If you’ve seen our Fractious Cat video, then you’ve met my oldest cat Max, who really has been fired from four vet offices in his fifteen years of life. This week Max was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When I found out I immediately had the following emotions:
Max had slowly been becoming senile over the last year and I had copped it up to old age. I felt terrible for all those mornings I locked him out of my room for aggressively wanting food two hours before I normally feed him.
Why does everyone in my family have to be so dramatic? Why couldn’t he have a simple thyroid issue like a regular cat? That’s what Megan and I had discussed and that’s what I was prepared for.
Max has lived with me since the fall of 1999. He accompanied me on every major adult milestone I’ve had and moved with me through four states, five cities, and eight houses. I adopted Max from a “pound” (seriously). I picked him up out of the crowd of kittens and cats roaming around the concrete basement of an East Texas county center and he instantly purred. That’s right. I adopted “Max the Fractious Cat” because he was friendly.
He had all the telltale signs of being a “pound cat” when I got him. Ear mites, fleas, ringworm, some sort of intestinal disease that required I mix his food (something fancy I bought from the vet) with pumpkin for three months. I was in college at the time and I’m not entirely sure my parents realize how much they spent on him. I probably told them the money was for books. . .
But Max got healthy and still purred every time I picked him up. He still does that today and only for me. We hit our first relationship bump when I got married. My husband took Max’s side of the bed and my attention and ruined his life momentarily. It took Max a good eight years to get over it. Not kidding. The guy knows how to hold a grudge.
And so, my own experience with pet loss begins. Pet loss is hard on its own, but for vet professionals, especially those in emergency hospitals where death is lurking in every corner, pet loss is particularly difficult. You are dealing with your own grief as well as the grief (including guilt, anger, and sadness) of many of your clients. Healing is hard when you live in an emotional war zone. Everyone deals with loss, grief, and compassion fatigue in their own way, but it is particularly challenging for those who work on the front lines. Later this month I will discuss grief compassion fatigue from a management perspective, but for now, this is my story as a pet owner. I am lucky. Max is doing well. He is most confused in the morning. We get up at 5am and eat and I pet him until he is more aware of his surroundings. He purrs and I am grateful for the time I have with him to say goodbye.