Grieving the loss of a beloved pet
Q: My cat, whom I have had for the last 17 years, just died. Her death was peaceful but it is still tearing me apart. My friends at work think I am crazy when they see me crying at my desk. I just cannot imagine how my life can feel whole again and yet I feel guilty in a way that I am grieving so much over an animal. Everyone says to get another cat and I will feel better, but I feel that by doing so I am not being loyal to the memory of her. Is there anything you can tell me to make me feel better, and should I get another cat right away? --A. A., Smithtown
A: This is a question close to my heart. This year I lost my hyacinth Macaw named Remus, whom I had for 43 years, my African Grey Parrot named Darwin, whom I had for 22 years, and my Flemish Giant Rabbit Harvey, who had been on TV with me hundreds of times. Plus my big 15-year-old mixed breed dog, Garfield, is on the way out.
Harvey, Remus and Darwin were all in the pet store I own, so every day customers ask me where they are and every time I answer it feels like a knife is twisting in my gut. But since I am in my place of business, I have to keep it all inside and show my happy face. It makes it all the worse as those animals were on TV with me for 15 years and, even though my shows are no longer filming, they are still all over YouTube and the Internet.
So what advice can I give you? Nothing really. The void in you will always be there, and non-pet keepers will always think you are crazy. That is just the way it is. People think I am nuts for weeping over a rabbit. However, the ability to endure grief and go on with life is universal among us, and in time you will deal with the situation better than you are doing now. Finding a support group or even just one kind shoulder to cry on helps.
One thing I can say with certainty: Get another cat ASAP. You will definitely feel better. Part of the void in your life is not having a pet to care for, and the new cat will fix that right away.
Please do not feel guilty or unfaithful about the new cat taking the place of your old one. Your lost cat is not looking down on you enjoying the fact that you are sad about her absence.
Q: I adopted a 3-year-old cat from a local shelter. I have been unsuccessful with transporting her to a veterinarian for a well visit. She refuses to be coaxed into a pet carrier. An at-home visit by a veterinarian was also futile. After each prospective attempt, she becomes terrified and will hide for a few days. I think early experiences in her life trigger these fears. I would appreciate any advice. --Kim Tuscany, Nesconset
A: You can never coax a cat into doing anything, as the cat has to feel that all is OK with the situation. Most carriers break down into a top, a bottom and a wire door. So break it down into these three parts and just leave the open bottom piece in the kitchen where the cat eats.
Place the cat's food bowl in the middle of the bottom of the carrier that is on the floor and forget about the situation for a couple of weeks. The cat is most likely going to climb into the bottom half of the carrier to eat every day and will quickly lose any hesitation about it. Then put the top on the bottom but leave the door off and keep putting the cat's food dish inside the carrier. After a day or two of hesitation the cat will crawl right inside to eat.
Then, when the cat is totally comfortable, you put the door on but tie it open with a bit of string so that it is not swinging wildly when the cat touches it. Then keep feeding the cat inside as you have been doing.
When the cat is going in and out of the carrier of its own free will, periodically close the door and carry the cat around the house or in the yard. Then casually put the carrier back down, open the door and act as if this were the most natural thing in the world. Gradually, you can start to put the carrier with the cat in it in the car for short trips and thus you now have a cat that will willingly go inside a carrier and then for a ride in the car.
On the day that you do take the cat to the vet in the carrier, it will just act as if it's one of life's random events -- but you have to keep feeding the cat in the box and acting as if all is well. You have to look at the world from the animal's point of view in these things: When the unfamiliar becomes familiar, then fear is no longer an issue.
Q: There are several cats that use my yard as their litter box. The odor is strong and unbearable. I have tried applying ammonia and bleach to the area -- but no luck. Any tips you can give me would be appreciated. --Janet Wilson, Hempstead
A: One smell that cats hate is that of coffee grounds. I just get a big can of cheap coffee and spread the granules all over the ground in that area. Even when they get wet, the trick seems to work well. Of course there may be a cat here and there that grew up in a Starbucks and likes the smell of coffee. but that would be the exception rather then the rule.