Personal Narrative

Ciara, beloved cat: 2008-2017

Suddenly, abruptly, my family has no pets for the first time in 17 years. And now the world is broken again.

Ciara’s fur was multicolored in a single hair, going from grey to white to black to gray again. No matter what I wore, it always showed.

On Saturday, August 26, 2017, we had to euthanize our beloved cat, Ciara.

We adopted her from the Humane Society as an adorable kitten back in 2008, a few months after our first cat (and my first-ever pet), Seamus, had disappeared, likely eaten by coyotes or foxes. We got her as a companion for our other cat, Maire, whom we adopted to be a companion to Seamus and who seemed to be missing him. We adopted a Bengal cat (Lando Catresian) from my sister-in-law who couldn’t have more than one cat in her apartment, and for a while we had three cats.

We never really planned on having three cats at the same time: Ciara, Ninja, and Lando.

Then a few years ago Maire got sick, stopped eating, developed progressive liver failure, and we had to put her to sleep. It was awful, but there was Ciara, who immediately adopted me as her human now that her apparent competition for my affection had gone away. Lando, however, was beside himself because he and Ciara never really got along either. So a few months later we adopted another black cat, who we promptly named Ninja for her ability to get out of the room we’d put her in, out of the house, climb trees, and catch bats off the roof. Apparently Lando wanted a kitten, because the two of them were very close.

Until two summers ago when Lando, in his last dumbshit moment, went out of the house to try to drive a coyote from our yard. I only ever found some fur, although it was clear from the coyote fur that Lando had not gone down without a fight. Ninja disappeared a couple of months later, although her remains (well picked-over by scavengers) were found in the open space a couple months after she disappeared. That left us with just Ciara, although she nearly died from a bladder stone a few months after Ninja disappeared.

I was Ciara’s human, and she loved being up in my arms where she could survey her entire domain.

Ciara had, up to that point, been largely a scaredy cat. She wasn’t the dominant cat in the house, and so she hadn’t slept with us or curled up with us on the couch while we watched TV. Now, as a singleton, she was the happiest cat in the world. She had all of our considerable attention, and I was her #1 human.

Until yesterday. And now, after 17 years of having at least one cat in the house, we have none.

Ciara liked to sleep on my side of the bed, preferably right after I got up and it was still warm.

I keep looking around and seeing Ciara where she isn’t. My son’s shoes looked like her lying on the floor, looking at me. This morning when I woke up I stretched, but didn’t hear the accompanying jingle of Ciara’s collar as she trotted over to jump up on my bladder and demand to be loved. When I sat up, I put my foot down on her scratching mat that was almost a second bed since we’d sold our home in May. The apartment is too quiet, and it feels even less like home than normal.

Uprooting the family in May was awful, even though it will be the right thing eventually. But taking Ciara from the only home she’s ever known and turning her from and inside/outside cat to a strictly indoor cat stressed her so much that it could have triggered the diabetes.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is treatable, but stabilizing a diabetic cat with IV insulin and constant monitoring over days costs thousands of dollars. And once the cat is stable, it can be hundreds to thousands more dollars to dial in the cat’s twice daily insulin shots dialed in. And the shots themselves require a lifestyle that is stable enough to give them every 12 hours, like clockwork, potentially for the rest of the cat’s life, plus more hundreds of dollars a month and for regular vet visits to keep on top of the diabetes.

We are not so financially stable that we can afford treatments like this, and our family’s schedule is not so stable that we can provide the needed care. Not while we’re building a house and saving nearly every penny for the down payment. Not while my wife and I are driving the kids to and from school and cross country and baseball and kung fu every day. Not when work has exploded for both me and my wife and we’re both working from home again. Not when my parents are aging and requiring more care.

It’s killing me that we had to choose whether our cat lived or died. With Maire, her liver failure was progressive and there wasn’t anything we could do to save her. We could have saved Ciara, and yet we chose not to.

My kids were two and four when we got Ciara. My son never remembers not having her, and my daughter only barely.

There will come a point when our kids will accuse us of killing our cat, when our son will scream at us that we could have saved her, but didn’t. And he’ll be right. We probably could have managed her diabetes if we either had the money or had the time, but we didn’t have either.

I’m guessing that one of our kids will eventually point out that, had one of them come down with diabetes, we’d have moved heaven and earth to save them, but that we didn’t do that for Ciara. And that will be true too.

We were always planning to have a pet time-out after Ciara died, to see if we still wanted a pet and what kind of pet to get if we still wanted one. But we didn’t expect it to happen so soon. We figured we’d move Ciara to the new house where she’d settle in and live another few years. Or die from a rattlesnake bite, since there are rattlesnakes around the development we’re moving to.

Ciara would occasionally groom my hair. It was as cute as it was gross.

Our son has already said he wants another cat, and as soon as possible. We explained yesterday that getting a new cat now wouldn’t be fair to the new cat – we’re still in the apartment, we haven’t healed from losing Ciara, we don’t have the time yet to introduce a new animal to the family. And he understood. Mostly. So we’re going to be without any pets for at least the next few months, until we’re somewhat settled into our new home. By then we’ll know if we want a dog next, or a couple of kittens, or a rabbit, or no pets at all. And we’ll all have healed some from yesterday.

I still miss Seamus from time to time. I still miss Maire. I still miss Lando, and Ninja. I expect that, so long as I have my memories and my photos, I will miss them. Just as I know that the Ciara-shaped hole in my heart will heal, but I will always miss her insanely loud purring, her attacking my shoelaces, and how LEGO wheels were her favorite toys in the world. Just like all of our cats, there will never be another cat just like her. And while that’s both right and proper, it’s also awful. And knowing I will heal does nothing to help get through the day.

Good bye, Ciara.

Ciara considered snow, which melted on her paws as she walked through it, a personal offense by Mother Nature.

Ciara liked laying on our backs and resting her head on our shoulders, and purring loudly.

Whenever it got cold, Ciara would lay on the floor vent to stay warm.

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6 replies »

  1. So very much here to be sad about, and I understand firsthand how pet illnesses can generate very hard choices. She was a great cat and she had a great family, though. If all animals had it as well as she did the world would be a lot better place.

  2. so sorry to hear the news about Ciara. losing a furry member of your family is so tough and just know that we’re with you! you were obviously a great mama.

  3. So sorry for your loss, Brian. Our shy cat lived in the shadow of our alpha for several years, but got a few at the end as the only cat in our house. He really blossomed. We saw a completely different side of him. In a cruel and entirely justified way, it made us miss him even more once he was gone, if that was even possible.

    When we adopt them, we don’t think about the immense burden of accepting the responsibility of whether they live or die. That’s an Easter egg we find at the end, in the midst of our grief. Our hope is that we give them a life of love they may not have had without us. And we take comfort in that. I hope you and your family do as well. Certainly, Ciera was lucky.

  4. Having never been without a cat (often a dog at the same time) in 33 years I have had to deal with the loss of a beloved pet many times. It never gets easier. We are facing the health issues of our soon to be 16-year old cat, whom I’ve had since she was a kitten. The cat I had before her was 16 when he died and I had him for 12 of those years.
    Your segment on how each cat (perhaps each pet) is different and works their was into our hearts and our daily lives is how I’ve felt about all my animals (even my goat herd).
    Giving yourself and your family space to heal sounds like a good idea. Jim often says cats are about their place first, dogs are about their people first. Waiting for the right time for a new pet once you are settled is likely the best decision for family and a new pet.
    At least you loved her and cared for her in her final days. Making the tough decision to spare her the trauma of a life dependant on constant medication would be difficult but as a long-time cat owner/lover I think your decision was sound. You set her free instead of setting her on the road to fend for herself. That happens too much these days when the cost of an aging pet becomes more than people can afford.
    May your memories come back with joy and without tears.

  5. sorry for your lost the pets become part of the family. It’s too bad that the other cats lost their lives being cats. I’m sure you would have provided treatment for the last cat if you had the means

  6. Sorry for your loss. Just remember the good times and that you gave Ciara a good life. Don’t think the move and change would cause Ciara diabetes? (Stress only temporal increase in blood sugar?)
    My husband and I always talk about pet medical bills. Partially because we have an English bulldog who needs medical attention more often than others, but also she is getting old. My dog and cat are the first pets I ever had, so I don’t know how I would cope when their time come. As much as I love my pets, I’m not financially stable to drop thousands of dollars on treatment.
    It must feel odd without any pets for the few months, but it sure is a great decision to wait till you move to your new house.