Melissa Carter: Saying goodbye to a beloved pet

I couldn’t help but tear up when I put my cat carrier back in the garage.  That’s because I had expected there to be a cat in it when I got home, but unfortunately, I had to remove the empty carrier from my car’s back seat after receiving the phone call from the vet no pet owner wants to answer.

In 2012, we were vacationing in Panama City Beach when my girlfriend and I first met this calico. While swimming late one evening at our condo complex, Katie Jo asked, “Did you hear that?” Seconds later a pitiful, undernourished, and flea-infested cat came crying out of the shadows and nearly jumped into the pool to get to us. I explained that cats don’t usually want to be near water and that she must be desperate.

We already had two dogs and two cats at home, so Katie wasn’t thrilled at the idea of taking in another animal. But when the little cat followed us all the way back to our condo, we had no choice but to do something with her. I said I would take her to the local Humane Society the next day, so Katie let her stay with us that night.

I didn’t realize Florida law at the time wouldn’t allow the Humane Society to take animals in off the street. They had apparently had a rash of animal abandonment in the state, and shelters were the only places that took in strays. A Humane Society official explained that that’s where I’d have to take this cat. Seeing the condition she was in, I was afraid she would be euthanized immediately. I asked if they would at least give her a flea bath so I could take her back to Atlanta and find her a home. They agreed.

Needless to say, the charm and affection she displayed over the next few days convinced us to keep her, and we called her Chlorine in honor of our meeting place.

Over the months, Chlorine gained some weight, grew healthier, and evolved into the spokesperson for the house. She would be near the door to greet every visitor, announce daily in the hallway when it was time for all of us to eat, and was the first of our animals to investigate our baby when he arrived this October. Chlorine stayed near him, keeping an eye on his every move. Appropriately, she was the first pet whose fur he reached out to touch once he could see well enough.

During Christmas, Chlorine developed an abscessed tooth, and I dropped her off at my vet for what I thought would be routine dental work. He was concerned that she was still underweight, and assumed small benign tumors on her thyroid were to blame. Upon further examination, he found cancer that had likely been there since before we adopted her. Those tumors were removed in an attempt to prolong her life, but my sweet girl didn’t recover from the surgery. A phone call late one Sunday night after the New Year let me know she was gone.

I’d expected to have Chlorine longer, and for Mr. Carter to enjoy playing with her well into elementary school. But life seems naturally defiant to our plans, and now her image will be “just some cat Mom had” that will hold no emotion for him.

I hope I made her final years safe and enjoyable compared to what she had endured. I know she brought joy to us during that brief time. I also know caring for an animal is always worthwhile, no matter how long they’re with us. Trying not to cry when I put her food bowl away for the final time, now that was the tough part.