The first time I saw him was in a snapshot sent via an email from my son. It was, pre-smartphone, so all I got was one grainy, slightly blurry image, but I was instantly smitten. I told my son to bring him home, we’d find a way to make it work.
That was 15 years ago, and save a few vacations where I left him behind, we were together every day for 14 years. He was my friend, confidante and yes, a cat. He was a large, gray and white Maine Coon mix, more dog than cat in personality, and I lost him sooner than I ever thought I could bear.
When Sashi came into my life I was single, a recent empty-nester, and my kids were concerned about my living alone. We’d always been a pet family having had a large menagerie over the years with pets ranging from the pedestrian cats and dogs to the more exotic ferret with some fish and gerbils filling out the ark throughout their childhoods.
But Sashi was different. Maybe because after losing a previous cat to a coyote who outlasted her ability to hide in a tree, he was my first indoor cat. Without the wilds of the yard to explore and hunt from, he was more domestic — less streetwise hunter/gatherer, more dad in a comfy sweater content to lounge near me as I wrote during the day.
In the beginning, I did question my sanity, bringing in a young kitten whose favorite activity was jumping on my head in the middle of the night. After raising three kids I was, for the first time in 25 years, free, flying solo. And I hated it.
Over those 14 years, Sashi and I went through a lot. Since he couldn’t confide in me I do feel the relationship was quite one-sided. He always listened to me, put up with my holding him for comfort, and only occasionally showed minor displeasure.
As time went on, Sashi proved himself to be quite savvy when it came to suitors. He never liked one man I dated, snubbing him, and I swear, emitting extra dander that created terrible allergy symptoms in him. In the end, Sashi was right about him, he wasn’t the right person for us, nor we for him.
I didn’t exactly have a parade of men, but the few I dated he never warmed to. Always super friendly, he ignored any man who came to see me. Until Frank.
The first time he arrived at my house, he came carrying a guitar case. I admit that I was as concerned as Sashi appeared to be, fearing we could be subjected to an evening of bad homemade folk songs. I pictured being forced to feign a smile while wondering if ‘accidentally” stabbing myself with a fork would be less painful than what I was imagining. But the thing was, he didn’t play terrible music, he was extremely good, and when faced for the first time with an open guitar case, Sashi jumped right in. We were both smitten.
There was no greater witness to my life than Sashi. For 14 years he was the one I saw every single day. He was there when no one else was. In those quiet moments of the early morning, the late nights, the hours spent typing on my laptop.
Sashi was an indoor cat so he was always home. He didn’t have a job, school, or dates that took him out of the house. Since I work from home we were roommates, office mates, movie buddies, and bedmates. There is no living creature, not even my wonderful partner, kids, or brother who spent the number of cumulative hours with me that he did. He witnessed my life in a way no one else did.
Sashi’s decline was rapid. Tests showed that he had serious kidney disease, something I learned many cats develop as they age. He had ultrasounds, x-rays, and bloodwork. None of which pointed to anything good. But even then I didn’t give up hope. We came home armed with an IV bag of fluids, needles, pills, and special food designed for cats with kidney disease. .
We tried our best, but as the days went by he began to hide, doing his best to go undetected. Unable to help myself I would periodically gently lift him out and spoon with him on the living room floor. He’d purr, but after a short time, he’d tire of the attention and return once again to his hiding place.
Friends who’d had to make the final decisions about their pets’ lives had told me, you’ll know. You’ll know when it’s time to let him go. I couldn’t imagine in what reality I would find it the right thing to do, to take this sweet being I had loved for 14 years, put him in his carrying case, drive him to the vet, and ask them to euthanize him. He trusted me. How could I betray that trust by taking him for a ride from which he’d never return? I did not see ever being able to do that. And then one day, I knew.
I sat in the back seat with him, as Frank drove us, touching his paw through the door of his carrying case, and he rested his cheek on my fingers. I couldn’t help thinking about how much he trusted me. Other than a few times when I scolded him for cat indiscretions like being on the counter or scratching the carpet, we’d never had a cross word between us. Ours had always been a relationship of love, trust, and patience. I put up with his annoying habits, and he mostly put up with mine. Now, I felt like I was betraying this sacred, unspoken trust, and it broke my heart.
The veterinary hospital quickly whisked us into a private room. I’d noticed on our last visit that there was a door to the outside in the room and now realized this was the room where families said goodbye to their pets and that door saved them from having to walk through a waiting room of people with their precious pets when they’d just lost theirs.
Amazingly, after a lifetime of pets, this was my first time making and experiencing this decision. Our veterinarian could not have been kinder or more understanding of our grief. She examined Sashi and agreed that he was failing and suffering. We discussed some Hail Mary options, none of which would cure him, and I decided the kindest most loving thing I could do for this friend I loved so very much was to let him go.
She gave him a shot to relax him, and as he began to get sleepy I reminded him that he was the best of all the pets, and how very much I loved him. And then, spontaneously, I began to thank him. I thanked him for the comfort he’d given all of us. For being part of our family. For always being there through every event we experienced. And then he was gone. I stood there looking at his now lifeless body and cried for his loss, but selfishly, mostly for mine.
For 14 years he was the one constant in a life full of so many losses and challenges. He was not just a pet, he was my dear, dear friend.
Our pets are our friends and family members and we should never deny ourselves the grief we feel at their loss. It has now been a year since he died, and I still miss him.
Six months after Sashi died I went to my local shelter having seen a beautiful Rag Doll kitty up for adoption on their website When I got there I learned he was spoken for, but then met a huge, grey Maine Coon cat named Bleu. He was two-years-old and when I picked him up he melted into my arms and began to purr. He came home with us the next day and became Mr. Bear.
And so the cycle continues. We bring pets into our lives, knowing full well we will probably get our hearts broken one day, but knowing in the end, even within the tears and sadness, it was all more than worth it.