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'You've lost someone haven't you?'

March 15, 2009 - Meg Alexander
A woman came up to me in the mall parking lot on Friday, tapped on the window of my car and asked if she could give me a hug.

"You've lost someone, haven't you?" she said.

The kindness and courage of such an act is almost beyond my comprehension. I had been shopping for an urn for my 4-year-old cat, Noki. Upon hearing this, the woman gave me a second hug, not scoffing at my grief as others might have.

I am an animal lover, no doubt about that. But Noki was special — and I mean that in a couple ways. She had a condition known as luxating patellas, rare in cats but more common in canines, probably due to inbreeding. My husband and I realized when she was not quite a year old that something was definitely wrong with her legs. When she was diagnosed by Dr. Katzer, we called Goldmount Veterinary Clinic, where Dr. Kittleson performed the necessary surgery, basically gauging grooves into her kneecaps since she was born without anything to hold them in place.

After the procedure, I carried her everywhere through the house, waiting on her hand and foot. Needless to say, we bonded.

When the hair had grown back on her spindly legs and her knees had healed, she still walked with a hitch in her step, and her run looked more like a hop or a skip. She continued to be afraid of everything: flip-flops in the summer and crackly winter coats in the winter.

But still she played. She would stalk our fat cat, pouncing on her as soon as the old girl jumped out of the litter box. She'd play hide-and-seek; she'd go nuts for cat nip; she'd paw endlessly at a blanket, demanding entry so she could curl up beside its user.

Later, when the arthritis in her knees aggravated her, my husband and I would respond automatically to her whims: helping her up on the couch so she could look out the window at the birds, lifting her up to look at mysterious shadows on the ceiling that caught her eye. But as she grew despondent and developed other issues, we finally made the call to the vet and carried through with it.

The pain and guilt of euthanizing a pet is greater than I ever realized. To have someone — a stranger — recognize the loss I've been feeling means so much to me. To whoever you are, thank you.


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