Our little cat Cleo left for cat heaven after spending nearly twenty wonderful years with us. After all, given how genetically related we are with other life forms, if there is a heaven for humans it is not unreasonable to presume there is one for cats. For as Herodotus speculated 2500 years ago, if humans have gods in their own image, then is it not possible that cows, dogs, and other animals have gods in their own image as well? We can never know, but if we have souls, then animals must have some less developed equivalent life force.
We sense this especially when we have pets, and we recognize that they have clearly distinct personalities. They are unique individuals and can become as much a part of our lives as any human. That is why their loss is so painful, because we truly have lost a little individual with whom we have shared so many memorable experiences. It is not merely a cat that has died, but a particular, well-known individual that has passed on.
The last period of Cleopatra’s life was trying as her abilities declined sharply to the point where her demise was inevitable and painful to experience. It is for that reason that some people won’t consider adopting another animal, for the fear of the pain of loss is too great. Yet in perspective that is but a moment in what could otherwise be a long, happy life full of treasured experiences that transcend that momentary loss. What I wrote of her brother Caesar when he died three years ago still rings true and can easily be substituted for little Cleo:
There are millions of feral cats who live short, miserable lives. My cat Caesar, who just passed away, was far more fortunate in that he lived as good a life as any creature ever had. That doesn’t assuage the sense of loss, but does provide some perspective on how painful life always is for most living things. When we take in pets we free them from the cruelties of nature and in the process they become something more. A bond is formed. We give them names and they adapt to us as we adapt to them. Then we come to realize that this is, in some sense, a sentient individual with a distinct personality.
Caesar was a source of endless wonder and joy to me. He had perfectly refined features, and even at the end the vet remarked how handsome he was. He was a very loving cat, unusually good-natured, gentle, and provided endless fascination in the way he interacted with the world around him. He became an intimate part of our lives, so that with his passing there is a deep sense of loss.
This is something that anyone who has pets inevitably has to deal with, and our tendency is to feel sorry for them. But if we have treated them well, the sorrow is all ours, for death and loss is mainly painful for the living. Of course I will miss Caesar, but inevitable loss is a part of life that we have to deal with. That is far outweighed by the precious, immeasurably rich experience of having shared a part of my life with him.
It is equally the case with our little Cleo, who so constantly enriched our lives and will surely be deeply missed, yet ever stronger will be the memories of all the good times we shared with her.