I recalled my days as a social worker, particularly those years as a child welfare worker.
I’d be called into the home at a time the family was often at its worst. The children were at all sorts of immediate short-term risks, such as neglect to physical abuse. The parents’ coping choices were no longer working, and they were at a loss about what to do.
I’d often start my first meeting with all the family present. I try to understand what the recent few weeks have been like and why they came to the attention of child welfare. What’s changed?
Every family willingly shared. But I learned from experience that they rarely mentioned their pets. I was startled at the beginning of my career as to how many times there had been a recent death of a pet. It didn’t matter what kind; goldfish, hamster, bird, cat, dog, and on it went.
The pet was a member of the family. It was a piece of understanding the family dynamics. The loss of a pet could cause stress on the children. The concept of death got a little more real. The feeding and general caring for the pet might have been a defining role for one of the children. “Now, what’s my role?”
Parents may have deflected their disenchantment with each other by fighting over whose idea it was in the first place to get the damn pet.
The tentacles of connection in a family are varied, unique and unpredictable.
The role of our pet cat in our life is much simpler. We had two cats for many years. One died, and our current cat couldn’t have cared less. So, we stayed with just one. He was my wife’s cat, and I got to pet him once in a while. Just often enough to keep me interested.
Over time it became more of a shared cat, much to my joy. Lately, he has been returning to my wife’s lap most of the time. Recently his 17 years have been starting to show. I won’t belabour the point, but it was time to take the last trip to the Vet.
We took 24 hours to rethink our options, then went ahead with the long drive.
We spent the last day with him; steady petting got his tail flapping – a sure sign of happiness.
I know it’s just a cat, but a pet is much more than that. The Kleenex box was never far away.
Farewell, my good friend. Thank you for 17 years of unconditional love, lots of cuddles and laughs.
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