My friend had to say final good byes to her cat Greebo yesterday. It was unexpected. That only added to the pain of Greebo’s passing. I know how she felt from when I lost my cat Gandalf a decade and a half ago. I thought I’d never bond the same with a cat again, but I know I face this when Sable passes from this world. At this rate, George too.
Some people will dismiss such pain. After all, they will tell you, “it’s just a cat”. The more theologically strict among your Christian friends will point out that cats, like other animals, do not have eternal souls. They, along with others, will scoff at stories of rainbow bridges and re-uniting with animals in the afterlife, assuming they admit to an afterlife.
Here is the thing, animals can love and bond. That is why we grow attached to them. The love for a pet is not like the love for some immaterial object, even a most beloved stuffed animal. Well, except in the rare cases where such love makes such a toy real, but the possibility of that is beyond today’s topic.
When your cat or your dog bonds to you, the two of you have a relationship. This was remarkably captured in Viki Hearne’s essay, *What’s Wrong with Animal Rights?*. Her discussion of the bond with dogs she trains is one of the best I have read. She and the dogs share the struggles of training and of triumph when that training works. They acknowledge each other’s effort. Joys are shared between them; sorrows are endured together.
This is half of why I hate the phrase, “it’s just a cat”. You would not say “it’s just your sister”. “It’s just your wife” would never cross someone’s lips. The closest anyone might get to “it’s just a friend” is when you feel loss over the death of someone you knew only through the internet and never met in person. That last is rarer than it was even a decade ago.
When I had a commute, it was Sable who waited in the driveway watching for my car, not my wife. It is Sable who sits on my desk whenever I used the computer, just wanting to be near me. The love and bond with an animal is real. This means the pain of their loss is just as real.
When someone tells you, “it’s just a cat” they are minimizing that pain. This is bad enough when someone tells it to you. It is worse when you do it to yourself. The “it’s just a cat” phrase is a close relative of all those pain minimizing statements which compare what is hurting to you to that hurting someone you are supposed to see is worse off. That is the other reason I hate it.
It is not a healthy thing to do. It turns pain into a mathematical value with a partial where the only real pain is those at the bottom of the individual chains within the order. The only people whose pain matters is those whose pain cannot be found to be better than the pain of someone else. Yet, to say to someone, “you pain is invalid” is to deny their humanity. Others may have it worse and perhaps they are reacting to something not completely real, but their pain is real.
In the heart there are no case of “it’s only a flesh wound”. This is why it is never just a cat.