An Ode to All the Pets I’ve Loved

Content Warning, this blog deals with pet loss and death in general.

My black cat of eleven years and eight months, my mini panther, passed away this week. He is the third cat we’ve lost within three years. We had several older ones, all around the same age. Duncan had cancer; a particularly rare kind brought on by a negative vaccine reaction. We did two surgeries, but it was aggressive, and we couldn’t afford cat chemo. We enjoyed life for as long as we could, but it became too much this week, and we helped him cross over. I have lost two dogs and four cats, and I grieve all of their losses differently, but I am angry about Duncan’s. Angry because I did everything right, and he still got cancer, maybe from a vaccine he didn’t arguably need because he was an indoor only cat. Mad because I am very pro-vaccine, and this makes me equivocate, even though I will continue to get my other pets vaccinated. It is cold comfort, though, that such a reaction is rare. I am mad because even at the end, his heart and lungs were strong, it was everything else that was failing him. Eventually I will stop being mad, because you can’t live like that forever, but for now I am angry.

The most magnificent of panthers in 2012. Photo by Cassy Davis.

As you do with the loss of any loved one, I’ve been going over all the memories we had together. I know we are extremely blessed to have been loved by such an amazing creature for almost twelve years. Some memories of Duncan are definite, his wide eyes, his allergy problems that caused him to sneeze a lot. He seemed to go out of his way to come up and sneeze in my face. Once, he sneezed in my open mouth. He hated it when I sang. I guess he thought I was in pain. He’d come up and stand on my chest and get in my face. (I don’t know when I’ll be able to watch the movie adaptation of “The Last Five Years” again because that was my favorite thing to watch and sing, and he was always on my chest.) Duncan had this imp that danced in his soul. He was fascinated with our dog Charley, would literally hang off his legs, but that dog refused to eat his face. I’m sure they have found each other in the next life. He bedeviled his sister Aldonza and tussled with his brother Smudge. He tussled with Hairy, Katy, and Jacob when we brought them into the house. He moved houses with us. He was the first pet that was mine and Kyle’s exclusively. When we got married, I already had my dog Katie and my cat Aldonza.

Picture in the hold house in 2010. This was when we lived upstairs in just one room. I have no idea what was on the TV behind me.

Looking back through this timeline, I was getting frustrated that there weren’t more, large memories of him that stood out. I have so many about Aldonza, Charley, and Smudge because they were such BIG personalities. That’s when I realized, Duncan was always there, this steady presence rolling with the punches. He was there to greet me at the door. He was there on the bed, whenever I peeked into the bedroom, and the last few weeks he was on his nice soft bed in the closet. Now, he is none of those places, at least not physically. I miss that steady presence. Losing him was like losing the last, final connection to the old house I lived in for almost twenty years. I realized I had compartmentalized that part of my life, that house, into a separate part of my brain. Losing him was closing a door.

First photo I took of Duncan when he came to live with us in August of 2010. Look at that great flip phone quality.

Logically, I know we do this as people. We make rooms in our brains, but this is the first time I had stumbled upon my separate rooms. I knew my childhood was kept in a different space, but that made sense. This was a part of my adult life, though, that I’d created a separate storage space for, and I was surprised to find it. Maybe this is me coming to terms with being 37? I don’t know what it is.

So much can change in ten years. We have photos hanging on our wall that were taken in the backyard of our old house. All three of those animals are gone now, Charley, Aldonza, and Duncan. Now we have three new cats; Hairy, Katy, and Jacob, who have never known life with us outside this space. I’m tripping over time. Maybe it’s because the last two years have somehow been twenty. I’m tripping over death. Maybe that’s because we’ve lost three pets in three years, or maybe that’s because we’ve been surrounded by death with the pandemic and now war. Maybe it’s because a dear friend of mine lost her spouse to a tragic death at a young age only a month ago.

Duncan and Charley in the family photos in 2012. Aldonza had already bolted. I had to get a solo shot with her. Photo by Cassy Davis.

I try not to look at my pets now and think, “I’ll remember that when you die.” I want to enjoy the moment, and eventually I will get back to that. But I always worry that I don’t spend enough time with them, that I don’t take time for moments. I work a very demanding job. I help my family a lot, and I try to have a social life, too, and support my friends. In all of this, do I leave my pets at home alone, albeit cared for, to live their lives? I’m on a spiral. I know it’s a spiral, and I’ll dig myself out eventually. I am taking time this weekend, though, to breathe and live and grieve.

Jacob, Duncan, Hairy, and Katy on the bed earlier this week. I called them my “fearsome foursome.”

Ducan was named after my workplace, known as the Duncan House. He was a stray we found. My cat Jacob is also named after a work building. I found him at the office, too. Duncan’s other name was Duncan Idaho, after the character in the Dune series. My parents love that series. Duncan Idaho lives many lives, and I know I will see my Duncan again, someday. A friend of mine posted this conversation from Dune on my Facebook page, and it perfectly captures my emotions right now.

“Paul Atreides: Duncan!

Duncan Idaho: Paul. I was just on my way to say good-bye to you. I have to go on ahead, alone. I won’t be seeing you for a while.

Paul: I wish you were coming with us.”

I already miss this face.

Goodbye for now, sweet Duncan. Thank you for always being here, for being present. Thank you for loving us and allowing us to love you.

Here’s an ode to the four cats, two dogs, one rabbit, and countless hermit crabs and fish I have loved and lost along the way. This is also for my three cats who are still very much here, reminding me that every day has some joy in it. I call it, “Living with You.”

Photo by Cassy Davis.

Living with you is

Chaos

Interrupted sleep

Like, no sleep

Like, oh my gosh, why won’t you lay down?

Living with you is

Cleaning

Cleaning up vomit,

So much vomit

How can a living thing puke so much?

This house is mostly vomit.

This house is mostly fur.

Tumble weeds of fur

Are you all trying to create a sibling?

Living with you is

Weird quirks

You attack feet

You attack the wall

Seriously, stop eating the paint off the wall.

You hiss at the dishwasher

You talk nonstop

You don’t talk at all

You refuse to drink out of the water dish the “normal” way

Living with you is

No privacy

The bathroom is for everyone.

Living with you is

Destruction

The wall

The carpet

The door

My clothes

My bedding

My phone cords

My flesh

My CPAP hose

Paper

You make me snowflakes.

I consider hanging them on the fridge.

You unwrap the Christmas presents

You steal the Baby Jesus from the Nativity

Living with you is

Surprises

Escape plots to get rotten potatoes on the other side of the fence

Rolling on dead ducks

Snuggling up to your sibling when they had once been your mortal enemy

Living with you is

Heartache

Medicine at certain intervals

Surgeries

Sleepless nights for another reason

Altering my life to fit your needs

Praying you pass peacefully at night

Praying you’re still here in the morning because I want more time

Watching you slip away as you age

Watching you remain irrevocably you

Saying goodbye in a room with white walls

Being there for “hello” and “see you again”

Living with you is

Unconditional love

Sharing your memories for years to come

Keeping your ashes safe

Planning to scatter your ashes with mine when my time comes

Living with you is

Joy

Light

Laughter

A reason to get up on hard mornings

(You won’t shup up until I feed you, I have to get up.)

Living with you is

Permission to take a moment to watch you

Watch you enjoy life

Watch you live life

Watch you bathe in the sun

Watch you chase a bug across the floor

Please kill that bug.

Living with you is

Life itself.

Poem by Anne Mason; In memory of Buttercup, Bunnicula, KatyDid “Katie,” Hermit, Booger, Gully, Charley, Aldonza, Smudge, and Duncan. I also think there was a crab named General Custer, and maybe one named Fishsticks.
The last picture I took of Duncan. Note how Katy is staring at him adoringly. Everyone adored him.

I need to get back to writing. I miss it. I have one fanfic to finish, two others kicking around my brain. I have a dragon novel to edit. Short stories, mostly about murder, to tackle. (All short stories are about murder, right?) The point is, I need to get back to it. It makes me happy, and I clearly need some of that right now. Time is short and life is fleeting. But if we’re lucky, we get to love someone, be loved in return, and do something that makes us happy along the way.

Thanks for reading. I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled programming soon.

But in other, happier news, my sister’s health is much better. She will soon be showing off her art at a maker’s fair at the local art center. You can see some of her work on her website at https://www.jgfellerscreative.com/shop.

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