It's so sad. First a friend at work lost their cat due to bladder problems. Then an LJ friend lost a cat to cancer. Then another lost two rats to pneumonia. And now another LJ friend lost a cat to cancer.
What is the right response when somebody loses a pet? I should know; I adore my cats and will be just destroyed when my first cat dies. I've been trying to prepare myself for years, as he's gotten older and older, and now they're both 18. And yet, when my friend at work told me their cat had dited, I just said I was sorry, and didn't know what else to do. I did listen to him talk about the cat, but I didn't give him a sympathy card, or anything else. I didn't really know what to do. Somehow the whole word "pet" just doesn't seem adequate to describe what they mean to us. If I didn't know what to do... how will people act who don't understand how much our cats and dogs and rodents mean to some people?
Think about it: my boy cat has been with me almost my entire adult working life, and almost the entire time I've lived in Chicago (and Indianapolis). He was with me in my coachhouse apartment, my first condo, my temporary housing, my first house, and my current temporary housing. I have very few friends that I've known for as long a time, and nobody who loves me as unconditionally. Nobody's spent as much time with me - not even my family. I hold him when I'm upset. I talk to him. I pet him when I need contact. I feed him, and clean up after him, and take care of him when he's sick. He wakes me up in the morning, and looks at me with those intelligent wide eyes, and at night, he "kneads" my hair with his paws, settles down against my head, and purrs. He looks at me, and I know what he wants (most of the time - *G*), and I talk to him or motion at him, and he knows what I want him to do (or stop doing!). And I love making him happy.
He's not a human; I don't forget that. And, really, nobody else knows him, so, when he goes, how will anybody else know what he means to me? But he's the most important "being" in my world, and I can honestly say that the very best thing about these last 18 years has been the pleasure of having him as my cat.
So to all of you out there who have recently lost loved ones who are also pets, my heart goes out to you. Other people may not understand your pain. And other people who do understand it may not know how to respond to it or help you. But that doesn't make your loss any less. And remember... there are always dogs and cats and rodents out there that need homes and somebody who will love them the way you do - and love you back, when you're ready.