I put my cat to sleep on Tuesday afternoon. She sat on my lap, swaddled in a medical blanket and a favorite scarf of my wife’s. A veterinarian injected anesthesia to knock her out and then delivered a fatal shot. I knew Quimby the cat for 15 ½ years. Some readers of this site may recall her, too, as she helped me review a ridiculous inflatable gaming raft in 2010 and helped me size up the current generation of game consoles in 2016.
I’m late to joining the emotional fraternity of people who have lost beloved pets. I didn’t have one growing up, so I’m only learning now, in my early 40s, what it’s like to go through this. I’ve gone from the despair of watching Quimby’s health rapidly deteriorate, to the bittersweet hope she’d find comfort by being put to sleep, to the horror of recognizing that I had both the power and the responsibility to choose the day and hour of her death.
I’ve felt embarrassed and surprised to be so upset by the death of an animal in a world of far greater tragedy, and yet I’ve felt guilt at compartmentalizing my sadness, of rationalizing away that she was just an animal. After all, she meant far more to me than a passing bird in the sky. I grapple now with her absence.
Like any pet owner, I considered my cat to be the best. I loved how she purred and snuggled, loved how in the prime of her health she would turn a corner in full sprint by jumping at a wall, rotating her body and pushing off in the new direction, as if she was doing stunt work for The Matrix.
I recognize now what I learned from her about caring for another being, how she helped my wife and I become accustomed to this long before our kids were born. In death she’s prepared me some more, helping me learn to let go of a life I’ve taken so much comfort in knowing.
I’ve spent a lot of time this last week thinking about memories—how to make them and how to hold onto them. My phone is full of pictures and videos of Quimby. My brain is full of these memories, too. Yet I wish I had even more.
Once I knew the time and day that we would euthanize her, the day that we would prevent the cancer in her body from making her final days agony, I began orchestrating as many more memories as I could. She loved to curl up next to me when I watched pro wrestling, so I queued up a favorite moment from a 2014 match that was still on my DVR and watched it with her so that I could never see it again without fondly recalling her. I encouraged my toddler twins to spend time with her, to tell her they loved her, to play with her, to trace her paws with crayons. I took many more photos and videos these last few days, too, scrambling to be able to conjure as much of Quimby’s spirit after her death as I could.
Throughout it all, I fretted about the inability to memorialize the physical and often tactile presence of Quimby—the pinch of her claws as she climbed over me on the couch, the soft bristle of her fur as I petted her back.
Many of my best Quimby memories are not documented anywhere but my own brain. The morning after she died, I flipped through the entire chronological gallery on my phone and felt a new guilt that the volume of pictures I took of her had diminished after the birth of my kids, whose faces have filled my photo gallery in recent years. I have no videos of her running down the hall or making that Matrix jump. I had never memorialized her clamber onto her favorite chair as she leapt up from the floor. But that wasn’t all that Quimby was. It’s easy to assume these days that we’ve captured a broader spectrum of those we care about thanks to the ease of always taking another picture with our phone, but we miss things. That’s what our memories are for.
In the past week, I’ve found comfort in those who’ve been there before. There were the people on my Twitter who offered advice about when they knew it was time for their pet. There was the Lyft driver who, en route to a veterinarian specialist, told me with great fury about how, years ago, a vet had called to say his family’s ailing cat was doing better, then called a few hours later to say the cat had died. There were co-workers and neighbors and friends with their own stories and words of comfort. Everyone was a reminder that the best life any of us can live is one where we help each other through our days, sharing our experiences in the hopes that it can help us all—even our cats—reach a better end.