Charlie picked me.
I’d gone to one of those big box, pet-supply stores on an overheated July Saturday morning because they were hosting the local animal shelter for a “pet adoption” day. I was tired of coming home to an empty, law-school apartment and I’d missed having a pet ever since I first left home at the age of eighteen.
I played my way through the assortment of mewing, four-legged bundles of energy to find the best match. Eventually, I settled on an orange-colored kitten that in my head I named “Pumpkin.” I moved to the end of the pen to grab the paperwork, and couldn’t resist picking up a black-and-white kitty from the same litter. I held it up to my face. It considered me for a moment, then reached out and nuzzled its nose against mine.
“That’s an expression of affection,” the shelter worker said. “She likes you.”
Charlie–named after Charlie Chaplin, whom she resembled when a kitten due to the marking on one side of her mouth–first liked me almost eighteen years ago. She was mine pre-husband, pre-kids, pre-so much of my adult life. She’s been with me at my best, and my very, very worst. She’s followed me through three states, nine apartments/townhomes/houses, countless illnesses and career and existential life crises. Through every instability, she’s been the feline constant.
But Charlie has been sick on and off for the last two years. After beating the odds in true, nine-lives fashion, Charlie lost most of the use of her back legs on Wednesday night. I drove through a snowstorm to the emergency vet, but I knew what the answer was. Later I brought her home, and on Friday the vet came to our house to end Charlie’s life in peace. (Thank you so much, Cilley Veterinary Clinic, for doing this in the most humane and caring manner possible.)
How is it that our animal companions, who can’t talk, can’t hug us, can’t give advice or tip a sympathetic glass with us, how is it that they mean so much to us that our homes can be filled with people yet still feel wrong and empty when our pets are gone? If you have or have ever had a pet you love, you know this answer, but I’ll write a bit anyway. (Because I need to.)