Sunday, March 10, 2013

Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy

What was I thinking, taking in another cat? I already had two cats in the house:  Sonnie, a beautiful tortoise shell kitten my son begged to adopt from his grandparents, and Baby, a gray tabby we adopted after a neighbor abandoned her when they moved. We used to have a Yorkshire Terrier as well, Ted E. Bear, but he had passed away a few years earlier. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have another animal. Maybe it would work out just fine. There was certainly plenty of love to go around. Besides this cat was only going to be staying with us for a short time – or so I thought.

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that “temporary” isn’t always as temporary as we plan. I had offered to take care of this young kitten for some friends while they looked for a place to live once they arrived in Washington state, but Holly became an official member of my family a few months later when they were unsuccessful in finding a home that allowed pets. My son and I were secretly glad of this because Holly had already earned a place in our hearts and we didn’t want to see her go.

Holly definitely had her quirks, but we bonded immediately and she never let anyone forget that I was her human. When I went to the airport to pick her up, the baggage attendant told me that she had been sleeping the entire time until just as I approached the counter. It was as if she knew I was coming for her. I could hear her meowing as I got closer and she meowed the entire way home. We had a wonderful conversation.

It wasn’t until years later that my son and I realized Holly had been terrorizing the other two cats. Eventually, they spent almost all of their time in my son’s room and would only come out if Holly was in my bedroom with me. When my son moved out, he took the older cats with him. I’d never seen them so content. I think that’s when I fully realized that my sweet little Holly was a bully. She insisted on the role of alpha cat.

Over the years, Holly became increasingly more difficult. She not only hissed and scratched at guests, but also at my son. Nick swore she hated him. My first clue that Holly had some serious quirks should have been when she took a likening to my mother, a woman who always professed to dislike cats but much to our surprise had allowed Holly on her lap. This quirky kitty definitely had her affectionate moments, but for the most part she was pretty demanding and unpredictable. My decision to move to Durango only accelerated the issues.

Holly stayed with my sister for a couple months while I looked for a job. After I brought Holly to Colorado, I boarded her for just over four months while I continued to look for a place to live – a process that took much longer than anticipated. The situation was definitely traumatic for her, but I thought the stress would go away once we got into a place of our own. Things seemed to go well during the first few months. I thought I was finally able to make her happy when we had a place to ourselves. Unfortunately, my new downstairs neighbor also had a cat and Holly made it known in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want another cat in her house. That’s when the attacks started.

The vets I spoke with explained that Holly was acting out on misplaced aggression, attacking me because she couldn’t attack the cat downstairs – a cat she couldn’t see, but only hear. She knew the cat was there. It wasn’t like seeing a cat outside and victoriously protecting her turf once the cat had left her sight. She couldn’t do anything about the cat downstairs, this phantom intruder, and my legs took the brunt of her aggression when she attacked me instead. When you see cats fighting in cartoons, it looks funny – all that hissing and scratching and fur flying – but being mauled by a cat is probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced.

I have shared my home with furry companions for almost 30 years, and suddenly I was living in fear of my own pet. After the last vicious attack, she was confined to one room of the house. I entered that room with a broom and spray bottle for protection, and I never turned my back to her. Once my fear subsided somewhat, I decided that maybe I should give her another chance and let her have run of the house again. That proved too stressful for me, however, leaving myself vulnerable to attack again. I could have had Holly medicated, but the vets couldn’t guarantee that it would help. In fact, they said that medicating a cat sometimes even makes it more aggressive.

Medication was not an option, but neither was confining my cat or putting someone else at risk by giving her away. Those options wouldn’t be fair to anyone. The thought of moving didn’t seem like a viable choice either because of the time and expense involved in finding yet another home. Besides, what if there was another cat in the new place? There would always be another cat somewhere. The only thing I could do was have Holly euthanized.

If you’ve never had to struggle with the moral dilemma of whether or not to take a life, you can’t fully appreciate what I’ve been through. It’s not as though my cat was facing a terminal illness or had been injured beyond repair. To say that I had trouble justifying this course of action would be a gross understatement, even though I felt that my cat posed a danger to my own health and well-being. I firmly believe in the “forever friends” philosophy of adopting pets; it’s a commitment for life. I don’t bail out when things get inconvenient, which should have been enough to convince me that I was doing the right thing. After all, I chose to spend just over $2,000 to board her rather than give her up. I loved her. However, I couldn’t bring myself to end her life.

I had to take that option off the table and decided to give Holly another chance. I was determined to find the strength to deal with it and face my fears. Maybe she would change. Then my landlords asked me to move out because they planned to sell the house to a friend who wanted to live in it. My hand had been forced and the decision was made for me. I needed to move out and I had only a few weeks to find a new place to live.

Deciding to end my cat’s life was absolutely one of hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I struggled with the guilt, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Still, it broke my heart. I stayed with Holly to the end and I’ll never forget the look in her eyes once she was gone. I had betrayed her. It was horrible. Suddenly I was the monster, not her. I couldn’t have made it through that awful moment without my friend and employer, Lori. She drove me to the Humane Society and she stayed at me side through it all. She cried with me and she reassured me. She was awesome.

I miss my little Holly-doodle. I miss the good times. I miss the love. There is nothing so empty as coming home to a house where a furry companion once greeted you, only to have the silence echo so loudly in your heart when they’re gone. Holly may have been a little monster, but she was my monster and I loved her. Now for the first time in my adult life, I have no companion.

Goodbye my sweet kitty. Be at peace. I love you.


  1. Thank you for sharing from your Heart. Thank you. This has been such a challenging time. Blessings on the Path for Healing and Respite from all that isn't Life-giving for you and your Beloveds. And thank you for Loving your Holly. She knows it.

    1. Not sure if the reply feature is new on my blog or if I'm just now finding it. :-)

      I still miss Holly. It's been over 4 years and I have not brought another fur-baby into my home.


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