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Should You Let Your Kids Be There When You Put Down a Pet?

Our Cat Has Cancer — Should I Let My Son Be There at the End?

The words "bad cancer" hung heavy in the air as the vet exited into the hallway. My husband and I were left in the examining room as I convinced myself I'd misheard. The vet must have made a mistake. There must've been a simpler explanation for our cat's slight weight loss because she was still acting normal: eating, tormenting the two dogs, and most of all, playing with our 5-year-old. I immediately thought of my son giggling and playing a game of tag that he lovingly called "Chase Kitty." The tears came. What would happen to my son?

Right now, this powerful love is all my son knows, and I'm going to let him hold onto it as long as he can.

If the vet was correct, there would be very little time left for chases and cuddles with my boy and his cat, who we named Kitty. Her diagnosis is terminal, and the only viable treatments are ones that help her feel better and work on extending her life only for the immediate future. This was not at all the news I was expecting on a boring Thursday morning. I'm still trying to process what this loss will mean for my heart and that of my son.

Kitty joined our family four years before my son was born, so he grew up with her. She's been an ever-present shadow, magically crawling out from behind small spaces to supervise my parenting skills or keep a watchful eye on my son's Legos. Her piercing green eyes are forever evaluating, which means that even after nine years, I'm still not sure she fully approves of me. But I like to think that all those late-night cuddles and sweet purrs are signs she knows I try to do the best for my son and for her.

But now I'm confused as to what my best should be. In an effort to prepare my son for the inevitable, do I explain to him what's happening? Would the best and most loving choice be to let him stay with her at the end? Would being with him bring the most comfort to Kitty in her final moments? I've been around pets all my life, and I can honestly say this part of the journey never gets any easier. My heart breaks, I cry and wail, but after enough time passes, I'm left with beautiful and loving memories that become stronger than my feelings of grief and loss. Right now, this powerful love is all my son knows, and I'm going to let him hold onto it as long as he can.

My son knows Kitty isn't feeling well, and that's been enough information for him. If he asks more questions, I'll be honest and explain her illness in the simplest of terms. However, I feel strongly that he doesn't need to be there to experience her last moments. His memories of his best friend should be joyful, innocent, and loving. I want him to think of her and remember playing "Chase Kitty," their sweet kisses, and their afterschool cuddles. As much as I want him to be there for her (and vice versa) to say goodbye, I don't think he'll be able to process such a complex event as a 5-year-old child. I'm an adult, and I feel as if I barely do.

While it may seem simple to some, this has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. Each outcome breaks my heart. I won't let my son be there to see her go, but I still struggle with the fact that my decision might make it worse. Still, when that day does come in the near future, I'll be there to hold Kitty, kiss her head, and say goodbye. But most of all, I'll thank her for all the snuggles and all the love, and I hope she'll approve.

Image Source: Tonilyn Hornung
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