Saying Goodbye to a (Furry) Friend

I am a cat person.  I like dogs too, but it was a cat who kept me company during my years of teen angst in the 1980s, another cat who was my steadfast companion during my divorce when I only had my boys 50% of the time, and three small cats who turned my house into a home during the pandemic.

The three “Covid Kittens” came into our lives in July 2020 after they had been found outside in the late summer heat with no mother cat in sight. They were so tiny I could hold them in the palm of my hand. The boys and I started fostering cats during the pandemic, but we had yet to foster kittens. Before long, the “keeks” as we called them, became fixtures in our home, and a regular source of entertainment and affection. As the new school year began 100% remotely, the keeks kept my boys company during e-learning and took turns climbing across my laptop keyboard as I attempted to work remotely. 

A few months in, during a routine check-up at the animal shelter, we learned the devastating news that the kittens were all FeLV+, a condition that affects 2%-3% of the cat population, and passed to them by their mother. FeLV is the most common cause of cancer in cats, and impacts their immune system in various ways. It’s like a ticking timebomb that you don’t know when will detonate, and in some instances, it never morphs into a disease state.

Soon the kittens were ready to find forever homes, and despite her FeLV+ condition, we decided to adopt fluffy, tabby-colored Marbles. We had our older cat Peach vaccinated and became one big happy, blended family. Marbles continued to delight us as she grew, and we went from calling her Marbles, to Marbs and then settled on ‘Foof’, a nickname that suited her long, fluffy fur, a trait passed along from her Maine Coon father.

When Marbles passed her second birthday without incident, we thought she might have beaten the odds of FeLV. Her sibling Midnight had succumbed to the illness just shy of his first birthday, and it’s rare that adult cats become ill. However, by late February we started to notice a change in her energy level and coat condition. It was when my older son noticed that Marbles “seemed a little skinny” after he hadn’t seen her for a few days that we became seriously concerned. A visit to the emergency vet over the weekend showed some abnormalities and bloodwork results the following week confirmed our worst fears: Marbles had leukemia.

When the vet called to share the devastating news, we thought she may still have months, or at least weeks, left with us. However, he told me that cats hide suffering well and given her elevated calcium levels, she could go at any time. I waited to discuss it with the boys until I could speak with Marbles’ regular vet, Dr. Mateles. Her compassion was evident from the moment she returned my call. She knew how important Marbles was to our family, and also told me that letting her go would be the kindest thing we could do for our cat right now.

The boys and I spent the next couple of days babying Marbles, cuddling her and spoon-feeding her soft food. Through tears, we told her how much we loved her and thanked her for all she had done for us. On Saturday, I went with my partner Mark to the animal hospital and Dr. Mateles greeted me with a hug. She knew Marbles for much of her short life and enjoyed seeing her at each check-up. As we said our final goodbyes to Marbles, I told my fur baby again how loved she was and how much she did for our family. I held her close as she quickly slipped away, feeling grateful for Mark’s loving arms around me and the wonderful team at Glenview Animal Hospital.

Nearly a month has passed since we said goodbye to Marbles, and while I’m still struck by sadness at times by her absence, I have no regrets for befriending this little ball of fur who stayed with us just two-and-a-half years. The most difficult part of pet ownership is saying goodbye, and unless you adopt a turtle, pet parents will almost surely experience this kind of loss.

It can be surprising how much sadness may accompany the loss of a pet. Fortunately, organizations like the Humane Society provide helpful guidance in coping with this kind of loss:

  • Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear. Do a little research online and you’ll find hundreds of resources and support groups that may be helpful to you.
  • Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem, essay, or short story.
  • Call your veterinarian or local humane society to see whether they offer a pet-loss support group or hotline, or can refer you to one.
  • Prepare a memorial for your pet.

Our family continues to support Heartland Animal Shelter, the organziation that provided the medical care for the kittens in those early months. We’ve talked of fostering again, but are taking time to recover from the loss of Marbles for now. I’ll always be grateful for our brief time with Marbles, her energy and love brought us many moments of joy during the isolation of the pandemic. While we will always miss her presence, she made paw prints in our hearts.

One thought on “Saying Goodbye to a (Furry) Friend

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  1. Saying goodbye is always the hardest thing to do even when its the right thing to do. I have done this with to many and it gets harder eqch time. But uet we still welcome them into lur lives knowing we might have them for asnort amount of time. Right now I have one with kidney issues and another with asthma. Its been a couple years since the last one passed. But not a day goes by that I dont think about her and I still grieve. It fades but never really goes away. We just lean to deal with it like everything else. Sorry for the loss of your furbaby..

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