My Feline Unit went missing in 2017 while I was away on a long vacation. As much as you prepare for a pet’s well-being while away, something can happen.
The cat was the second pet lost while I was away having fun. When I was 15, I entrusted my water turtle to my younger cousin. It died on her watch, and I admit I’ve never really forgiven my cousin.
When my long-haired Manx kitty went missing two years ago, it was a rough homecoming. My Handsome Woodsman had died eight months earlier in a car crash. Grief on top of grief left me lost in my own head.
After that trip – 17 amazing days in Costa Rica – my search for the cat turned somewhat manic. Rather than deal with my feelings, I put all my energy into finding that darn cat. I put up posters, printed her photo in my column, posted flyers at veterinarians and plead for help on social media. For months, I took walks at dusk, dawn and mid-day, calling her secret whistle that normally brought her indoors for food and a snuggle.
Even today, two years later, I sometimes drive down side streets in the avenues, hoping that something white, furry and familiar will catch my eye.
Losing a loved one – a pet or a person – is tough, and perhaps even more painful when you hold hope that one day you will be reunited.
With all of this background, I totally understood why my Dad and his wife were nervous about leaving their pets when we took a family vacation.
All in the family
Pets really are part of our family. Last spring, our third grade class compiled data as we learned to make bar graphs.
“Raise your hand if you have a pet,” I said to the class.
All of my children raised their hands. My fingers stayed by my side.
“That’s so sad you don’t have a pet,” one child blurted out without raising her hand.
“You should get a cat, Miss Hacking,” another child advised.
“No. A dog,” a boy said with certainty. “You should get a dog.”
I just shook my head and smiled – sadly.
Several Sow There! readers have written to suggest I adopt a spare pet they have in their yard. Yet, it has felt disloyal to replace my beloved fur ball before an appropriate period of mourning. You can’t just bring a thing into your home because there’s an empty pillow on the couch.
Is two years enough time to mourn?
On the road
Of course, being without a pet has its perks. A few weeks ago, as I packed my bags for the Alaska cruise, I did not need to find someone to take care of a cat.
For my Dad, and anyone else with a much-loved pet, finding a pet-sitter is a big deal. If you find someone willing to stay with your animal, it needs to be someone who won’t try to move into your spare bedroom. A good house-helper shouldn’t snoop, steal or make your house party-central. Most importantly, the pet-friend needs to give your animal as much love as the pet would receive if you were home.
My dad has two little dogs who are decidedly pampered. The pups are hand-fed chicken breast and need their long hair brushed frequently. When an Alpo commercial comes on TV, the dogs rush to the bottom of the screen and yap with high-pitched glee. The dogs also need exercise and a warm person to snuggle. Taking care of those two little dogs is a big job.
It all turned out well. My reliable friend Thor was already visiting the area, and agreed to house-sit for my Dad.
But even with the dogs in good hands, Dad and my step-mom worried while we were gone.
If you’re traveling, there’s a silent helpless feeling that comes with leaving a part of the family at home – be it a teenager, a cat or a tank filled with neon tetras. Things happen. I understood their angst. I was worrying about my plants.
Five friends (Christina, Mark, Jim, Bill and LaDonna) agreed to drag the hose around the yard while I feasted on the cruise ship. You would think I could gain 7 pounds on cruise food without a worry in the world. However, when we reached ports, I texted helpful reminders to the plant-tenders. I knew Chico was blistering hot and the rhododendron could not make it three days without a drink.
I was so reassured when Bill sent a text saying all was well with my plants. He even texted photos of crookneck squash happily awaiting my return.
The same was true for the dogs at Dad’s house. Thor sent reassuring pictures of the dogs yapping at the TV during dog food commercials, the pups calmly curled up on the couch.