Niban is my cat – about 15 years old. We have three cats and two dogs (and a bunch of fish), and Niban is the queen of the house.
We got her from the shelter, or rather, she chose us, about 12 years ago. We were in the shelter, and I knew I wanted a black cat. I was looking at one when the cat above that one reached through the bars and whacked me on the head! She was named Niban because at the time, we already had one cat (who ironically died about 3 weeks after we got Niban).
She’s been a great kitty, handling 6 kids always with aplomb and with aloofness when needed. When we adopted two kittens three years ago, she pointed out to them that it was her house, and they were welcome to visit, but it was her house.
Today is also our 11th anniversary. It’s been a wonderful time, with six kids here now, plus another on the way, due in December. I love my wife dearly. She saved my life, both physically and spiritually.
Several days ago, my wife and I realized Niban was not well. She had been hiding from us for a few days; she hadn’t been up on the bed with me at night for several days as well. She’d also apparently quit eating. When I was finally able to get a look at her, she looked like she was under 7 pounds. She’d never been big, either. She was weak and listless, almost too weak to eat or drink. By Thursday, I began to think it was too late even for the vet, and having done that once, I decided I’d rather she go out here, with family around. The wife and I warned the kids about it Thursday, so they were as ready as you can be.
By late Thursday night, I realized this was affecting me harder than the other 3 pets I’ve lost because she was the first one that I had chosen, just for me. The others were family pets around when I was born, or one my brother chose to replace the first one, or one my ex-wife chose. Niban chose me, and she’s always clearly been my kitty, keeping my side of the bed warm for me, and cuddling up with me when the wife is gone.
I noticed that it was hitting my 15-year-old son harder than it was me, or seemed to be. I pointed it out to my wife, and she said, “Only when you’re around.” Hmm. Was he feeding off of my emotion, or acting the way he thought I would want?
At bedtime, she was still holding on, but just barely. We decided if she hung on through the night, we’d call the vet. I didn’t think I could take another day. The way she was lying there almost gasping for breath reminded me entirely too much of my mom.
Niban died Friday afternoon, about 2 hours before she was scheduled to see the vet. Perhaps she now waits at the Rainbow Bridge. I don’t really know what happens to animals, and whether we’ll see them in heaven, but I like to think a loving God would reunite us with all of our friends, both human and animal.
A couple of reasons occurred to me earlier that this was hitting me so hard. First, Niban was the first pet I ever really chose for myself. Second was that her long passing seemed to echo what happened with my mom 7 years ago: a long period of basically waiting for her to die. This was eerily similar, right down to the gasping for breath, and sometimes being unable to tell if she was still breathing.
We buried her out back Friday evening. While my 15-year-old son was helping me dig (his choice), my 9-year-old daughter was walking along in the field. I saw her with flowers in her hand at one point, so I put my shovel down and walked over to her. She said she was gathering flowers for the grave.
A couple of hours later, my 7-year-old son asked for some tape. I gave it to him, then watched him as he walked out to Niban’s grave, and stuck something in the ground. He had cut out a small heart from red construction paper, taped it to a stick, then put it in the grave.
I have never been so thrilled to be a parent. What an odd feeling coupled with my grief. Here were two of my children doing something very touching in their grief, and doing so naturally. How do you teach stuff like that? That’s a rhetorical question. I know you can’t. You teach love and respect, among other things, and stuff like this comes on its own. Being able to see such evidence that your kids really do get it, and that things really are sinking in is such an incredible blessing at times like this.
Interspersed with this was what made it a really weird day. My neighbor Cindy had called me early Friday morning, telling me that she had a sick or rabid raccoon on her back porch, and could I come take care of it?
I had a gun available, so it wasn’t a problem. But by the time I got down there, it was gone. We looked around for a bit, but couldn’t find it.
Later in the day, just about an hour after we found Niban had died, Cindy called me back; the raccoon was back, and eating her dog’s food. I headed down, and found the coon nonchalantly chowing down. After a few minutes, it moved off the porch and allowed me a good shot. After I fired, Cindy’s seven-year-old son yelled, “You killed it! Kill it again!” as the coon thrashed about in its death throes.
Finally we were able to get it bagged up for disposal, when Cindy said, “Hang on, I need to go get the baby.”
It seems that she and her son had found a sick baby coon the day before, and were trying to nurse it back to health, but it had died. Cindy went down to the basement to get it, and a minute later, I heard, “Ewwwww! Bob!”
Cindy has several dogs, and some lived inside. I guessed that one or more dogs had tangled with the baby and been messy, or that the coon had gotten messy as it died.
I was wrong.
Cindy stuck her head through the basement door and mouthed “It’s not dead!”
After some discussion, we decided to dispatch this one the same way. It took me a minute or two to wrap it up in a blanket so I could get it outside, since I really didn’t want to fire a gun inside the house. In the meantime, I had stuck my revolver in my back left pocket, since my wallet was in my right pocket (I’m right handed). As I got outside, I realized my tactical error: I had a ticked-off, possibly sick baby raccoon in my hands, and my gun stuck in the back pocket on the weak side. I had no safe or easy way to quickly draw my gun once I set the coon down and it got loose.
Cindy had a college friend visiting her, and she was watching all of this with a kind of detached amusement. I asked her if she was comfortable with guns, since I knew Cindy wasn’t exactly so. Suzanne agreed to get it out of my pocket and be ready to hand it too me (“without shooting you in the process, right?” Yes, please.)
I should mention at this point that Cindy runs a pet cremation service, which means that people sometimes drop deceased pets off at her home, and she later takes them to the crematory.
Seconds after I dispatched the baby, Cindy’s dogs start barking. They don’t bark when someone arrives, but rather only when someone gets out of a car in the driveway. Cindy and Suzanne looked at each other and one said, “I bet that’s the rabbit lady.”
Apparently Cindy was expecting a family to drop off a pet rabbit for cremation. Given the timing of the dogs’ barks, it was clear to me the bereaved family had to have heard the second shot. I just shook my head. As I drove off, I heard Cindy tell Suzanne, “Welcome to my world!” What a crazy emotional roller coaster weekend!
A friend at Global Affairs passed on these links for dealing with children and the death of a pet:
Children and the Death of a Pet.