About two weeks ago, I received a phone call that my beloved childhood cat, Cookie, was going to die by euthanization.
I remember the day we got him — my eighth birthday — he was pacing frantically behind the bars of a pet shop cage and meowing excitedly, brushing himself up against the bars at every turnabout he made. He was an adorable little black and white cat. When we were trying to pick out his name, my sister and I (forever obsessed with sugary treats and dessert) suggested Oreo. My mom said, “No… there are too many black and white cats named Oreo.” So, we settled on the best compromise two elementary-schoolers could think of: “Cookie.”
Cookie, for the next eighteen years of his life, served as a source of laughter, comfort, entertainment, company and (occasionally) headache for our family. His death came as no surprise to me — my family and I have been talking about it abstractly for three years now — but when it finally happened, it was still hard. And yes, heartbreaking.
There is so much that people forget about pet loss. When we’re young and we lose a pet we hear, “Oh, don’t feel bad. You can get another one!” or “That’s okay. It was just a pet. It’s not like you lost your [insert human relationship here].”
Society does a really garbage-y job of acknowledging the pain and heartbreak of pet loss and there are a few reasons for that:
1) There’s this spoken/unspoken notion that the life of an animal is less valuable than the life of a human.
We see it outright from the law, but we also see it in subtler ways. Because animals can’t communicate through talking the way humans do, it’s harder for society to categorize our bonds with our pets as legitimate “relationships.” For some reason, “relationships” are reserved for human-to-human interactions (even though you might feel infinitely more connected to your black lab than you do your Aunt Petunia).