I’ve always loved animals. As soon as I graduated college I adopted an animal, starting with a cat. A cat seemed a solid way to ease into pet ownership, especially since I no longer had my parents around to run backup.
With each cat l I adopted, I loved them with my whole self - from the time spent bonding with each one, to learning their patterns and what they loved, to regular vet visits to ensure they were healthy. I wore my Crazy Cat Lady badge with pride. If taking care of and loving those quirky little animals made me crazy, I was totally down with that.
My animals were the one constant in my life as things got more hectic.
I bounced around the country - from Ohio to Georgia, to Virginia, back to Georgia, and then to Colorado. The scenery changed. Friendships changed. The job usually changed. I changed. My cats and my love for them remained constant.
Even during the heavy-travel years early in my cybersecurity career, my cats would always welcome me home with enthusiasm and love. Occasionally, someone would ask me how my cats didn’t resent me for traveling so much, or they would marvel at how they always hovered around me when I was home. A part of me lit up with pride. As long as my cats were happy, I was okay. I could continue to run from who I was.
With a long successful track record of cat ownership, all it took was a good friend to offer me a puppy to become a dog mom. I went for it! However, I miscalculated by not taking my current health into account.
The only thing worse than losing an animal you love is giving them away.
When I commit to adopting a pet, I intend to be their forever human. In this instance, various circumstances prevented me from being a forever human to three of my beloved pets. I was crushed and not just because the physical pain I suffered from was overwhelming.
Due to my health and limitations, I had no choice but to give away two cats, and my dog. Giving them away felt like giving up a part of myself.
In the span of 16 months, I was forced to give away three of my pets to other homes.
First, I had to give away Gidget.
Gidget was the adorable and skittish tuxedo kitten I found under the hood of my neighbor’s car. Despite being feral and uncomfortable around humans, she purred and fell asleep snuggled in my arms. I had to earn her trust through a ton of hard work and patience for her to be comfortable with me.
As I got ready for bed one night, I saw Gidget squatting outside the box from my camera. Cats urinate to show fear, stress, and sickness. For a feral cat, it drove home how miserable Gidget was, and the fact she deserved better. The added cat condos, cat shelves, and other things I had tried after hiring a behaviorist had not worked. It crushed me and the sensation of my heart dropping through to my feet overwhelmed me as I burst into ugly tears. The next day, I called a no-kill rescue that could help her by either finding a home to adopt her or letting her live her life in a safe and monitored feral colony. I had heard of them and the work they did, even prior to living in the area. They had a 95% adoption rate!
Second, and only 10 months later, I had to give away my dog daughter, Tangie.
Tangie was the first and only dog I had as an adult. From the moment I held her, we bonded and she knew I was her dog mom. She was 8 weeks old when she came to live with me. The first day we walked the quarter mile to the mailbox together felt like a success. It was 2 months after my knee replacement, my body was in a lot of pain and my limp was still pretty severe.
I was disabled. Tangie was growing, always wanting more excitement, playtime, walkies; her energy was never ending. She’s a breed that can come with high anxiety levels. While I did my best, it was a struggle for me to give her all she needed. I hired a trainer to help me, but didn’t have the physical focus to keep up with my new puppy. Most days all I could manage was running through commands. Otherwise, I would sit on a rock, watching her play in the yard. It felt like I always had to call her back too soon. Without a strong leader, she became more anxious and I couldn’t leave her alone for fear of destruction. If given the opportunity, her energy and anxiety would drive her to destroy. Again, with a heavy heart; I realized she was at the end of her leash (pun intended), and she deserved better. My parents offered to take her and I agreed because I couldn’t imagine never being able to see her again.
Finally, not even 6 months had passed, and I had to give away another cat, my beloved Monkey.
Monkey was only a few days old the first time I held him. I curled my other hand around him to keep him warm and a tiny kitten purr came from his small body. He came home with me when he was 5 weeks old. From then on, I showered him with love and affection. Our bond was incredible, I took him everywhere I could possibly take him. He loved to curl up and sleep under my neck, his favorite place. He talked too, with very distinct meows I never heard from any other cat.
After giving up the first two, I was determined to keep Monkey. I kept thinking: ‘I can’t do this again. Not with my baby Monkey.’ When I found out he was peeing outside the litter box, I pulled out all the stops again to keep him happy, and then some: extra one-on-one time, cuddling him, different toys, a cat behaviorist, even medication. Finally, I caught Monkey peeing on the wall. Despite being caught in the act and a vocal correction, he didn’t stop. He was more unhappy than the other two and the crushing realization he would be happier in another home finally surfaced. I called the same rescue that had taken Gidget.
Everyone has seen commercials of animals in distress, and there is an unspoken empathy as we identify with their pain. It’s difficult to see animals in distress. Mine were in distress. Daily.
I met that distress with either heartache, hopelessness, denial, or anger.
My heartache always shifted to anger. Anger was just so much easier: get mad at the pet for showing they needed something I wasn’t giving them, grumble while cleaning up the mess. Then, for good measure, snuggle them as the anger faded.
I went well beyond a reasonable amount, spending thousands of dollars between replacing the carpet the cats ruined, the vet bills, and every other attempt I had made in order to avoid the fact that I needed to let go. During this time, I noted a rise in both my body pain and in my stress levels. I exhausted myself with all my efforts to run from the fact that I couldn’t alleviate their misery.
Something had to give. I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, especially when it was clear it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working for me and it wasn’t working for my animals.
First, I had to grieve the fact that I failed them. Then, I needed to grieve the fact I had no choice but to give them away.
This lead to a lot of deep, personal questions:
Am I cut out to have animals?
Am I a bad pet parent?
If I ever get other pets, will these decisions make future commitments fall apart?
I started to cope when concerned friends helped me. They reached out with love and helped me to see the reality of the situation, without the rose colored glasses. I also started to realize things on my own. One of those realizations came from listening to my roommate, who spoke of her experience of my animal's distress. My roommate was full of love and acceptance. With her support, I faced what I knew needed to be done.
Through this process, I realized that giving away a beloved pet after exhausting all options is the most loving action. I didn’t give up on them. Instead, I gave them a better chance at a full life elsewhere. By accepting that they would be happier and healthier in another home, it helped me to not only realize some of my own limitations, but it has helped me learn how to start to fully forgive myself. My health is important, and finding ways to work around my health limitations is just as important as loving my animals.
I’ve made peace with my choices. My last moments with each animal were filled with love on both sides, and a lot of tears on mine.
Sometimes, I still cry when I think about them, such as when I wrote this blog.
Tangie is a completely different dog now: calm and active. She lives with my parents, and I can see her anytime. Whenever I see her, she still greets me with joy and enthusiasm, singing and begging for me to come close and pet her. She leans against me so hard I would fall over if I didn’t brace for it.
Monkey was adopted on his birthday this year. He went to a very calm and loving home with a father/daughter pair, where he can be king kitty for the rest of his days. The women at the rescue thanked me for giving him to them, and told me that they all fell in love with him.
Gidget was surrendered too long ago for the shelter to tell me what happened to her. That said, I somehow know she’s better off too. I wish I had had the courage to ask about Gidget, when they could have spoken to where she wound up. When I surrendered her, I hadn’t yet had the courage to ask if I could check in on her, like I did with Monkey.
Giving up my animals was incredibly hard for me. It was also one of the most loving and selfless acts that I’ve committed. For both myself and my animals.