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A fool for love

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August 1, 2005 by Sonia Bellhouse

Would you go into a relationship knowing that it had to end? How about if you knew that one of you were going to die? What if you even knew the likelihood of which of you it would be? Could you still commit wholeheartedly to the relationship?

By now most people are probably shaking their heads and saying "No, no way". Yet this is exactly what pet lovers do, when they decide to share their home with a companion animal. People have animals for many reasons - practical reasons such as for security, or the need for a working animal, such as a farm dog. For others it is as simple as an animal turning up in need of a home. Yet others choose to have a particular breed of pet - 'We've always had Westies' - feeling an emotional link to a specific breed.

My topic is the emotional bond that some of us share with our pets, and the feelings of grief and loss when our beloved pet dies. It is unrelated to the cost of the animal; moggies are mourned as much as pedigrees. Mutts are missed with as much intensity as the Champion of the Breed.

For us, our companion is a champion, whatever others think. The things that matter are the expressive bond and the feeling of closeness. Here is a confidant who will never break that trust. Here is someone who is always pleased to see you, who thinks that you are tops. While animal lovers often have more than one pet, each animal has a different yet unique bond with its owner.

When my beloved cat Midnight was killed, others suggested I get another cat. It is not that simple. Yes, cats of all kinds need homes, but cats and dogs are not interchangeable any more than people are. I was in deepest mourning; a unique family member had died. Nothing in my world would ever feel the same again.

My life held a Midnight-sized space, as the fabric of daily routine wove on. The gaps were evident and poignant. I went through the classic stages of grief - including denial and anger. No one seemed to comprehend that I would not get over it. Indeed if "getting over it" meant forgetting Midnight, then I did not want to get over it.

Few would be so insensitive when dealing with a human death. It is seven years since Midnight was killed. I still think of him often, even find his name on my lips. He was irreplaceable and, although I was tempted from time to time by thoughts of a black kitten, I knew that it would be unfair to both of us. You cannot be what you are not, I could not take a kitten and expect it to behave and interact as Midnight had.

Midnight was a jet-black tomcat, estimated at about three years when he strolled in to my life. He was solid muscle and power, but possessed a gentle nature. Soon, he became my shadow, following me to neighbours if I went visiting. He waited to accompany me home. His miaow had many different tones for greeting, food, milk, and chat. He was never a lap cat whilst indoors. It was different in the garden. There he would perch on, and overhang my knee, all the time purring loudly. His sudden death, at age six and a half, deprived us both of so much. Another of my cats had lived until almost twenty-one years old, so I had expected many happy years together.

Strangely, I did eventually get another black male cat. He walked into my life exactly three years and three months after Midnight's death. He looked like Midnight, tried to get into the cat flap and finally crossed the threshold as our clock struck midnight. Chance? Coincidence?

Whatever the reason, I believe it was meant to be, and Mystic Midnight has enriched my life. I know he is not the same cat, although he shares many characteristics with the original Midnight. He is as talkative and affectionate and has wound his way into my heart.

We fools for love cannot help but accept that our loved animals will die before us. Meanwhile we try to forget and cherish every day as precious and special, as indeed it is.

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