A girl and her cat say good-bye



He loved dried apricots, rotisserie chicken, and sleeping in the sink. He detested other members of his species. He cost $70, shots included, and I acquired him back in 1996 while still working in Manhattan as a lawyer.

It wasn’t my idea to get a cat. The directive came from two separate friends, both exasperated by my failure to get over a not-so-recent breakup. They thought that a cat would be good for me. I suspect they hoped it would shut me up—or at least shift the conversation.

He came home with me in a taxi cradled in my blue Coach purse, having won release from a cardboard box through piteous kitten mews. An antic feather-light ball of fluff, he developed a disconcerting habit of racing through my Upper West Side apartment and hurtling off the bed, legs splayed in all directions, nothing to break his fall. I named him Clarence—not for Clarence Darrow, the most frequent of all first guesses, but for Clarence, the disheveled Angel Second Class who struggles to rescue George Bailey from despair in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In time he grew regal and immense (“large-boned,” my father called him). “Such a small tongue—and so much kitty,” a boyfriend once observed, watching the cat’s prolonged and painstaking grooming process. “Clarence is a ceremonial cat–not for everyday use.”

Seventeen – almost 18 – years is a very long time, and we went through a lot together Mr. C and I. We moved from New York to western Massachusetts to Cambridge then back to western Mass and finally to Brookline. I quit law, published two novels, cycled through jobs and unemployment. Through every challenge, every disappointment, the cat was there beside me—splendidly furry and impervious, purring and reassuring.

He’d been losing weight for more than a year, and it was clear something was wrong.  Kidney failure was one possibility. Cancer was another. Diagnostic tests were inconclusive. I began giving him subcutaneous fluids to help with hydration, pills to stimulate his appetite. (“You . . . you are like a nurse for your cat!” sputtered a courtly Latin gentleman on hearing of my ministrations.) Then, six weeks ago, with his appetite flagging, came another round of tests. The verdict: Late-stage cancer, in both his abdomen and lungs. When I brought him home, groggy and weak, from the hated animal hospital, I whispered to him a promise that he’d never have to go back.

I knew that I wanted him to die at home, but that’s all I knew. I didn’t know what that would entail, or what I should do or when. Not surprisingly, it was one of those times when the Internet proves a godsend. With a bit of searching, I discovered Harbor Veterinary House Calls, which not only does home visits but also offers pet hospice care. As the lovely and kind Dr. Maija Mikkola Curtis explained on her first home visit, hospice care for animals—as for humans—is about quality of life. She told me to think of her as a partner, to email her if I had any questions at all about ongoing treatment or next steps.

The next weeks were pretty good ones for Clarence—lots and lots of rotisserie chicken, tuna, and attention—but by the end of last week, he began a precipitous decline. He stopped eating and took to retreating to the darkest reaches of a closet. Already frail, having dropped more than half of his weight in the course of the past 18 months, he grew even weaker and frailer. With a heavy heart, I contacted Maija, and she came out the next evening.

We watched Clarence for a while, Maija and I, as I reached a final decision. “The spark has gone,” she said quietly. I had to agree. The process of euthanasia was simple and very peaceful. I’d already been saying good-bye for a very long time, and I petted and whispered my love to him as his life ebbed away.

Early last month—shortly after learning how very sick Clarence was—I  happened on an advice column about a guy who was spending thousands of dollars to keep his cat alive despite living on a disability pension and, from the perspective of his best friend (the letter writer), having “no extra cash for luxuries.” I loved the columnist’s response:

It may be that your friend’s relationship with his cat is something he truly cannot live without; it may be that he feels something toward this cat that is beyond the understanding of outsiders and without the protection of social sanction or naming. . . . [P]erhaps eventually we will come to see that a man’s relationship with a cat is not simply that of a person to a luxury item, but something else, something sacred.  

I’m down with that.

The house is very quiet when I get home these days. “Where’s the boy?” I call. Not because I’ve forgotten but because it’s what I do. I’ve also taken to scrolling through Petfinder, gazing at the pictures of the countless cats waiting to find homes. There’s Glad who reminds me oh-so-much of Clarence. (Would that be strange or good?) There’s sweet-faced Herman with his gorgeous coat and playful goofball Mr. Then I look at a photo of Clarence that Monica took in April.  So present, so very there. He was—is—a beloved being. You are a beloved being.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

22 thoughts on “A girl and her cat say good-bye

  1. As the daughter of a veterinarian, I have seen many loving pet owners’ struggle with allowing their beloved pets to move on. Pet hospice is an amazingly kind and caring solution to weighing quality of life vs the difficulty in saying good-bye. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you so much! And yes, kitty hospice was such a gift.. It was such a relief to know that I was doing everything I could to ease his last weeks and that I was partnering with someone who would help me make good decisions.

  2. I’ve never had a pet but I get the attachment and fullness of that relationship. Caryl, my blog partner, has a cat that is getting up there. I suspect I will miss him walking across our keyboards as we try to post. Grieve but get another cat, maybe two.

    • Thank you, Maryl — When I go to the shelter, I feel so sad that I can’t adopt ALL the kitties. But such is life. I hope your partner’s cat has many many years left.

  3. What a lovely tribute to Clarence and of course your love for him. Losing a beloved pet is losing a family member.

    • Thank you so much, Jenny–it helped to write the piece, sort of a virtual memorial/eulogy. I really appreciate you reading it and taking the time to comment.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. This beautiful recounting of the process of letting your beloved catbaby go has brought me to tears. Goodbye, dear Clarence. So much wishing of comfort and ease for you, Amy.

    • Thank you, Darcy. Comfort & ease–what wonderful things to be wished for. I really appreciate you reading & taking the time to comment.

  5. I am so sorry for the loss of your cat. Our elder cat is approaching 17 and may already be there. She is suffering from chronic kidney failure and arthritis in the hips. She has become loud and demanding of attention in these last two years. She is visibly slowing down and I wonder when our family will loose her. A cat becomes a family member. Enjoy your memories, while you find new companion.

  6. So sorry for your loss, Amy. How good it is that you loved Clarence all the way to the mystery gate and wrote this beautiful remembrance of him. I lost my very neurotic, exasperating but beloved Zoey last year, and because she was (of course) irreplaceable, I didn’t think I wanted another cat. However … my son asked me to take him to the shelter “just to look, Mom” and now I have sweet Stella. Memories and new love mix well!

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Linda–I suspect I will have a similar experience, am looking forward to that. So many sweet kittties in need of loving homes.

  7. I forget the direct quote but it goes something like this.

    “Courage is loving someone or something that you know will have to leave you.” You are brave and blessed. I am glad you had Clarence, and I am glad he had you. What a perfect union that will bless the two of you for the rest of your life.

  8. Oh Amy, I am so sorry. That was an absolutely gorgeous piece of writing- I am crying as I write this- both for your loss, and because it reminded me of the pets I have lost. I loved the advice columnist’s words as well. I hope that in the not-so-distant future you are asking “Where’s the boy (girl)?” to a new member of your home.

    • Thank you so much, Susan–that means a lot. And I look forward to introducing the new guy/girl when he/she arrives.

  9. What a beautiful tribute!

    I am glad you are at least thinking of getting another cat. I had a friend who was mourning her dog and was told by someone that she had had, and would continue to have, the amazing and wondrous experience of Dog, which was not just the memory of their companion, but also an experience that goes beyond him. We love our cats and mourn them but we are nevertheless privileged to experience “Cat.”

    Still, some cats are more special than others. He was a special cat.

    • Oh, I love that Lisa! Priv­i­leged to expe­ri­ence “Cat”–what a great thought (and way to express it) Thanks for shar­ing (and for read­ing).

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