The Hardest Decision

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, March 2009 •


It was a rainy night in Georgia, and not the kind of night when a woman who is alone wants to hear a thumping at her patio door. I had to decide if I was brave enough to peak outside. The thump, thump, thump continued. I looked out and saw nothing. Then a louder thump from the bottom of the glass caused me to nearly jump out of my skin.

I saw a drenched creature that looked like Yoda staring back at me. It took a couple of seconds before I realized it was the tiny cat that I’d seen roaming the neighborhood. I brought him inside and dried him off. I told him he could stay for the night, but the next morning he had to go home. After all, I was not a cat person. I explained to him all the reasons that I could not have an animal. In those days, I traveled for my job, and a pet just wasn’t practical. He looked at me knowingly and proceeded to explore my house.

I later learned that his name was Duncan, and that he had been abandoned in a rental house when a neighbor moved in and begrudgingly acquired him. The guy had dogs and didn’t want a house cat. The dogs stayed inside, but Duncan was relegated to the garage where he had a bowl of dry food. Not exactly the kind of existence that a “tuxedo” cat deserved, but it beat the local pound.

As the weeks progressed, Duncan spent more time on my front porch where he had an eagle-eye view of my driveway. No matter how late I came home or how long I’d been away on a trip, Duncan was always there waiting.

The weather turned cold, and a neighborhood stray began beating up the little fellow. When I saw the orange-coated bully going into the neighbor’s garage to raid Duncan’s meager food, my decision to become a cat mom was not difficult.

And that was the beginning of a 15-year love affair with a little gray cat who always seemed to know when I was sad or lonely. Cats choose their owners or so I’ve been told. Not only did Duncan adopt me, but he eventually selected my future husband. On my first date, Duncan let me know that “Yes, Mom, this is the one.

A couple of moves later, Duncan retired to Florida where he enjoyed a leisurely life on the lanai. He never missed the freedom to roam.

Over the last three years, Duncan’s health had been declining. He bounced back more than once, and I think love kept him going—his and mine. I knew it was inevitable that I would soon face one of the hardest decisions any pet owner ever has to make.

When is the right time to put a beloved animal down?

No one can really ever tell you. You hope that the pet will, and sometimes they do. The sad look in Duncan’s eyes let me know that although he wanted to hang on, he just couldn’t do it any longer. I cried, and he licked my tears as if he were letting me know all would be okay. So with heavy hearts, my husband and I took Duncan to our vet where together we held him as he took his last breath. A hard decision, sure.

But the right one.

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