected many more happy years together.
Then, I noticed that Freya wasn’t eating, and this went on for a couple of days. Unlike the other two who we had, since they were kittens, we think that Freya had a tough early life.
When we first saw her, she was living in a neighbour’s shed and had just had kittens. He had no plans to feed her or offer her water. We asked for his permission to feed her and gradually earned her trust. Despite looking like a kitten, herself she’d had seven kittens. An animal rescue organisation took the kittens as we managed to catch them, one by one. We knew no one would want this skinny Mamma cat, so we kept her.
She was skittish and distrustful for a long while spitting and striking out at our other cats. At times I was sorry that we had kept her as it was so stressful. Gradually she mellowed, and we won her trust.
I worried about her as she grew inexplicably and enormously fat, the vet had no explanation for this. We cut her food down, but the weight remained. She looked like a fat wombat. Then as unexpectedly as it had started she lost the weight, returning to the petite size we remembered.
She was still wary of men but grew to trust me and would curl up beside me in an armchair. Gradually trust was created and over time an armed neutrality was established between our male cat and her. She seemed to be a settled and contented cat.
It had all taken time and I realised that she had been with us for nearly eight years. When they had their check-ups in June the vet had mentioned she needed some dental work done and I was convinced that this was causing her problems now.
We went in at 9am on Wednesday morning and the vet examined her and said she needed hydrating and she would put her on a drip and conduct blood tests prior to doing surgery.
When the phone rang at eleven I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. I listened to words like fluid on the lungs, possible heart failure, cancer or other problems. The vet mentioned it might be kindest to let her go. I heard the words but could hardly comprehend them
We agreed to go back at I pm to say goodbye. We went in and. the vet explained more and assured us we were acting in her best interests Freya was brought in still with her drip attached and tried to get up. We stroked her and talked to her, and gently, gently the vet gave her the injection that would send her to sleep forever. I held her paw and talked to her, looking into her eyes and watched as her eyes slowly closed.
Only then did my tears fall as we stayed with her for a while. I grieved for all the life she might have had, all the time we could have spent together. I hated myself for having to make the decision although I knew it was for the best and in my heart, I asked her to forgive me.
When we take on a pet we take it all on, the good and the bad, the happy days and the hard days. Allowing an animal to end its suffering after a long and happy life is hard but saying goodbye to one who should have had so many more happy years ahead is heart-breaking.