When I was in college in Texas, I adopted two pets — a black corgi-mix dog named Desdemona and an orange tabby cat named Henry. They were best buddies; neither one of them realized the other was a different species.
When I adopted Henry to give Dezi a little company, I had just begun dating a classmate of mine. Several people asked me, “You’re adopting a cat? What will your boyfriend think?!” I replied, “Well, I’ll probably have the cat longer than the boyfriend, so I don’t really care what he thinks!” Flash forward, and that boyfriend became my husband. We moved from Texas to New York to Massachusetts, and we eventually added two little boys to our family. Life has changed immensely in the 14 years since I adopted these animals, and yet, through it all, they were with us every step of the way. They were by our sides as we moved from adolescence into adulthood, from single life into marriage, from infertility into parenthood.
Sadly, we lost both Dezi and Henry this year. To say that I was devastated to lose these animals is an understatement. For many years, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to have children, so I poured all of my maternal instincts into these two little creatures. I often say they were my children before I had children, and though raising a child and caring for pets are vastly different, Dezi and Henry were part of our family.
When I was pregnant with my first child, a friend told me the story of when she brought her son home from the hospital. She walked in the door, took one look at her dog and cat, and then burst into tears. “Oh no,” she cried. “The animals aren’t people!” I thought to myself, that will never happen to me! Nothing will change my relationship with the animals, and they’ll always be my furbabies! And then, I brought home my own little eight-pound bundle of joy — and I realized everything had changed. I could no longer focus all my attention on my pets. They quickly began playing second fiddle to my children, and my time to cuddle with them was drastically reduced. However, even with the addition of children, my love for them never faded.
When Dezi and Henry died, I found that I was mourning much more than just their passing. I was mourning the girl I was when I first adopted them. The girl who stayed up until 2 a.m. and slept in until 11 a.m. with both a dog and cat in her bed. The girl who could spend her weekends binge watching television. The girl who didn’t have a mortgage, car note, or student loans. With the animals’ passing, I felt as though one great chapter of my life ended, and I entered an entirely new phase of adulthood.
For instance, on the days that each of them died, I wanted to curl up in bed, eat ice cream, and cry my eyes out all day. Instead, I had to get dinner on the table and kids in the bathtub. And while I wanted to just go to bed and sleep through my sadness, my baby started running a fever and was up all night with teething pain. I couldn’t stop for a minute to properly mourn my pets. Instead, I had to set aside my grief to tend to the needs of my children. I suppose this is often true when you experience loss as a mother. Dezi and Henry’s deaths were the first time I had experienced this.
Despite the grief we felt after losing our pets, we will continue to include animals in our family. We want our children to grow up learning how to love, respect, and care for pets. So our next generation of animals will see different family milestones — the first days of kindergarten, first school dances, high school graduations. Life will continue to move and change, and we will welcome new furbabies into our home throughout it all. Yet, Dezi and Henry will always have a special place in our hearts. They will be the animals who ushered us into adulthood. The ones who prepared us for parenthood and taught us how to care for tiny little creatures. I will miss them terribly, but I will be forever grateful for the profound role they had in my life.