Why do I do it?

Note: I wrote this a month ago when my cat, Pie, died, but I didn’t have the heart to post it. Yesterday, I let my Yorkshire terrier, Rocky, go. Somehow I feel like it’s time to explain why I regret nothing, even though I’ve experienced the pain of losing two much loved pets in a month. Although this post is about Pie, it speaks to my feelings for Rocky as well.

Pie and Rocky

 “Why do you do it?”

A friend asked me that when my little gray cat, Pie, passed away, and I was visibly heartbroken. My friend couldn’t understand why I would choose to adopt an animal whom I knew would die and leave me grieving. “Why would you willingly open yourself up to that kind of pain?” he wanted to know.

Yes, I knew Pie was elderly and had lots of health issues. But she gave me so much in the two and a half years I was lucky enough to have her company. She sat in my lap every chance she got and purred. In fact, she purred almost any time I touched her. Her fur was a satiny gray, her eyes a gorgeous green-gold with black and white eyeliner. She had dainty little white paws.


And Pie had attitude. During her first two days in my house, she put my 90-pound golden retriever and my very feisty Yorkshire terrier firmly in their places. She was the queen; they were her serfs. When my daughter’s cat dared to come visit, Pie went into velociraptor mode, banishing the invader to the third floor. Yet she never once bared tooth or claw to a human.

Pie and one of her serfs, coexisting peacefully

Pie was a survivor. She had escaped being euthanized at one shelter by engaging the affections of a volunteer there, who shifted her to another shelter, in the hope she might be adopted. That was where my daughter met her. Pie persuaded my daughter to foster her by just being Pie: purring, affectionate, and determined to charm a human into keeping her. So the little gray cat came to my house for Christmas…and stayed, even though I didn’t want a cat. Turned out she was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received.

Because of her journey through multiple shelters, we knew nothing of Pie’s history. But it was clear she needed medical attention. Through the efforts of my wonderful vet, we found a combination of medications that kept her stable and comfortable. Then the cancer struck. But Pie was a fighter. She went through several operations and came out purring. Until finally, a second kind of cancer reared its ugly head. Then all I could do was make whatever time she had left the best possible.

So I treasured every day of her company and loved her even more for her indomitable spirit. Until she let me know that it was time, and I made the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep. She died peacefully in my arms. And now I have a gaping hole in my heart.

So, why do I do it?

It’s because I choose to love. And love always, always contains the seeds of loss. Because we are all mortal and our death will inevitably cause someone pain. But life cannot be lived fully without allowing others into your heart. The fact that I choose to embrace not just humans but other creatures makes my life so much richer, even as it guarantees that I will experience more grief and loss.

Yes, today I am grieving, but I think of all the days I had the delight of Pie’s sweet presence in my life. All the days her purring lightened my heart. All the days she soothed my soul by curling her independent little self up on my lap of her own free will. All the days she chose to be with me. She gave me far more than I gave her.

Pie on my lap, her favorite place

For me there is no question of why, but only when I will joyfully adopt an animal again.

R.I.P. Pie and Rocky. You are no longer by my side but forever in my heart.


8 comments to Why do I do it?

  • ELF

    Hugs, Nancy! My heart aches for your loss, but I doubt that any of us who have had cherished fur-purrsons in our lives would ask you why. For us, it is usually, why not, lol. What a beautiful tribute to both of your furry children, thank you for sharing the joy that they brought you. Sympathies for your losses.

  • Ellen

    That was beautiful! Sometimes I think a person has to be a true pet lover to understand the loss.

    • Nancy Herkness

      I’m glad you found it moving, Ellen. You’re right: Not everyone understands the joy of loving an animal deep down inside. I actually feel sorry for them.

  • Very moving and I commend you for what you have been able to do. We need more people to choose love, for pets and for people. You have a wonderful heart and I applaud you. Hugs!

    • You are so lovely to applaud me, Anne, but I adopt the critters for purely selfish reasons: I love having them. They make my house a home. I grew up surrounded with animals so it seems natural to me. Hugs back to you!

  • I have really enjoyed your books and even more so when I discovered we are from the same place. I have rescued countless dogs, cats, and even a cockatoo! Their leaving is devastating, but the joy they bring is without measure. Thank you for sharing your fur children.

    • Nancy Herkness

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Eliza. I can’t imagine life without pets. They add such richness–and laughter!–to our lives. How wonderful that we share a love for our fur children!

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