Eyes Of A Child: Saying Good Bye To The Family Pet

Scout and the kidsSometimes fatherhood requires you to take off the adult glasses and see things through the eyes of children.

Among the notable things that happened in our home in 2013 was the addition of a cat named Scout. When I was a kid, we had many cats and I actually liked them. As I got older, my outward view concerning cats dimmed, but through the eyes of a child (or children) I went back to liking cats. I knew there would be inconveniences with cat ownership like smells, hair, and sneezing, but we’d also get warmth, comfort and laughter.

Scout was a surprise to both children, arriving around the birthday of my daughter this summer. He was a playful cat, with mellow tendencies. Also, he was deadly (confirmed bug, mouse, mole, bird and rabbit kills) and I knew he’d need this skill since he would mostly live outside.  As the weather cooled, however, the kids smuggled him inside more and more. The transition to indoor living was helped by the fact that he didn’t make messes.  He would sleep in the bed with my kids, but might get up a roam the house at night. It was common to find him relaxing on the couch in the morning. It was also common to find him in the arms of which ever child woke up first. My son played cars with him and my daughter would put doll clothes on him. He wasn’t lazy, but the longer he lived with us, the less he objected and the more mellow he became.

We got him from the animal shelter, and thinking back on it, he was most likely sick all along but he didn’t exhibit anything until this month. There was a feeling that something was not right. He wasn’t eating enough and in turn his energy was low. We went to the vet for an exam and got shots. That helped for a few days, but things began to slide again and I knew this would end soon. He was shrinking. His breathing was raspy. His energy was gone and his eyes were sleepy. He altogether stopped eating and jaundice set in.

Christmas Eve night was spent with family and hopes that Scout would feel better. After the children were tucked in with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, I took Scout to the animal hospital. I was surprised to see it was a busy place, mixed with some sadness (a family was putting down the family dog) and hopefulness (an elderly couple left with their pet cat improving). As Christmas Eve gave way to Christmas Day, I was presented with three bad options by the vet: a couple of costly nights in the hospital and maybe he lives a longer life, take him home and let him go and die somewhere, or put him down. They gave him some medicine and fluids and I brought him home one last time so the kids could say good bye.

Since Scout most liked sleeping in my daughter’s bed, I put him there. I moved my son from his bed and put him in a sleeping bag on the floor next to them. Christmas morning they woke up and there was Scout. The day went on  – Christmas prayers and gifts. Music and laughter. Family visiting and eating. There was also a lot of encouraging by the adults for the kids to hold Scout – which they did. As the day went on, our guests departed and it was soon time to pivot to the hard lesson that was coming.

My daughter was sitting on the couch with my wife holding Scout and asked me when I was  going to take him to see the doctor so he can get better. I started off talking about how God created the animals, Noah’s Ark and how prominent animals are in the Bible. Then I warmly said, “Honey, I am going to take him to the doctor soon, but I don’t think he is going to come home. He is just too sick. Will you hold him a little longer?”  That’s when it struck her that dying was an option and the next hour or so was spent crying,  asking questions, hugging and saying final good byes. Both kids were very gentle with him. It warmed my heart to see them both turn to us to be held and share what was on their minds and in their hearts.  Lots of questions about life and death and God. Finally my daughter asked that I go ahead and take him because she didn’t want him to suffer anymore. It was crushing as a father to see my daughter in such pain (my son, too), but it was comforting to see her compassionate heart come shining through.

So for the second day, I found myself at the animal hospital. Again, it was busy and when it was my turn and I was asked about my reason for the visit, I found it surprisingly hard to say “euthanization”. The process was swift. The staff ,very kind. As Scout went to sleep and then slipped off to death I was thankful for the warmth and joy he stirred in my children’s hearts.  With great care, he was placed in a cardboard casket and I brought him home.

Later today (the day after Christmas) I will come home from work early and dig a hole to bury Scout the Cat. My wife is helping the kids to gather mementos and decorate a headstone (she has been so good with them). We’ll have a graveside service, with a sharing of memories, a poem, and a prayer. Why? This is important to them and as their father, I need to see it through their eyes and not miss it. Said another way, Scout was important to them and in turn, how this is handled will be part of their memories. This is an opportunity to model for them compassion and sympathy. It will be important for them to know that things don’t always turn out the way you hope.  As parents, we care how they feel and when they hurt, we hurt.  We care how they experience happiness and grieving. We care how they treat others. I want them to know they can rely on us to be there for them and that they are cared for.

Prior to children, I would have thought all of this kind of silly. As a father, this is part of the job.

Could I do any less?


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