I thought I was ready for this. Still, I sat in the car and pondered the finality of it all, forcing the pain back down to where it was manageable, to where it belonged; underneath the hitches in my breath, wiping the fog from my eyes. She passed a week ago; surely I was over this by now. Surely not, I guess. We’ll see, I thought, and bounded out of the car and through the large white imposing wooded doors to the main office.

I would ask for you back, but that would prove how selfish I truly am.

The young tech at the counter recognized my face; she was the one who gave us the grieving room the week before. “Here to pick up little Sadie?” she asked sweetly. “Yup,” was all I could get out before I cleared my throat and managed to smile back at her. “Wait here a second and I’ll go get her,” she said, and disappeared between the swinging metal doors to the back of the clinic. She was gone only a few minutes, re-appearing with a small retail-like paper sack with handles, which she set gently on the counter in front of me. Kinda pissed me off instantly; marketing logo, right smack in the middle of the bag that held the remains of my loved one. Geez, is it always about marketing, all the dammed time…crass.

I reached into the bag and retrieved the lovely carved wooden box; gave my stomach a stab. The staff had also included a sympathy card, which I purposely left un-opened lest I go all wobbly in front of the young technician. Something else was in the bag; a smaller plastic bag with a hard, disc-shaped object. I pulled it from the crematoria-marketing bag and flipped it over to get a look; it was a plaster casting of her tiny little paw-print. At that point, I had no say in the matter; wobbly be dammed, the sobs came in great heaves and I had to put my hands to my face to try to get a grip. All my glory, all two-hundred and forty pounds of fifty-five year-old manliness, bawling uncontrollably over the passing of a six pound hairball generator that shared my life for twelve years. Now, all I had left were her remains in a pretty, carved oak box, a plaster casting of her paw, and a sympathy card from the staff, all thoughtfully packed in a wonderful carry-all bag neatly emblazoned with the logo of the crematorium right on the side.

It took me a good five minutes to gain my composure once I got back to the car. I really didn’t think it would hit me again so hard. Just a week ago, I held her tiny head in my hands as she became quiet, a head no bigger than a large walnut, looking deceptively larger due to the wonderful coon-coat she wore. I watched and listened as the life ebbed away from her little body and buried my face in her ridiculously soft neck as I had done many times while she was alive; only this time, she didn’t struggle to break free. The last thing I could do before I gave her to the doctor was kiss her one last time and close those hauntingly big beautiful eyes. And like that, she was gone; the little shit left her paw-prints all over my heart, dammit.

Like the animals who passed through my life before her, Sadie was quite the enigma. She was more the kid’s cat, if cats are really ever “owned” by anyone. She was quite timid, but very loving and dedicated to her younger human companions. She’d run past me with suspecting eyes; maybe I could get her interested in chasing toys on a string every so often but she always roamed to be within short distance of the girls. Usually, she could be found at the foot of one of their beds. She would occasionally yap and chat at me however, as Maine Coons are apt to do and I think her quiet aloofness was really all a front; just a way to capture our hearts with her feigned indifference, her lie exposed by the volume and ferocity of her own purring.

I wondered the last time I lost a pet; why would I do this again? Was this all worth it? To those who have never loved an animal, maybe those of us who do are quite nuts. Maybe. Could be. It sure feels that way today. I still can’t reach into the bag and look at her paw-print and for the life of me, I can’t tell you why. But I can tell you this; I have never been disappointed by any of the animals I have had in my life. I have never been lied to by any of them, have never been asked to be anything other than “there,” never been expected to be something I am not or may never be. And they have shown me a love that wasn’t measured by bank accounts, the car I drive, and the clothes I wear, the positions I took or the opinions I had. Very few can say there are humans in their lives that love them with the same pure devotion.

So once again, I find myself quite melancholy over the passing of a dear furry friend; much of it the result of the pain I see in the eyes of my daughters and wife; the ridiculous feeling that maybe somehow I could have protected them from this. But protecting them would have meant being firm and keeping to my words when I initially said, no pets. A way to keep them from having to go through this? Yeah right. A way for me to avoid having to go thorough this more likely. But in the end, I would have denied them a love in their lives that they would rarely see, a chance to see the real beauty in life because of that love, and yes, experience the pain and cold, hard ache of having it taken away.

So my little Sadie now joins Sneakers and Cousey roaming the grounds of heaven where, one would assume, the litter box is always clean, the balls of yarn are large and soft and where there’s always a nice patch of sun-warmed grass to stretch out on and spend the better part of infinite days until we get to hold them all just one more time. Until then, I’ll avoid the paw-print and pictures for a while at least until I can do so without the tears running down my face. And I’ll thank God for the privilege of having yet another of his wonderful creatures roam though my house as they captured my heart, knowing full well that very few of us are really worthy of their devotion; yes, all this for an animal. All this for my little Sadie.

And yes, I would do this all over again.

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