As soon as I saw the subject line in the email, I knew it was bad news. I paused a minute or two before opening but that wasn’t enough to prepare me for what I was about to read:
I am so sorry to have to break this news by email when you’re away, but we had to put Leo down today.
I went on to read about how he had stopped eating and had been losing weight and how the vet initially thought it might be kidney disease, but then concluded diabetes.
It all sounded so familiar because I had gone through the same thing with my older cat, Wally, last spring. It broke my heart then to say goodbye to Wally. And even though Leo was not technically mine anymore (my friends agreed to adopt him permanently shortly after I left), reading this broke my heart all over again.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know I struggled with the decision of what to do with my cats before I left on this trip.
I felt selfish and guilty. I felt like a bad person.
I hated making the decision to put Wally to sleep after finding out he had diabetes, even though everyone assured me it was the right call to make.
It wasn’t as hard to give Leo away to two friends because I thought it was a good situation for him. He had seemed depressed since Wally was put down and they would have a dog and a new baby to entertain him. But it was a tough, tough transition – much tougher than I anticipated. He spent the first month hiding in a far corner under a bed – only lured out by the promise of tuna.
By the time they made the decision to put him down this week, he wouldn’t even eat tuna.
He eventually came out and seemed to blend well with his new family. They sent me pictures of him and the dog lying on the bed together and told me how he let the baby tug at him as she crawled around. I was thrilled and relieved that it seemed to be working out so well and around Thanksgiving, we agreed that they would permanently adopt him.
But now I can’t help but wonder if the stress of everything triggered Leo’s illness. When I took him to the vet in June, he was given a clean bill of health. It is so hard to understand how he could get so sick, so fast. And just like with Wally, I can’t help but feel guilty and selfish – that if I hadn’t given him up to go on this trip, he’d still be alive and purring today. And I feel bad that my friends had to deal with the decision of putting him down – it certainly wasn’t what they signed up for.
And so I cried. A lot.
The tears started before I even finished reading the email and they didn’t stop for about four hours. I hadn’t cried so much since I had put Wally to sleep.
I surprised myself with how long the tears kept flowing, but I think it was a good, healthy, necessary cry. I was mourning for Leo and for Wally and also for everything else I gave up to pursue this dream – my stuff, my job, my friends, my former life. As I lay alone on my tiny hostel bed (thankful that I had booked a private room), I wondered again if it was all worth it.
But as the day went on, the tears subsided and I forced myself outside to see more of beautiful Odessa while the sun was shining bright. As I wandered aimlessly, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face for the first time in months, I remembered that yes, it is all worth it – and that sometimes the greatest sacrifices can lead to the greatest rewards.
So I will miss Leo, just as I miss Wally. But I will take comfort in the fact that I was able to give them a good home for a decade and that Leo spent the last months of his life in a loving home.
And if there’s a heaven for cats (I’d kinda like to think that there is), then at least Wally and Leo are together again.