06 February 2012

Going Home (Jon Katz)

OK, this entry is going to make me cry if it goes on too long, so I'll keep it brief.

On the left? Me and Juliana. I got her when I was 15 and she was a silly itty witsy kitten--now she's 17, and slowing down: skinny, easily confused, prone to yowling piteously in the night. She may have a brain tumor, or have suffered a stroke, since she's got an uncontrollable head tremor and a tendency to walk in tight little circles, always turning to the right. Our time together has been wonderful--I have spent more hours with her than any single human being--but it is coming to an end, and it hurts so much to contemplate.

But it hurts a little less after reading Jon Katz's Going Home. Subtitled "Finding Peace When Pets Die," it's a very simple but profound and necessary book. Katz is known for his writing about animals, particularly the border collies that live with him on his farm; the genesis of this book was his having to euthanize his beloved dog Orson. Like most pet owners, he struggled with guilt and depression, as well as the persistent shame of being so broken up over an animal: "It's only a cat, after all," says our rational self (and sometimes misguided people who are trying to help).

Katz advocates inhabiting your grief, while trying to let go of guilt--animals do not fear death, he reminds us,  because they don't understand it, even while it's happening--and perhaps creating rituals for yourself to honor your pet and the joy you shared. I've decided that upon Julie's eventual death, I will donate a sum to a Siamese rescue group, and design a felt cameo to approximate her sweet little face. I'm not saying it won't be hard--devastating, even. But I know I won't be alone.

[UPDATE: Julie died February 13. Bye-bye, little kitty bean.]

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