When a friend suffers the loss of a family member, you know what is appropriate in our Western culture. You express condolence, send a sympathy card, donate a memorial, bake a casserole, and visit the family. But when that family member is a cat, you may be uncertain as to what to do or what is expected. Our society simply does not have formalized rituals for this kind of loss. These five considerations can help you navigate unfamiliar territory.

1. Never say “it was just a cat, get over it”—Such a statement compounds the grief of the caregiver and belittles the relationship and connection the two shared. For many people, the loss of a pet is just as painful as dealing with the death of a human. For some, the cat has seen the caregiver through life-altering events such as marriage, divorce, death, promotions, job loss, moves, and more. In essence, the cat was only constant in the caregiver’s life. For others, the cat has played the role of surrogate child or spouse. It was “not just a cat” in the eye of the caregiver.

2. Never suggest “oh, you can get another cat”—Yes, it is true that there are a multitude of cats in local shelters that need a home, and it is not difficult to adopt. However, in the immediate days following the loss, the owner may not be psychologically or physically ready for another cat or may not even want another animal. This statement also diminishes the life of the cat that has passed on. Each cat has its own personality, and a cat cannot simply be replaced with another cat of the same breed and color and expect all to be back to normal in the caregiver’s household. Everyone, including other family members as well as remaining pets, need time to adjust to the gaping hole left in their lives before filling the void with another cat.

3. Avoid giving a kitten as a grief gift–This approach is problematic for the same reasons mentioned under number 2. Many years ago my precious orange marmalade kitten, Taittinger, died suddenly. A few weeks later a friend visited me while on a business trip. She was traveling with a kitten, and it wasn’t long before I realized she expected me to keep the kitten when she left. The orange marmalade kitten was adorable, but I was unable to accept. My friend thought she was doing me a big favor and helping to console me. I know I hurt my friend’s feelings, but the kitten’s arrival was simply too soon for me emotionally. About a year later, I did adopt another kitten when I was ready physically and emotionally. Only the caregiver will know when the time is right to open the heart to a new cat.

4. Send a card—Your friend will appreciate receiving a pet sympathy card. The cards are easily available, and you will find messages for a variety of situations. You can also add a personalized note about your fond memories of the cat. E-cards are acceptable, but my preference is to send a card from a store or to handcraft a card. A traditional card is easily tucked into a pet’s memento box or placed in a scrapbook. I have received many cat sympathy cards in the past three decades, and they are part of the cherished keepsakes for each of my animals.

5. Write a personalized story or poem—If you have a special memory of the caregiver’s cat, I suggest you write the story down. A dear friend of mine knew how much one of my cats, Katarina, loved to laze in a sunny window sill. So she wrote the following poem: “Tribute to Katarina, 1988-2005, Dainty purring presence, Catching sun in the window, Filling my heart with light.” I framed the poem and hung it over Katarina’s favorite window along with a series of photographs of her in the window sill. I so appreciated the original poem and my friend’s love.

Next Post: Five more ways to show you care about your friend’s loss

Bountiful Blessings!

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