This is a difficult post to write. I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to share these details, because it’s going to rip my heart wide open in public.
Our dog Phoebe made the trip to Germany, but our cat Baby did not.
Behind all the joy of having Phoebe make it safely out here Friday night, we have a private, persistent pain of missing Baby. Surrendering her to the Humane Society in Omaha was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. While we know we made the right decision for our situation, there is the shame of giving up a pet, a feeling of failure, and just plain old heartbreak.
Being vulnerable is scary. But one of the lessons I’ve learned in life is that when we open up and share our stories, we create space for understanding, for empathy, and for connection. And maybe, just maybe, it will help another person feel like they are not alone.
We brought Baby home eight years ago when she was still a wee feral kitten, abandoned in a drainage pipe somewhere in Hawaii. She came with us to the Bay Area, and then Nebraska. Full of spunk, she is the kind of cat who does everything on her own terms:
- Thinking of picking her up? Don’t. She’ll leap into your lap if she wants to be there!
- Baby also likes her water fresh and straight from the faucet. A fountain will not suffice. She’ll wake you up by jumping on your chest at 0300 to let you know she’s thirsty, and lord help you if you don’t do her bidding.
- Her favorite places are dozing in the sunshine, especially in a serene spot covered with soft blankets or clean laundry.
All that sass aside, Baby is an anxious cat, and moves are hard on her. There’s no way we could have known that until we actually tried, though. During our first move to California, she developed a condition called idiopathic interstitial cystitis. Basically, any time her routine is disrupted, she becomes incredibly stressed. The stress manifests painful bladder inflammation, and for days she cries and pees blood everywhere. Triggers include changing her diet, having a stranger in the house, or even going for a ride in the car.
Since we were familiar with the condition we stopped putting her through bladder biopsies every time it happened. We just tried our best to make her comfortable and keep the triggers to a minimum.
So I was really apprehensive as we prepared our home for sale this spring, anticipating what was to come. When we had handymen and painters in the house, Baby hid under Brady’s bed each time. Within several hours of their visits, she started crying and we knew that another painful episode was on the way. In just two weeks, she had three flare ups. She was in misery, and we were worried.
This move to Germany would be by far the longest, most strenuous move of our lives, with 6-9 months of disruption between selling the house in Nebraska and finally finding a place and unpacking on the other side. It was a reasonable assumption that Baby would be in severe pain throughout the entire process, and that was a hard pill to swallow. Every time Ralph and I tried to talk about it, there were tears, anger, and a bit of denial, but day by day, we realized we couldn’t avoid the situation any more.
Ultimately, the question was this: Do we love her enough to acknowledge that we may not be the best family for her?
The harsh fact was that living and moving around the world with us would cause her unnecessary strife, so we called our vet and explained what was going on. Ultimately, she recommended that we re-home Baby for her own sake, and gave us a list of local rescues to contact. I called the first two on the list, and after explaining her condition, both rescues turned her down. It was simply too much to deal with. Finally, we reached out to the Nebraska Humane Society, and they agreed to take her.
I’ll never forget the day I brought her in. The car was packed with all of her supplies for donation and as we rolled down I-80 she meowed the whole time, clearly distressed. My heart was breaking, but I knew we were making the right decision. If a 30-minute drive is distressing, how much more so would an 8-hr plane ride be, plus everything before and after that?
We’ll never know exactly what happened to Baby. But after discussing her medical and behavior issues, the kind woman at the Nebraska Humane Society asked me to tell her everything good about this cat of ours. So I painted a picture of Baby in her best times – jumping on laps, watching TV, lazing by the fireplace, sleeping by the foot of the bed. “Do you think she’d do well with an older person?” she asked. “Yes – she’d thrive with someone who has a quiet life with predictable routines.” And that’s why in my head, Baby will be keeping someone’s grandma company and bringing joy in the ways only she knows how.