By Tiffany A. Potter
It’s raining today. And it feels as though this was always the way our journey together was meant to come to a close. Both because the weather appropriately matches my mood and because mother universe has been privy to one of our long-running inside jokes.
Yesterday, I had to make the terrible, yet humane, decision to put my cat, Odell, to sleep. If you meet me back here every month (and especially if you follow me on Instagram) you know what an intensely significant role that animals play in my life. I experience God through the eyes of animals. Some understand this through children or nature, but I believe animals are the definition of divinity. They are unquestionably perfect; and as with everything else that is perfect, it’s us humans with our misplaced superiority complexes who, inevitably, come along and fuck it up.
My favorite guru, Guru Singh, likes to say, “No animal is as barbaric as humans.” Most treat them as less valuable than those of us who have opposable thumbs, and their only worth tends to be based on and rooted in, what they can do for us.
For me, personally, my heart, my world, my emotions (both worry and elation and everything feeling in between), tend to revolve around animals. Whether they live under my roof or someone else’s, or simply belong to the world, nothing gets to me like they do. And Odell, oh my sweet baby girl Odell, personified friendship and deep love in a way that I could have never experienced without her. She was the constant in my life, my stability and my responsibility in which all decisions were based in.
Four cities, six different houses, a number of animal siblings that have come and (sadly) gone, a divorce, and a slew of dates and boyfriends thrown in for good measure (of which I’m sure she would roll her eyes every time she met one), she was there for every moment of it. She came first, she was my priority; and if a potential someone significant would confess that they were allergic to cats, my response was always, “Well, you can take medication for that, or take a hike, it’s your choice. She and I are a package deal.” And we really were, to the very end.
Forty-eight hours prior to yesterday afternoon she had begun to show signs of renal failure (if I could have given her one of my kidneys, I would have). Within 24 hours, she wasn’t eating (becoming desperate, I tried to feed her baby food through a syringe to get some kind of nutrients in her, to no avail), she wasn’t drinking (though I could tell that she wanted to), she couldn’t make it to her litter box, she would crawl into a cabinet to hide when she still had the strength to do so and she stopped meowing. Which was exceptionally sad because she was always quite the chatty girl (much like her mother), even yelling at me every night, sitting next to her food bowl, when she believed that it was time for her dinner.
When I walked in the door after work I knew that it was time—that I was going to have to make this one last decision out of my overwhelming love for her. So I put her in her carrier, allowed the rest of the pack to say their good-byes, and I put her in the front seat of the car with me for our last trip together, just she and I—as it had always been so many times before. We listened to jazz as I rubbed her head and cried through a steady stream of I love you’s (not the best driving conditions, I admit). I wasn’t ready for this moment, but I knew that she was.
Our story began 15 years and four months ago when she was sitting on my front porch the day that I was moved into my first home, in San Diego. I was immediately smitten (though she seemed to belong to someone because she came with a collar, a tag and a name that I never had the heart to change). I would be over the moon when she would show up every day.
From that first day on she was a permanent fixture, showing up on my front porch or in my backyard as soon as I returned home, presumably out of thin air. And one day, during the first rainfall after we met, I came home to find her sitting in my backyard, drenched from head to tail. She looked pathetic, and as soon as I opened the back door she came running in.
From that day on, every single year that we experienced a rain cloud I would whisper, “and in here with me, warm and dry, is where you will always stay.” This morning, my heart ached because, for the first time in 15 years, I had no idea where she was and I couldn’t keep her dry.
She did, in fact, adopt me. Three years into our relationship, showing up one morning lethargic and sick, I called the number on her tag to confirm that they were taking care of her. Come to find out they hadn’t seen her in three years; apparently, my determined and independent girl had run away from home, claiming me as her caretaker. From that moment on, we’ve been inseparable. And I’ve never been more grateful.
It’s a strange thing to be a pet owner who takes her responsibility seriously (as we know, unfortunately, many do not so I don’t include them in this thought). We love them with all that we have inside of us, all the while knowing that we will one day have to say goodbye and go on without them, forever changed because of their presence. And yet we still do it.
The only way to reconcile this pain and heartache is remembering the amazing love, devotion, utter joy and loyalty filled 15 years and four months of her 17-year long life, that I was privileged of having. And I do mean privileged. What an incredible gift she gave me in trusting that I will always do right by her (a responsibility I never took lightly). And what an honor it was to hold her close in my arms as she transitioned out of this life and into her soul’s next chapter. I will forever cherish that last moment with her.
Knowing that so many don’t recognize the heartbreaking sadness that comes with losing a pet, many trivializing the grief or shaming one for feeling this loss so deeply, I say to them, mourning is mourning. Grief is grief regardless of the source of loss. So today I take this day off to grieve. I’ll stay in pj’s, eat my weight in junk food, take a nap to find respite, and watch her videos and look at her pictures, finding equal amounts of comfort and sadness in both. I will also cuddle her remaining siblings for we’re all feeling her absence in our pack. And I will mindfully remember her with nothing in the way to distract me, it’s the least I can do.
To Dr. Hannon and the girls at Abby Pet Hospital, I know that you were simply doing your job, but your empathy, compassion, professionalism and gentle way that you took us both through this intensely heavy moment, I thank you with all that I have. What a gift you have. And Dr. Hannon, thanks for letting me ugly cry and for knowing just when to give me the entire box of tissues that were in the room. I owe ’ya one.
(Mom, you should prepare yourself now for seeing the inevitable, new Odell tattoo that is to come. I promise I’ll keep it classy.)
To my girl, thanks for loving me for the past 15 years. You changed me.
Tiffany is a disability consultant, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and change agent Find her at www.TiffanysTake.com, Instagram: @Tiffanys_Take.columnist or Twitter: @T_Tcolumnist.