Losing a beloved pet

The following essay was written by Evan Thompson, a senior at Peoria Notre Dame High School, as part of his application to the University of Notre Dame. It is timely reading following last weekend’s feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the many related pet blessing ceremonies around the Diocese of Peoria.

Evan is the son of Ed and Keo Thompson of St. Patrick’s Parish in Washington. He hopes to study economics in college and then go on to law school. Meanwhile, Evan is also very active in pro-life issues, and is featured on the cover of The Catholic Student youth section in this issue of The Catholic Post.

My religion class taught me, “Every being’s ultimate end is death.” For Paws, our family’s 14-year-old cat, a cancerous growth on her tongue will ultimately rob her of life and rob the family of a companion God placed in our care.

My sister and I received the bad news this summer upon returning from our mission trip. Paws had been scheduled for a tooth extraction while we were gone, but the veterinarian found the growth on the bottom side of her tongue, which explained her reluctance to eat in the weeks preceding the trip.

Ever since the diagnosis, I’ve had time to reflect on my life with Paws and am more convinced than ever that she didn’t just fall in our laps in 1994, when I was 3. It was predestined to happen.

My mom was driving down a severely congested road when she saw Paws in a ditch about to try to cross the road. It would have been a short-lived journey had my mom not happened down that road at that appointed time, and I believe my life would not have been the same.

Having a companion like Paws at my side has been a gift from God, delivered in so many ways each day. Her purring contentment has taught me to let go of a bad day. When she craves attention, or wants to snuggle me, it reminds me to be kind to my fellow man, even when I feel I have been wronged. In the weeks leading up to my kidney surgery during freshman year, Paws was my nightly reassurance that everything was going to be OK.

Now, I’m getting hands-on experience learning what compassion is all about.

Before her cancer, Paws always ate with vigor. In fact, weighing 25 pounds, she would try to eat as many times a day as we would feed her. She would waddle up to her bowl, looking up at us with eyes that said, “C’mon already.” Now that she has cancer, she has extreme difficulty eating, although the veterinarian said she’s in no pain yet. My mom has resorted to using a baby spoon at feeding times, her soothing voice coaxing Paws to open her mouth for another bite. Our usually happy, do-what-she-wants cat has been diminished to a baby, with cat food mess all over to prove it.

This fact crushes me because her sassiness has been largely lost. Paws likes to take a swipe at my dad’s hand in a game they play, and more times than not, she scratches him. I love this game because Paws wags her tail and looks like she is genuinely having a good time, and the smile on Dad’s face is a mile wide. Because of Paws’ increasing fatigue, they play their games less frequently, and I notice that Dad doesn’t smile as much. It hurts because I hate to see my dad not smiling.

My closeness to Paws over the years has had a warm, fuzzy feel, and I can thank my dad for that. He keeps the heat low in the winter, and Paws, just like a person, gets cold. During the day, she migrates to my waterbed and cuddles up in a ball. During those cold winter nights, she finds a spot next to me to keep warm, too.

Pets are our life companions. The feelings associated with losing a pet are like those of losing a friend or parent. This experience has been a challenge, but I am dealing with Paws’ imminent death by loving her and keeping her comfortable.

Our veterinarian says it’s inevitable the cancer will spread. It pains me to think of my sister, Rachel, having one of her two-way “conversations” with Paws as the time nears to put her down.

Just as it was meant to be that Paws would enter my family’s life, it was also meant to be that she would leave on God’s terms, but not before enriching our lives in mysterious ways that may or may not be revealed in the next life.

Editor’s note — Paws died on Monday, Sept. 29. We thank Evan and his family for sharing this account.

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