Do Animals Grieve?
Twice, I've witnessed cats grieving the loss of their cat companions. Was I imagining it? Were cats actually grieving?
Since then, I've found hundreds of stories of cats visibly mourning a loss by howling, ceasing to eat, looking for the lost one or by withdrawing.
The ASPCA Companion Animal Mourning Project in 1996 studied grieving in animals. The majority, 67% of animals in the study, exhibited behavioral changes at the loss of an animal companion.
Lucy at age 16 with a bad haircut. Photo© Leslie Goodwin
Grief is complicated when you have to share it. The animal survivors may be distant just when you need a cuddle. You may resent the surviving cat because he's too needy or acting out, not eating, or vocalizing. The survivor may search for the lost one, making your loss feel even sharper.
Opinions vary, but most writers say that showing the body will not necessarily help him to understand. They recommend leaving the house intact for a while, not moving the lost kitty's bed or removing his scent right away to ease the transition.
Cats thrive on routine, so reinforcing regular habits and rituals will help you both recover.
When are you getting another cat?
Your friends keep asking. It seems like a good idea. In fact, your first reaction may be to ease your pain by immediately replacing the lost one. But the new kitty may suffer by comparison because you haven't had time to let go, to come to the acceptance stage of grief.
And, confronting a new cat soon after a loss may be very stressful for your other buddies. Your other kitties may need medication to get them back to eating normally. Time is the only cure for your broken hearts.
I tried to wait, to follow this official advice. So, when Runtie and Lucy had used their ninth lives, I went to volunteer at the humane society. I could do foster care and not make a commitment.
When the time comes, how will I ever choose my next two, I wondered, passing cage after cage of the hopeful homeless. Impossible. But one face stood out from the crowd of needy faces; one little waif who was the spitting image of my recently departed, Lucy.
I was just going to say Hello; a short visit as an emotionally detached volunteer, but Maisie climbed to my neck and clung on like a Velcro scarf. She had clearly chosen me. I was catstruck.
Out of 350 cats available at shelters near me, I met with four and brought two home. They were two perfect opposites who eventually meshed perfectly together.
I don't think it was luck or intention. I think a force much greater than us is at work. Our fate is in the hands of the Cat God.
Cats continually teach us an invaluable lesson: Control is an illusion. You don't pick them, they choose you. The next time I went to the shelter, shopping intentionally, desperately seeking a "replacement," none of the cats picked me. I thought I was ready, but the cats knew better.
Our fate is not in our hands. A greater force is at work.
I had doubts when Molly chose me. She was a shelter veteran, landing there twice in only eight months. In only two years, she had lived in at least four homes. She was fearful, withdrawn and peed outside the box. I was reminded that all relationships, feline and human, are a work in progress, requiring patience and love to succeed...and in this case, a hefty dose of cat pheromones! Looking back, I wasn’t through grieving when I brought Molly home…but my other cat Millie, needed a buddy.
Molly is about to mark her first anniversary at our house and she is happy at last. She loves to play tag..tagging us and then running away to get us to chase her. The frightened little girl who used to hide under the bed, now demands lap time and cuddles. With her own tall litterbox, she no longer misses the box.
At the shelters, they say many adopters overlook the black cats. I used to pass them over too. Now, some of my best friends are black cats.
Adopting a cat is a little like getting married after only one date. You're pledging to love a total stranger; a frightened, needy stranger with a mysterious or dark past; and always carrying emotional baggage.
You have to believe that whoever you find, or whoever finds you, was divinely chosen to be yours. When you make that leap of faith and surrender yourself without expectations, you may be shocked at the intensity of your bond and the healing power of your love. Excerpted from CAT SKILLS: Loving Care for Cats copyright Leslie Goodwin available on Amazon.com http://goo.gl/tqTpxx