How to support a colleague with a sick cat?
January 6, 2017 11:05 AM   Subscribe

My colleague's cat is ill and it sounds like things may not go well. We work in a small, friendly, collegial group, but we aren't friends exactly (e.g. don't talk/hang out outside of work) so I want to be careful not to overstep; but I do want to be as supportive as possible, especially if the outcome isn't good.

There have been a few questions about supporting friends through a situation like this, but it seems a bit different with a colleague. Any thoughts and guidance would be greatly appreciated!
posted by bighappyhairydog to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One of our cats passed away a year ago today, actually. The best thing my colleagues did for me was to be understanding of the time I needed to take off when she was ill, and to delegate work that they would ordinarily give to me, if it could be handled by someone else.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:47 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a cat owner and a colleague of many at work, all I can say is that I'd appreciate in this situation the same sort of respect you'd give to anyone if their family member was ill. For a lot of people, their pets are family, so please no "It's just a cat", or "You can always get another cat" or anything equally as insensitive. (The fact you're even asking this question means you probably wouldn't do that, but not everyone understands/appreciates/values the "pets are family" thing).

For me it's ok to ask about the cat, listen to stories about what's going on, commiserate about the high cost of vet bills, that sort of thing - just read the situation like any other. If it's apparent they don't want to talk, respect that as well.
posted by cgg at 11:51 AM on January 6, 2017 [12 favorites]

Best answer: If the person is going to be at the vet a lot, working from home, or otherwise occupied with the cat's illness, just like with a person's illness, treat them gently. If this person cares enough about their cat that you are asking this kind of question, it would seem that they are the sort of person for whom pets are family. As someone who went though this a few years ago, it is so hard when people act like you should just bounce back when your pet is ill and passes away. There were days that probably someone should have told me it was okay to go and work from home. I don't know if your workplace would support that, but sometimes you just need to take calls from your bed and cry between tasks and you can't do that at work.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:53 AM on January 6, 2017

Best answer: My baby kitty just recently passed away, and my coworkers and supervisor were incredibly kind to me during that time. Some of the things they did that I particularly cherished were that a coworker got a lovely sympathy card and had a bunch of folks write messages of care and love to me, another coworker who is an artist drew me a beautiful card with a cat on it that is so lovely I'm going to frame it and use it in my gallery wall, many coworkers just verbally checked in with me to see how I was, another person brought me starbucks "just because," and several people just left little notes or post-its on my desk with sweet messages so when I got back to work, they were all there. Several people also texted me during the time I was off work grieving, and I also really cherished those messages.

Another thing that also was very special to me is that a few weeks after she had passed, a coworker gave me a card she'd written, and I found it so thoughtful that she was still thinking about my loss weeks afterward -- because of course I was thinking about it, but sometimes people forget about the grief of others, and she recognized that my grief hadn't gone away, and that I still needed support. That card meant so much to me.

I guess those are all in case the kitty passes, but any of them could easily be adapted to give messages of support while kitty is sick. Animals really are family members for a lot of people, and it's just as hard when they're ill. Thank you for your thoughtfulness in this situation -- it's very sweet and animal people really appreciate that thought.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I got a nice card when my cat passed, from a coworker who made a donation to the SPCA in her name. I thought it was so thoughtful and really cherished the kind effort. Something to keep in mind if the worst occurs.
posted by HoteDoge at 12:05 PM on January 6, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: When my cat died my vet made a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation and had trees planted in his honor and a card sent to my house. I appreciated her thoughtfulness. Now when one of my friend's pets passes I make a donation and have a card sent to them.
posted by Rob Rockets at 12:19 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I lost my 16 yr old kitty last year and basically spent the last 3 days of his life camped out with him under the living room table, culminating in in-home euthanasia. I am thankful no one found this behavior odd, or if they did, were kind enough not to comment on it.

I was deeply touched by folks who sent me sympathy cards. They were somewhere between condolences and "gosh, pets are awesome, aren't they", which was just the right note. A donation sounds lovely.

Just as "it's just a cat" is off-putting, lots of us also dislike the whole "Rainbow Bridge" thing. (I am a big fan, however, of the Henry Beston quote, ymmv).

Take your cues from your co-worker. Mention how you enjoyed seeing pics/video of the cat. Don't ask when/if it will be replaced, as that is a deeply personal decision. Watch for signs of grief; they can be just as intense and last just as long as if this were a human family member. Sometimes, the guilt can be even more, because of the agony over if we acted too soon or not soon enough.

Thank you for being supportive.
posted by Wossname at 12:20 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think just being generally kind and sharing honest expressions that you're sorry about the situation will go a long way. I would try to take her lead as much as possible -- for example, if your coworker seems to shut down or get really upset, stop bringing up the subject! Or if she wants to overshare a bit, forgive that and let her overshare a bit. It can be nice to say something along the lines of "I'm so sorry to hear your cat is sick. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help" which opens the door to her asking for support but doesn't force it.

(Since you say this is a colleague and not that you're her manager or boss, I am assuming you do not have the ability to offer a more flexible schedule for a bit or forgive a few hours of time out of the office for a vet visit.)
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:39 PM on January 6, 2017

Best answer: I asked a very similar question a couple of years ago, when a coworker's cat was very ill. You might find some of the answers there helpful.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:48 PM on January 6, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the feedback and good ideas. This is all very helpful! Fortunately, we have generous (paid) personal leave and a workplace culture that is very supportive of mental wellness, so time off for kitty or self care isn't a concern.

Thanks, schroedingersgirl, I missed that in my search!
posted by bighappyhairydog at 12:57 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I always, always found it surprisingly helpful when people said things like, "Sometimes it's worse than when a human dies" or "the loss is just as serious as a person dying". I don't really know if this is true, or if it's true for everyone, but feeling self-conscious about feeling awful is hard, and that expression of true sympathy and understanding let me feel what I was feeling without worrying about that person, at least, judging me harshly.
posted by amtho at 1:30 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would second the sentiment that you treat it with seriousness and that a card with a donation to a local humane society or SPCA is really lovely. My vet sent a card (signed personally by every member of the office!) and made a donation in my cat's name, and that still makes me cry a little to think of it and it's almost been four years since I put my Maine Coon BFF down. I still can't look at the pictures I took that last day.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:33 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My indoor cat escaped 6 days ago (woke up, back door was somehow wide open, Mr. Chubs nowhere to be found) so I'm in the middle of sad catness.

One thing not to do -- not that you would but for anyone else -- is just like with any other illness, don't give them loads of "helpful" suggestions that indicate they're not good cat owners.

For example, if you know of a great vet who cured a cat of whatever their cat has, then sure, it's good to mention that. But stuff like, "Have you tried a raw diet? Turmeric? Garlic powder?" etc. is not so helpful and can feel insulting.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:58 AM on January 7, 2017

Best answer: I just lost a cat on January 3rd after battling illness for a few months. People in the thread pretty much covered everything but one thing that helped me was people checking in on my self care. I was very depressed about the situation and when I get severely depressed, preparing and eating meals becomes a chore. I had a few people that would bring me home cooked food, or food in kit form that required very little effort to cook. I can't tell you what a godsend it was.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:09 AM on January 8, 2017

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