How soon is too soon to seek a new cat?
October 6, 2012 1:13 PM   Subscribe

(tl; dr: Cat person expectedly but unhappily cat-less; lucked into having a wonderful cat for years; wondering how long to wait before seeking out Next Cat.)

Yesterday I put down HC (same pics as on front page). We had six months to get used to the idea her illness was terminal and today I have an unexpected feeling of completion, even though her absence leaves a hole I feel all the time.

She had a strange characteristic for a cat: my partner and I agree that she was the most sensible member of the family. When the dog barked she would alert, and if he kept it up she would come inside. She ate nothing stupidly. She recognized patterns of behavior and dealt with them. She knew to get under something when she saw or heard a hawk, but knew not to fear deer. True, she brought a live rattlesnake into the house once but we were supposed to be impressed, and we were. Whether in a trailer, a house, or a backpack she was intensely interested in everything. Wearing the backpack I could not see her but I could feel the shifts as she moved around, looking at things. She was wary, and independent, and never a lap cat but she loved it when her family was around her so she could keep an eye on us, I think.

I'd had to work to get her. She danced out from behind a cable reel one day when I was having lunch in the parking lot of a place I worked, saw me and ran. Three months' worth of sharing my lunch later, I closed the car door and took her home.

In the morning I opened the window and she went outside. In the evening she came back in the window and I closed it. (N. B. I live at the end of a private road. The nearest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away. Her range never extended to their house.)

Lather, rinse, repeat for fifteen years.

Just now I am afraid to get a cat, but I must have one. I have not been cat-less for twenty-five years.

I've gotten all my pets by accident so far. When my beloved Hot-dog died I waited to see if another accident would bring me a dog. It didn't happen. I would like one but not the way I must have a cat.

How long shall I wait for judgment to return?
posted by jet_silver to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry about your loss. We had to put down one of our two kitties about a month ago (also a senior citizen cat with a terminal illness, so it was not unexpected). We waited three weeks before adopting another cat. For me, the timing was due to waiting until I felt a bit more like myself, not bursting into tears every day, not seeing him out of the corner of my eye all the time. (I also waited until out other cat was feeling better and not clinging to me all day long.) The day we went to adopt her, I was excited and felt like I was ready to move forward and look toward the future. I guess I would say to wait until you feel like that: still sad over your kitty and missing her (because that may last a long, long time), but not so wrapped up in grief that you aren't ready to look forward. And I would err a bit on the "too soon" side, because a new kitty to love will help your heart heal.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:32 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are so many wonderful cats available there is no one answer. One of our cats was a volunteer who showed up one day and ended up staying. Our other cat was an adoptee from the Humane society who was at PetCo or Petsmart or whatever. We love them both.
posted by Altomentis at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only correct answer is to get your next cat when you are ready to. If that is this afternoon, then so be it!
posted by biscotti at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's still soon for you and I feel for your loss. Let me share what happened to me in the same situation. I cared for my 21-year old cat while he worsened from thyroid illness. After we chose to euthanize him I needed a cat, but I was afraid of one dying on me and it had been a long haul with him sick.

I found the perfect opportunity: I foster cats through a local shelter. The shelter loves that I rehabilitate cats so well and I love having a free temporary pet and getting to explore so many shades of crazy cat behavior. I've had docile lap cats, cuddly cats, crazy hunters, and sprite little kitten-types. It's hard bringing them back to the shelter, but them getting adopted is the sweetest possible goodbye that's possible with pets. And of course it's much easier to bring them back when you're entrusted with a new cutie on your way out the door. :)

You may also find that the "accident" you're looking for is being asked to foster what turns into the perfect cat for you. I can't adopt now because I'm waiting to move, but it's basically a process for seeing trial cats up close in my home and there have been several cats I would've been happy keeping forever.
posted by artifarce at 1:39 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, we got our new little girl from Pet Overpopulation Prevention at PetSmart. I don't see any strays around where I live and my friends all have their pets spayed and neutered, so I figured it would probably be a while before one came along to adopt me.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:42 PM on October 6, 2012

Such a lovely cat, and such a touching story. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Whenever you feel ready, I think it'd be okay to prod the universe along a little bit by going to shelters, just in case some cat is there waiting for you. You can just walk in and bask in the presence of felines without making any sort of commitment or feeling like you have to choose one of them. Or, if there's a store with a shop cat near you, you can go pet it for a while and tell it (or its humans if you like) about your HC, and that might help with sorting out your feelings. I will say, doing this after my beloved cat from childhood died left me sobbing over a big black and white spotted cat in the middle of a local pet-store, but then later when I met my (now) partner's big grey cat, I was ready for him.

No matter what you choose to do, we all walk separate paths until we find one another; chance brings us all together.
posted by teremala at 1:44 PM on October 6, 2012

Ahh, I am so sorry jet_silver.

I have an unexpected feeling of completion, even though her absence leaves a hole I feel all the time.

This is exactly, exactly, exactly how it felt for me too.

About looking for another cat, you can do what I did, and just foster for a while. At least I was telling myself that I was just fostering. Then when it is time for your foster cat to move on to a new home, if it is not the right cat for you, you both can move on happily and you can feel really good that you helped a needy cat get a to a better place in life. Or instead you might feel like, "wait... I can't give up this cat!!! Are you kidding me??" And then you will have a new cat.
posted by cairdeas at 1:44 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Important Cat died in the May and I was given a new kitten in December the same year. That was too soon for me and I struggled to bond with New Kitten. But if you feel you must have a cat, it sounds as if you need one now. I also fostered in between IC and NK, but it didn't work well for me (I fostered a cat with significant health problems, who should I think have been put down before coming to me, and who in the end had to be put down in relatively traumatic circumstances); I think this was because the fostering organisation was very small, just one person, and not great - so if you do foster, pick the organisation you do it through carefully.

And I'm sorry - losing a cat is very sad.
posted by paduasoy at 1:50 PM on October 6, 2012

I'm so sorry for your loss. Maybe look around at shelters and see if any cat in particular says "this one!" or just offer to foster cats and see if one ends up staying? (one of my kitties was a foster kitten with a 'failure to launch' problem on my part)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:51 PM on October 6, 2012

(Also, just to give you my own time frame in concrete terms in case that is at all helpful, after my dog died I got two fosters within 3 weeks - I had fostered before but was on a break - and it took me a good 3 months at least to come around to the idea of keeping them permanently. I deliberately didn't let myself start to bond until then, but that was the point when I felt it starting to happen against my will.)
posted by cairdeas at 1:53 PM on October 6, 2012

I'm so sorry, jet_silver. I could have written this post - and I very nearly did.

I lost my Beloved Dog a month ago (exactly - it was September 6) to a spinal-cord tumor. She'd been on a serious decline for two months, but I had no idea it was fatal. The vet had been convinced the problem was a ruptured disc, and we only found out the truth when they did the CT scan on what was supposed to be surgery day.

When you have a pet that's so closely bonded to you, you never really get over losing them, I think. You get used to their absence, and eventually it stops being a slap in the face, but they take a part of you with them when they go, and that's permanent. But you keep part of them, and that's permanent too. It's a good thing, I think, to trade a piece of yourself with a pet who really understands you.

It does get easier to carry with you. For a while you won't want any other cats, you only want Beloved Cat back, but that isn't forever. Someday you will think: I could love a Next Cat, I only have to figure out who it is. That's the day you start looking.

Writing this hurts. It's dusty in here. And I think I am visiting the shelter tomorrow to start looking for Next Dog. I wonder who it'll be.
posted by cmyk at 2:03 PM on October 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

It's time to find a new cat when the thought of a new cat makes you smile and not sob.
posted by scratch at 2:05 PM on October 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

When the second of our elderly cats died we agreed to hold off on getting another - nursing the old cats through their final days had been traumatic for the whole family. In my head I was thinking we'd probably wait about a month, but it wasn't five or six days before we all felt the house was just too empty without a pet. Adopted two cats from the pound the next day.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:05 PM on October 6, 2012

I'm sorry for your loss.

As a couple, Mrs. thinks and I have always lived with three cats, our magic number for the household. When her 18-year-old died at the end of 2003, we waited till a (healthy) young stray found us the following summer. When my Constant Companion died in the summer of 2008, after four years of illness, I actively looked through shelters and we adopted three months later from the local Humane Society.

When Fishing Pal #1 died, Dad-in-law adopted identical Fishing Pal #2 the same afternoon, from the Humane Society.

All have been excellent friends, all different personalities, different times and circumstances. None replaced the other, just helped buffer the sadness while their own stories blossomed with us.

We've used the local Humane Society three times, though one of the big box pet stores sponsors a few good local adoption programs too, that we would be happy to support.

I agree, you'll know when and how, and with whom. Be open.
posted by methinks at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know this doesn't quite answer your question, but one reason (excuse?) to have more than one cat is that you can often avoid a situation like this. It doesn't make the loss of one cat any easier, but at least you're not left alone. And if you're lucky, the cats will enjoy each other's company. We've had a rotating cast of characters over the years and its always been easier to have other cats - particularly if they just fall into your life, like this guy did recently.
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:23 PM on October 6, 2012

This is the most totally cheesy thing I've ever heard, but it's so so true:

A few years ago, the humane educator at the shelter I worked for told me that when you love a pet, you build a room in your heart for your love for them. When they die, you don't ever fill that room, you just kind of close it off, with all the memories and love sticking around. The good thing is, you can always build more rooms. You aren't replacing anyone, you're just adding space.

Like I said, totally cornball, but it's a way to help me think about things without freaking out.
posted by itsamermaid at 2:37 PM on October 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss.

Seconding scratch (whose handle, in this thread, makes me smile too). Give yourself some time to mourn HC.

When my beloved Mini died four years ago, I didn't dare get another cat for fear of the inevitable comparisons. Mini had quite the personality and I didn't see another cat even beginning to fill the void. I think I still cried about her death two years after the fact.

Since then, I've remained without a kitty. I didn't realize it at the time of Mini's death but the upkeep, the geriatric howling in the wee hours of the morning (this was X2 for me, since Kitty, my older cat, had done the same thing a few years prior) and the vet bills had worn on me after 21 years of continuous cat ownership. So I'm glad I didn't jump right back in.

It may be that another kitty will adopt you eventually. Your location sounds like a likely one for that to happen.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:46 PM on October 6, 2012

My cat died extremely suddenly, and for me, it was about two years. That was about the time I was ready to get a cat WITHOUT looking for a clone of the cat that had passed away. (The cat we got does have very similar coloration, but personality and size are entirely different.)

I think that waiting until you feel ready for a whole new cat (and you don't think it would disappoint you) is a good metric.
posted by agress at 3:27 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss.

You might want to look at pictures of kitties who are currently in shelters waiting for good homes. Even though adopting one might not be accidental, it might give you inner peace to take someone in who really needs a home now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:28 PM on October 6, 2012

Sometimes it really is best to wait--but nobody can tell you when is right for you.

For me, it has been a year and a month since my best friend passed away at 20. It was a heart-rending experience, even though he was only sick for a few months, and I'm honestly not ready yet for another cat.

A good friend of mine adopted two kittens about a month after her older cat passed away and describes feeling resentful towards them for a long time because they just weren't her old friend. I get that and don't want to do that to another animal, so I'm waiting until I'm sure I am ready.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:30 PM on October 6, 2012

So sorry for your loss; it's never easy to lose a longtime member of the family.

Gotta agree with the folks suggesting you foster homeless kitties for now; perhaps, just perhaps, one will become your new cat: think of fostering as a way to shop around and 'try out' various cats while helping them all find thier forever homes.
posted by easily confused at 4:26 PM on October 6, 2012

I'm heartfelt sorry that your HC had to leave, but she was very fortunate to be loved by you.

Like you, I always had animals "by accident" all my life until a few years ago. I was overwhelmed at the thought of going to adoption groups and actually choosing. But I had to at one point to save the sanity of my one remaining cat after his two companions died -- he could not stand to be alone. And in hindsight, it was absolutely the best thing to do for myself also -- I wish I'd done it within 24 hours and not the months it took me to realize my cat and I were both miserable. Chance is not always timely. In your shoes, I'd be actively seeking starting tomorrow. Gods know, there's no shortage of companion animals needing homes. Here's another hokey belief -- by giving a home to a cat or dog, you are fulfilling the wish or last will and testament of your companion who last had such a good life with you.

Now, my dogs, they were planned, but I should have found them years earlier as well, and that's for another day.
posted by vers at 5:02 PM on October 6, 2012

I'm saddened to read about your cat. Something about sharing a life with our pets is deeply metaphoric: by their death they show us mortality and continuity, and we ought not to waste the lesson. They bring us joy, which ought to be the issue coming from their memory.

My favorite cat wandered in from the forest after having been abandoned. She liked to go for walks in the woods with us, and complained if my wife and I got so far apart that she couldn't see both of us at the same time. She moved with us to several houses over the years. Each time we moved I worried about her becoming disoriented, or detached from a sense of home with us, but it never happened. She enjoyed being fed, but she didn't require it from us. She wasn't overly solicitous of getting pets, but she did deign to provide us adequate lap time, so that she could be adored. Her independence made her affection all the more precious. My wife named her that: Precious, but I just called her the cat. She liked to sleep on my feet. One morning she laid herself down near the kitchen door and passed away.

We have other cats, rescued in various ways. You don't replace them, because they are a one-fit presence, like a person, but not like a person. Like a cat. You can get another cat to live with you. You can have a favorite cat, but, as it turns out, they are all equally cherished.

Not when, but which.
posted by mule98J at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you, all, these are illuminating responses.

Yes, it would be unfair to Next Cat to be brought on board too soon, but I know there are sweet catses who need homes all the time and not picking one and taking her home is a shame. A cat is a necessity, in my view: homes do not seem like home without one.

The answer I am taking away is "a little before you think you are totally ready" and had I thought that way earlier maybe the dog would have come along as well.
posted by jet_silver at 4:58 PM on October 7, 2012

I do think that sometimes a new kitty will help to heal your heart and make you smile. Not to replace the one that's gone, but a new friend. So true that a house needs one; "I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul."

All the best to you.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:47 PM on October 10, 2012

My new rescue kittenz: mostly Maine coon cat. She's four months old, doesn't look it in this picture. Absolutely wonderful so far.
posted by jet_silver at 9:03 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a cutie!
posted by rmd1023 at 4:33 AM on October 30, 2012

Super cute! Congratulations on your new friend!
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:23 PM on October 30, 2012

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