Today is national cat day. And yesterday, Arlene and I decided to euthanize Allie. Her sudden illness (hard hit by diabetes) and her death hit me way harder than I ever expected. I am known as the one that watered the neighbor’s tree because it looked like it was dying, and also deeply mourned when kids destroyed robin bird eggs from our front tree. And yet I somehow was completely caught off guard by my own deep emotional response to the suffering of Allie and then her subsequent death.
I think our society completely understands when Children mourn this deeply for the loss of a pet, but somehow we don’t expect adults to respond the same. And while I’ve always understood when a friend deeply mourns the loss of their pet and then returns home cling to ours, I was still surprised by my response.
This past week, I have realized that my theological tradition did not prepare me for this moment. It seems that the white theology handed down to me by theologists had done so much mutation to narrowly define salvation as saving people from hell that we have completely lost the sacredness of all creation and their part of salvation.
Much of the rest of this post will be sharing a bit about Allie and my personal theological explorations. I’m writing this as a way for me to process what happened. I’m publishing it so that others may potentially benefit from it. It is very much a draft of my thoughts, so if you want me to explore any aspect of this more, please let me know.
We first got Allie the exact day that Arlene and I moved into our own place. The house we were living in had A LOT of people in it and so many sweet cats in the house. As someone who grew up with cats and dogs, a pet was definitely something I wanted at home. I went to the local PetSmart way too often and fell absolutely in love with this older (3-year-old) cat that hadn’t been adopted yet. She had sass, beauty, a tag that said “neat and tidy,” and the name “9800.” She had been with Last Chance Animal Rescue since February 2011 or maybe even as long far back as April 2010. I showed her to Arlene, who was very reluctant to get a cat after growing up mostly without pets.
So moving day came, and my family came up to help us move all of our belongings from Riverdale, MD, to our apartment in Laurel, MD. After the move, we went out to eat at Chevy’s in the same shopping center as Allie’s PetSmart. I had been talking about this cat, hoping she would still be there. And my family egged me on, and Arlene folded. We went straight over to PetSmart after eating lunch, and she was still there.
When we asked to see her so that we could potentially adopt her, the employee was very quick to tell us that she didn’t like people much. And sure enough, as soon as the employee opened the pen, Allie swatted and hissed at the employee. Turned her head down the little hallway, looked at us, immediately jumped down, trotted over to us, and started to affectionately purr and rub against us. We were sold. At least three months after being with the rescue, she was going to our new Apartment the same day we were. It appears that on that day, we thought we were there to choose her and give her a name, but really she was in charge and chose us.
Ever since that day and up until Thursday night, Allie was always there at whatever place we called home for over 11 years. She went with us from a one-bedroom apartment to a townhome of our own. More specifically, she was part of the people that we called family. The bond that we would forge, I didn’t expect to happen at all, and that might have been because I had no clue how affectionate and sassy Nebelungs can be.
One thing I have picked up from the theology I was handed is the sacredness of all created life. I’m lucky that the UMC has a service for the blessing of Animals strongly influenced by the works of St. Francis of Assisi. It opens with the following:
The animals of God’s creation inhabit the skies, the earth, and the sea.https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/book-of-worship/a-service-for-the-blessing-of-animals
They share in the fortunes of human existence
and have a part in human life.
God, who confers gifts on all living things,
has often used the service of animals
or made them reminders of the gifts of salvation.
and animals share in Christ’s redemption of all God’s creation.
We, therefore, invoke God’s blessing on these animals.
As we do so, let us praise the Creator
and thank God for setting us as stewards
over all the creatures of the earth.
In my systematic theology class, I learned that all of the more than human creation innately worships God just by being who they were created to be.
And Allie was undeniably created to be affectionate. While yes, she would let you know when she had enough of you, she also would quickly return to you with her strong affection. Our other cat, Dofu, we got as soon as we moved into our bigger townhome so that Allie wouldn’t feel alone while we were gone. Many days I think she disliked our decision to adopt him too. He’s much less affectionate, except when he wants you to feed him. On the other hand, Allie would always want to curl up with one of us or, at the very least, be in the same room with us. I have many photos of her curled up, sleeping with Arlene on the bed and couch.
All three of our pets helped us cope with isolation during the early COVID Days. Dofu was our trusty alarm clock demanding that we get up on time and off of computers in time to feed him. Trixy helped us get out of the house for at least an hour each day. And Allie’s calm and loving presence reminded us that our presence at home was appreciated and that everything was going to be okay.
A year ago, when Trixy underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, I discovered a prayer from St. Francis for sick pets. It was very helpful for me at that time, and so I turned back towards the work of St. Francis through Allie’s sudden health struggles in the past week. But my heart was longing for more.
I began noticing nature so much more thanks to COVID slowing down my daily rhythms. And also began to work through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius too. I discovered that my prayer life was so much richer when I was outside with the pets on the deck or just outside surrounded by the more than human creation. Around the same time, I had begun to dig more into my ancestry, seeing that my ancestors mostly came from Northwestern Europe (to no one’s surprise).
In an effort to intentionally decolonize my spiritual practices, I started to search for the spiritual practices of my ancestors before they became obsessed with power, dominion, colonization, and supremacy. Which led me to the rich spiritual practices of modern-day Druidry. Luckily many Druid groups practice wildcrafting of Druidry, providing tools and practices for people to select and choose from so that you may keep what works for you within your own religious beliefs. When the tradition I was raised in only had the works of one scholar from years ago, modern pagans and druids helped me in this difficult week. I think it is definitely time for more Christian scholars to return fully to our connection with the rest of Creation and walk with people through the loss of a pet. And I’m convinced that it will be in conversation with modern druids and pagans that we would best do this.
Once we knew that she had made a turn for the worst and that it was time to euthanize, the writings shared by a pagan helped me find the words to sit in my pain as we said our goodbyes to her. The same works gave me a beautiful prayer to share as she died. What follows is my best recollection of what we said to her before she was euthanized and as she was euthanized. The first part was deeply influenced by the works shared by Krystal Madison the part I spoke while she was euthanized is directly from her post because the rush of emotions was too much at that moment.
Allie, we have loved you from the day you came into our lives and a deep part of our home
and now it is time for us to let you go.
We have watched you suffer so much this past week, and we cannot watch you suffer and be in pain anymore.
Soon you will be free.
Your body will no longer be sick or weak, or hurting.
You will be able to run with your ancestors, playing, hunting, and loving as wild things do.
Because we loved you, we have to let you go. You will live forever in our hearts.
“Mother Earth, we return to you the body of one of your children.
Her spirit will return to her ancestors, and she will continue to live in our memories.
We are thankful that we were able to share our lives with her, and give her to your loving arms.”
Do I think she heard me? No, the brain damage by then made it so that she couldn’t really even see me so I doubt she heard me nor understood English fully. But if I truly believe that the Divine Creator stitched both of us together, brought us together, and connected us through the Holy Spirit, I know that she felt the presence of our love as we held her body for her last breath.
Small update: I did find these beautiful liturgies/prayers after hitting publish. May they also help you when you are grieving. https://enfleshed.com/liturgy/pet-related/