Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cats, grief and loss

Eamon the cat with Penelope the cat
As I was looking through old photos, trying to find kitten images of Eamon to use on this blog, I found several images like this of Eamon snuggled up with my dilute calico, Nellie.

This slender girl was about 3 years old when Eamon came home to live with me. While Nellie didn't seem to care for me or other humans very much (she was apt to hiss and spit if you attempted to pet her), she was quite fond of all other animals. She snuggled with my Boston terrier every day, and Eamon followed her from room to room like a devoted younger brother.

Clearly, cats can form tight relationships. While they're not exactly pack animals, they do form communities and social cats, such as Eamon, have deep feelings for their fellow cats.

When Eamon was about a year old, Nellie began to hiss and spit much more frequently. She seemed to be out of breath, and started spending long hours in the basement guest room by herself. Our veterinarian discovered that her chest was full of fluid, and she had a large tumor in her left lung. I was shocked, as I don't smoke and don't allow people to smoke in my home. It was clear, however, that the prognosis wasn't good. I lost her not long after.

Eamon was, quite simply, heartbroken at her death. He spent many nights walking around the house, calling for Nellie. He stopped eating. He didn't sleep well. With time and extra attention he did, eventually, heal and eventually I brought home a new kitten companion for him when I thought he'd accept a new friend.

Since then, I've fostered kittens that have left us and headed to new homes, and my Boston terrier died. Eamon has experienced these losses with less-visible signs of grief. He often walks around the house and calls for missing animals, but he seems much less distraught at their departure. Perhaps he's learned that loss is a part of life, or perhaps he's just never missed another animal quite as much as he missed his Nellie.

To learn more about feline lung cancer, click here. For more about cats and grief, click here.