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Saying Goodbye To My Beloved Pet

In the midst of a pandemic, it was especially heartbreaking.

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Elena Scotti
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Our pets must have been thrilled when the coronavirus quarantine started and their owners found themselves spending more time at home. Little do the pets know that we’re the thankful ones, that their humans are the ones relying on them to offer emotional support and unconditional love during the pandemic, which has presented a range of unique challenges and stress. That’s why it was so heartbreaking when, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I had to say goodbye to one of my beloved pets.

I’ve never been a cat person. I grew up as a dog lover, knowing nothing about the quirky qualities of felines. But several years ago, when my boyfriend brought cats into our blended family with my dog, my heart opened up and I fell in love.

Bandito was briefly afraid of my Labrador Retriever, Gunner, upon moving in together — before making it clear he was in charge of the house. He thought he was my alarm clock on the weekends when he walked on my sleeping head at 5 o’clock in the morning. He had a favorite toy mouse that he dropped at humans’ feet, letting us know he expected us to throw it so he could play fetch. And he swiped at the dog to get our attention when he was hungry.

Bandito was so vibrant it was hard to believe he was 15 years old. But one evening during the quarantine, he wasn’t acting right. Because of his past kidney issues and the surgeries he underwent long before I became his stepmother, my boyfriend knew Bandito needed to go to the emergency veterinarian immediately. Bandito stayed there for three nights.

Thanks to coronavirus, we couldn’t visit him. My boyfriend wasn’t even allowed to leave his car for the three hours it took for the vet to determine they were keeping him overnight. The vet called with daily updates, and we prepared for the worst. But Bandito pulled through, and while he was skinnier, exhausted and a little traumatized, he was able to leave the hospital and come home. As excited as we were to have him back, we knew we didn’t have much time left with him.

For a while Bandito was his old entertaining self. He randomly sprinted through the living room to pounce on his scratcher. He cuddled up on my belly when I was lying with a fluffy blanket. He stole bites of Gunner’s food. He knocked over my cups of water. And he continued to act as my alarm clock. But as weeks went by, he gradually lost interest in food, slept more and lost weight.

As pet owners, making the decision to put an animal down is gut-wrenching, but sometimes it’s the most humane thing to do. Bandito’s health had deteriorated quickly, and we knew he was suffering. On a Monday morning, after a weekend of serious discussions as he was barely able to move around anymore, we said our final goodbyes to a cat that brought our family so much joy.

For days my tears blinded me. On the one hand, I was thankful to be working from home so I could grieve while still getting work done. On the other hand, I wished I had somewhere to go — an office or a coffee shop as an escape — so I wouldn’t be surrounded by reminders of the void in my house. I collected some of Bandito’s belongings, like his bed and his leftover food, and made a pile to donate to a local SPCA. Other items, like scratchers that weren’t in great condition, we threw out. And other, more sentimental things — such as Bandito’s favorite toy mice that I found scattered in almost every room of the house — I placed in the corner of the animals’ toy basket because I didn’t have the heart to throw them out.

I knew I would mourn Bandito when his time came, but the months of quarantine had already heightened my emotions and anxiety levels. Losing a pet is never easy, though losing one during the pandemic seemed to multiply the sadness. I felt like it was sorrow layered upon heartache layered upon helplessness.

And the day Bandito passed away, I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like I was grieving not just my sweet cat, but everything we’ve lost in 2020. My tears over the empty cat perch in my bedroom mixed with tears over the empty calendar from coronavirus cancellations.

My tears that fell at the times on my watch when I used to feed Bandito mixed with tears over the times when I should have been dropping off my daughter at summer camp or my son at cross country practice. My tears that fell over the new adjustments in our house without one of our pets mixed with tears over the adjustments our entire country has had to make as COVID-19 took loved ones, jobs and our general sense of health and safety.

And my tears that continue to fall over missing my Bandito mix with tears over missing life before the pandemic.

I’ve always leaned on my pets for comfort, whether it was simply at the end of a bad day or during a tough stretch like my six-week hysterectomy recovery when both Bandito and Gunner curled up with me in bed and never left my side. I needed Bandito’s comfort as I mourned his death.

I know that grief is a process, and that soon enough those layers of sadness will gradually melt away. One day I’ll realize my happy memories of Bandito are overshadowing my heartbreak. In the meantime, I gather emotional support from Gunner, who seems to be going through his own process of coping with his cat brother’s sudden absence.

Two days after we lost Bandito, my boyfriend saw a full rainbow stretching across the evening sky after a summer storm. In my mind, rainbows are signs of hope. In this case, I also believe it was a sign from Bandito, a message reminding us of the “Rainbow Bridge” poem the vet gave us on a bookmark, an assurance that he’s no longer in pain, he lived a good life and he’ll always remain in our hearts. Maybe he was giving us some comfort after all.