Fulfilling the Promise

She was the smallest cat in the pound–found in winter, in D.C., feral and exhausted. I’d stopped by the animal shelter because I was on that side of town, but I didn’t know it was deadline day. Cats that were not up for adoption were euthanized on Tuesdays.


Aretha at five years old.

The shelter worker said placing a black cat needed a previous home inspection–too many people abused black cats. The cat was feral and would never make a good pet. Too much time outside. She was reluctant to schedule a home visit—the paperwork to have this one put down was complete. Still, the adoption wrangled its way through.

When I brought her over the threshold, I made her the promise that I had made all my cats: “I will spoil you and love you and care for you until the day the quality of your life declines. I will not prolong your life to avoid my own suffering.” She bolted behind the bookcase and remained there for more than a week, coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. We abandoned the shelter name “Raven” as not right for her, and named her “Aretha,” after Aretha Franklin. She demanded some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

For a feral cat, she adapted to home life quickly. Regular food, warm laps, and a bed changed her mind about going out. She was never interested in the door again. She retained odd habits–given a whole bed, she would lie on the hanger left on the edge of the bed or a plastic bag that hadn’t been recycled yet. She slept in the sink when it was hot. She would not wear a collar.


Aretha earlier this month, enjoying catnip and sporting white whiskers.

She’d take a moth down with lightning speed and accuracy. She was a heat-seeker and followed sun patches around not matter where they were–on tables, chairs or floors. Once we moved to Arizona, she loved lying outside until she panted. I’d have to carry her inside for fear of heat stroke. No lizard was safe in our yard. She’d pluck off their tails and play with the squirmy part, leaving the lizard to run off and grow a new tail.

At 14 she developed arthritis, and limped in the morning. We were quite the pair, right out of bed. At 15, her whiskers began to turn white, one at a time, until she had four.

Today, the promise I made to her 16 years ago had to be fulfilled. I was teaching, so Cooking Man took her to the vet because the medicine didn’t work and she was in pain. I was hoping to see her again when I came home, but she was gone already. I am struggling to believe it was the best thing for her, if not for me.

I wish for Aretha a re-birth into another cycle of life. I will miss her sorely in this one.

Quinn McDonald was owned by Aretha. She has two other cats.





71 thoughts on “Fulfilling the Promise

  1. Quinn,
    My heart goes out to you both.
    I had to make the same ride with my Merlin last Saturday. He would have been 18 tomorrow. The house is certainly empty, but the memories are many.

    • OMG, I remember when you got Merlin. I’m so sorry for having to make that generous, but hard decision. I miss Aretha every day, and so do the two boy cats I have. For now, two are going to be enough.

  2. Quinn, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I have shared my home with cats–all strays or shelter adoptees–for most of my life and have gone through what you are feeling right now, so please accept my virtual hug. I also have a black cat, adopted from a shelter, and I adore her fiercely. I never understand it when people are afraid to open up their hearts again when a beloved animal companion passes. To me, I’m never replacing the former companion’s presence, but honoring that pact by rescuing another animal and pouring my love into a new promise of a relationship. I’ve never forgotten the individual personality quirks of each cat I’ve had in my life, and they’re ALL different, which I treasure. I hope the pain you’re feeling now mellows soon into warm memories of the unique human/feline relationship you shared with Aretha that only we cat lovers truly understand.

    • Aretha was always slender. And in the last six months, when she was losing weight, I would cut up my chicken for lunch and cut up some for her. As soon as she heard the platter of chicken being rattled, she ran in. I’d cut up some for her, put it in her bowl, and she and I would have lunch. Today, when I automatically cut up chicken for a cat that wasn’t there anymore, it was a hard moment. But there are wonderful moments.

  3. So sorry for your loss, Quinn, and extra hugs to Cooking Man for having to take that journey to the vet without you. It’s a hard trip but you know in your heart when it’s time for them to go wait for you at the Rainbow Bridge. There are days I just can’t wait until I meet with my loved ones there! Deep condolences.

    • That was the hardest part–I wanted to be there for both her and him. But he was at home alone and knew it was time. She will have another incarnation, and we will meet again.

  4. Much love to you, beloved courgeous friend and to dear Aretha frolicking over the Rainbow Bridge with my Josh and Zeke, sending you hugs. I know how this feels and it was a great kindness.

  5. Much love to you, my courageous sweet friend and to Aretha, frolicking over the Rainbow Bridge with my Zeke and Josh, healthy and whole and happy and sending you hugs. I share all you feel.

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know it can leave such a big hole in your heart. It sounds like you gave her a wonderful life. Bless you

    • When I told people how much we paid to had them flown to Arizona when we moved, people were shocked. It was expensive, but moving in August meant we had to keep them cool, so they flew and we drove. I would do the same thing again.

  7. Awwww, so sorry about Aretha. I know she’s been slowly declining but it’s never easy “doing the right thing” by our pets. You and K sure gave her a great home and I know she gave you a lot in return. You’re in my thoughts!

  8. What a life you gave Aretha! And how hard to let her go. I am so sorry for your loss. Ah, if we were only as kind to our human families as to our furry families. When my mother was dying from colon cancer, the doctor wouldn’t increase her pain meds because he didn’t want her to become addicted. Really? I couldn’t believe he said that. She suffered horrible pain for 6 months. Totally outrageous.

    • The doctor did the same thing to my mother when, at 95 and completely lost in Alzheimers, she broke her hip. Addiction? at 95? Who cares? I finally promised to take her to a 12-step program if she got addicted. (I was being sarcastic. The doctor believed me.) I don’t know which is worse.

  9. hard hard hard hard thing to do. sorry it was time for it. you gave her a lot of comfort and happier times than she’d ever known. let your heart be light about it sooner than you think it can be. i still weep for my old cats 7, 8, 10 years later. these spirits catch us xox

  10. Some people have an uncanny ability to communicate with animals…my daughter, for one. But we all connect with our pets at some level, some more than others. You and Aretha obviously connected. Congratulations on finding and providing a wonderful home to Aretha when others had given up on her and keeping a very difficult promise.

  11. Oh Quinn, I am so sad for your loss. Our kits are our heart and so hard to say goodbye to such a large part. Love to you both. My Symon stilly yowls for his brother some nights. Hugs

  12. I am SO sorry to hear of Aretha’s passing. She was an amazing cat, I can hear that. And even more amazing, I fulfilled that same promise to my Max just yesterday. He was 14, and had been fading over the last month, but still acting like himself, not seeming to be in pain, just fading. Monday night he started to decline. I hoped I was wrong, but no, he was leaving. I arranged, through a dear friend, to have a holistic vet come to my house, so he could pass here in his own home, but he died yesterday morning in my arms, as I told him the story of the day we met. The vet came anyway, and took him away for a ceremony and cremation, and then she’ll return his ashes to me, to scatter someplace beautiful. I miss Max sorely, too. I understand.

  13. I’m so sorry, Quinn, for the loss of Aretha – but thank you for rescuing her and giving her the loving home you did. Having lost two cats in the past six months – one of which I had to decide, as you did, that his pain was more immediate than mine. I still think of them every day and miss them terribly and bristle when someone says “it was just a cat.” They weren’t JUST CATS, they were members of our family, loved and loving in return. I hope you will find room in your home and heart at some point to give another cat the love you gave to Aretha…I’m sure she would be glad to share. Love to you.

    Meredith in NC

  14. Quinn, my heart breaks for you. No matter how many I’ve had the decision to end their suffering is always the hardest. I had to do the same for my 19 year old. My Vet is used to me, after 8 cats, sitting in the exam room holding my cat and crying like a baby. They do have a firm grip on our hearts as Pia said. May Aretha have safe travels and lots of cat treats wherever she goes.

  15. There is nothing like loving and losing a pet…no matter the size. I had a parakeet named 2E who died over 40 years ago and I still think about him!

  16. . I also adopted a feral cat but Junior walked into my life, he wasn’t at the point. He is the most loving, loyal, and friendly cat you can imagine and I am dreading the day I will have to let him go (he’s 12 years old). He likes having a younger sister whom he can boss around. Quinn, I totally understand what you’re going through. My Junior is also black and has white patches on his chest, just like a tuxedo. Take care of yourself and allow yourself to grieve. You had Aretha for a good chuck of your life and it is every bit as devastating a loss as losing a human loved one.

  17. Thanks for the tears first thing in the morning. Your promise is a good one-one I hope that someone offers me when my time has come. Sending you gentle thoughts this day…

  18. It’s so hard to say good bye to our furry little friends. I have 2 senior critters myself who are in very good health – at the moment. Jack the cat is about 16 and looks like he could be Aretha’s brother. I’m sending you a hug for your tender heart.

  19. The loving thing to do is not always the easiest. We had to choose between giving our 6 yr old border collie kidney dialysis once a week or letting him go. True that we couldn’t afford it, but that was not the reason why it was right to say goodbye rather than let him drag on for months being so tired and unhappy. .

  20. There are no words. Losing a companion is always so hard. But doing what’s right for them is just another way of showing how much you love them even if it’s so painful for you. Aretha obviously had a long and wonderful life (after she came to live with you) and that’s really all we can do for them. Take care of them, love them and do what’s best for them.

  21. My sympathies Quinn for your loss, but also wonderful to hear that you gave your cat such a lovely life. I love how cats have real personalities and that all they need is a little (or a lot) of patience and some space to come into their own.
    I had two black rescue cats (brother and sister), that lived to be 15 years old and then died within half a year of each other. I still miss them even though my current rescue cat (a black and white charmer that I got about a year after the last black one died) gives me a whole new round of kitty love. They do get under our skin don’t they? It’s a good thing. Cherish the memories.

    • None of us–animals or human–come to stay. But parting is hard because we give up a time in our lives. I also have a tuxedo cat (black and white) who is both a charmer and a frat boy.

  22. It is the hardest thing in life for us to do…….for the beloved pet I try to think it is the kindest. I feel your pain. I’m so sorry.

  23. This is a strange coincidence. On the very same day we said goodbye to Zack the dog, who was also (about) 16. Also from a shelter. Also black.

  24. So sorry Quinn, i too know this scenerio well. Sixteen is a ripe old age and we should have sent our Pavel on his way at that age instead of forcing him to linger and languish another whole year. I’m so glad you had the R.E.S.P.E.C.T.for Aretha.to do the right thing at the right time.

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