Anyone who has ever had a pet go missing will know that the feelings that follow the loss can be profoundly intense. In fact, there’s something about losing a beloved animal that can make you feel plunged into a childlike emotional state. You may find yourself sobbing with sadness, railing at the bad luck of the situation and behaving childishly when someone tries to comfort you.
When your pet is lost by someone else, the emotional firestorm may be further enflamed by a feeling of anger or at least deep disappointment at the person you believe allowed the animal to go missing, and by a bitter sense of irony about the fact that the person to whom you entrusted your animal seemed to be the agent of your loss.
In short, when a pet goes missing, it’s easy to be swept up in childlike emotions. And when that pet is lost while in the care of someone else, it’s easy to behave childishly.
It is also time to get your act together and behave like a grown-up.
I learned this recently when I entrusted my two cats to a friend in Massachusetts who generously offered to care for them while I was traveling. Unfortunately, my spunky cat Roxy managed to slip away on my friend’s watch.
I’ll admit that I actually sobbed when my friend phoned me to tell me this news. My heart was screaming, “How could you lose my cat? I gave her to you to keep her safe!”
I was terribly worried because Roxy is an indoor cat with no experience of the outdoors, and she was not at all familiar with the Massachusetts coastal world in which she was now lost. I knew that predatory fisher cats and coyotes populated the area. In addition, I could only be there occasionally to call for her with my familiar voice. It seemed to me that there were too many strikes against Roxy finding her way back to me, and those were multiplied when the area was hit first by raw rain and then by a snowy weather mix.
Friends offered words of comfort. “Maybe she’s staying with someone else and bringing joy to their household,” one said.
“I don’t care!” was my childish reply. “I don’t want her to bring joy to anybody else. I want her to bring joy to ME!” I cried.
“Your friend did not try to lose Roxy, you know,” another friend advised. “Concentrate your energies on finding her rather than being angry or disappointed in your friend.”
This was excellent advice, but I felt that an awful lot of energy was going into trying to hide that anger and disappointment. I knew I had not let go of those negative and unproductive emotions — and I’m sure they showed.
Then another friend said, “You must be really angry. Taking care of someone else’s pet is a sacred trust. Your friend should have been more careful.”
And that was the turning point for me. That’s because when someone came right out and expressed how I was feeling, I saw that my gut reaction was normal. I also knew my cat-sitting friend probably felt the same way, and was no doubt feeling miserable about the situation.
And when I tamped down my fiery emotions, I realized that the loss was certainly accidental, and that the same thing could have happened while Roxy was living with me. In that case, I would be just as fussed with myself for allowing her to get away.
While I remained worried about Roxy’s plight, I was able to tell my friend, “I have been feeling like a little kid about this emotionally. I even blamed you in my heart for this. But I know you would never have wished for this to happen. I know this!”
As I write this column, I realize there is something else I should say. “When you lose a pet, it’s easy to become small, emotionally. But that doesn’t entitle an adult to behave that way. I’m very sorry that I was not a bigger person about this.”