What a terminally ill cat taught me about love

I saw a post one year ago today on the Dutchess County SPCA facebook page –

Hey Dutchess County, we need your help for a very special kitty. Sara Belle is a sweet young cat, probably around 4 years old who recently arrived at the Dutchess County SPCA. Unfortunately this affectionate, spunky girl had developed breast cancer, likely due to remaining unspayed. At this time, she has wonderful quality of life and we are looking for a compassionate hospice foster to help her live out the rest of her life in someone’s home where she can be a pet rather than a patient. We can’t know right now how much time Sara Bell has left, but we would love if she had quality time with a family of her very own.

I asked my partner if we could take her in. He said, “it’ll be hard, you know?”

I picked her up the next day.

sara first picture

This morning, she will celebrate one year in our home by waking me up [as she does every day] by politely tapping me to encourage me to pet her. She will then leap off of the bed at the first hint that I’m rising, and race into the kitchen to be waiting by her bowl for breakfast. Shortly after, she will join me in my usual chair in the living room as I drink coffee and check email, by crawling back and forth over my lap, smashing her face all over me, before finally settling into whatever crevice has formed between my legs and the blankets and throw pillows. She will not leave until I invariably have to pull myself away, or until one of the other two cats that rule our home encourage her to chase them.

Here are the lessons I have learned falling in love with a terminally ill cat.

Love hurts, and that’s ok

I have three cats, all of whom were adopted into our home as adults. I am keenly aware that cats have an average life span of about 15 years. Jack is estimated to be about 5 [same age as Sara Belle], Kaylee is currently about 4. I am 37. I will, in all likelihood, outlive them. These creatures that I adore, I will one day live a day without them. The thought of that, even as I sit here with all three of them within reach, saddens me deeply. Whenever you love a living creature, you risk the pain of losing them. Your options are to avoid that risk, or lean into that love, to experience it fully, every second you are able to.

Joy is frightening, because it’s worth it

Are we living a life that is safe from harm?

Of course not. We never are. But that’s not the right question. The question is are we living a life that is worth the harm?

Welcome to Nightvale, episode 46, "Parade Day"

Brene Brown posits that we fear joy, because in those moments when we might experience it, we know it can vanish. But we disallow ourselves joy when we prevent all vulnerability to that risk.

My partner said, “it’ll be hard”, because we know the odds of a female cat with breast cancer. We know her time would be short, and it would hurt. “I know, ” I said, “but, I think it’s worth it.” It’s ok to be scared, just don’t let that stop you.

When you love, love every single day, completely.

I love many, and I am cognizant that life is short. I am also cognizant, that it’s often unfair, unjust, and unpredictable. Each day you don’t say something you should say to someone you love could end up being the last opportunity you had to do so.

I had to pause while typing, Sara stood on hind legs to tap my elbow. She wanted entrance into my lap. She rubbed her face against arms and hand, burrowing into me. Every time Sara Belle comes near, she presents an opportunity to enjoy her companionship. Every opportunity we have to express and experience our love could either become the memories of joy, or regrets.

I will always stop typing for that. Love is either a priority, or it isn’t love at all.




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