When we lose a beloved cat, sometimes our inclination is to “find” him or her again. This desire may be driven by personal spiritual beliefs (reincarnation, or some kind of belief that our cat’s soul will want to find us again), or this desire might more simply be based on a belief that somewhere out there is a cat who will come very close to or replicate the cat we’ve lost.
But is this really the right mindset with which to approach choosing a new cat? How can we remain mindful and aware, and not let feelings of grief or hoping for an “identical replacement” cloud a good adoption decision for a new cat?
I’ve had some personal experience with longing for a replacement cat who would be “the one.” In May, I suddenly, without warning, lost my 14-year-old buff male, Chester. What we thought was a stubborn respiratory infection turned out to be an inoperable mass in the throat. I had to make a quick decision to euthanize Chester, after a crazy day of visits to emergency veterinarians in New Hampshire and Maine. Such an experience, as many of you surely know, is bound to leave us with trauma and lingering longings for the cat we lost so suddenly. We’re hurting, and we haven’t had time to fully process that our cat is gone.
Chester was a good-looking cat with light buff fur. He was sweet but with a bit of managerial “snark.” If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “management can’t fraternize with the staff,” it comes close to describing the essence of Chester. With the exception of one cat (whom Chester grieved for months when she passed), he was friendly with the other cats but kept a little distance between them and himself.
Having such a sweet cat leave me so abruptly hurt like hell and took some getting over. I wanted to find Chester again. I wasn’t in a hurry, as I wanted time to grieve Chester and remember our times together. I thought the other cats in the household needed some time, as well, before I introduced a newcomer, if I did.
Finding a New Friend
Several months after Chester’s euthanasia, I happened to get a text from a vet tech friend who was fostering a kitten for a local shelter.
“Is he a buff?” I asked.
The kitten was indeed a buff male, the same color as Chester and with a profile view of nose and forehead that looked exactly like him. I visited him twice, adopted him in early November, and slowly integrated him into the household.
Based on my experience so far, young Quimby (now four and a half months old) is somewhat like Chester. He has a unique personality, overlaid with the energy and occasional obnoxiousness of a kitten. His profile still looks like Chester; his fur remains buff. He makes the same kind of “ih’ih’ih” noise that indicates irritation, just as Chester did. He plays with a stuffed catnip pillow, just like Chester did.
But the biggest realization I’ve made is that we are completely enjoying Quimby for himself. We love all of his aspects, including those traits like Chester’s and those traits that are his own. And that is a lesson I hope I’ll take with me when another cat departs, someday, and I think that I’m looking for “the one” to replace him.
Change and Acceptance
Here are some of my thoughts about going through the experience of looking for a cat who is “the one”:
Memories will fade, or change.
It has been eight months since Chester passed, but I don’t find myself reminded of Chester every time I look at Quimby. Sometimes I do, sometimes not. It’s mattering less. Quimby is becoming his own cat.
Accept the new cat as he is, without superimposition.
I want to be aware that if I’m constantly looking for Chester in Quimby, I might miss wonderful in-the-moment enjoyment of Quimby. It’s much like getting busy taking (too many) photos of a beautiful new place or experience, instead of putting the phone down and simply enjoying the real experience in the moment.
Honor your cat who is gone; accept the cat who is new.
Don’t let longings for the old cat dampen your appreciation of the new cat. Chester had a long and wonderful life and he left me with a lot of happy memories and love. Quimby is starting his new life with us, which will unspool in its own way. I do sometimes see Chester in Quimby, but it no longer drives the experience of learning to enjoy and live with the new cat in the house.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.