My Cat Josie And I Are Grieving Together

Animals feel grief just like we do

Two cats on a couch
Two cats on a couch
Yoshi and Josie on the couch. Photo by Christine Schoenwald

My cat, Yoshi, was there to comfort me when his predecessor, Evan, died. Yoshi distracted me from my pain and was ready with kitty-kisses, purrs, and hugs — yes, Yoshi gave hugs.

I dreaded Yoshi’s death and tried to prepare for it emotionally. I convinced myself that Josie, our Tortoiseshell cat would take on the role of an emotional support animal when the day came.

I didn’t count on Josie grieving too.

The day we had to put Yoshi to sleep was the hardest day of my life, and three weeks later, it’s still difficult. My boyfriend and I are heartbroken, and out of our three remaining cats, I think Josie is too.

It turns out that humans aren’t the only ones who are sad when someone dies — animals are too. Their mood is dark, their emotions and the way they move is mournful, low-energy, and at times, hostile.

I get it — I wish I could curl up in a ball by myself and rage at the world for taking my fur-baby away. Get too close and I’ll attack.

Josie’s lying on the corner of the old couch. A small quilt almost covers her multi-colored fur like a shadow. Her head droops over the edge, making her look both sad and apologetic. When Jimi, the most recent resident, tries to get her attention, he fails.

Jimi knew Yoshi, but they weren’t close. Jimi is only two-years-old and always wants to play. However, Josie isn’t in the mood for fun and games. If Jimi gets too close to her, she’ll hit him with her claws extended and growl.

Can cats have survivor’s guilt?

Yoshi slept there on the couch-end many times — especially when we’d cuddle, and he’d place his head on my extended arm and stretch out, so his back legs were resting on some part of my body.

Yoshi was a big believer in having feline/human contact whenever possible.

If Josie had never slept there on the couch, it’d be a more dramatic detail, her suddenly discovering that spot as an homage to Yoshi. Josie is the one who made that spot trendy — Yoshi merely took it over, but still, it would feel disrespectful for Josie to sleep there now.

After Yoshi’s death, Josie slept on top of the couch cushions at the other end of the couch, as there was a placard on the right corner that read, “reserved for Yoshi.”

Yoshi was top-cat in our household of four cats and he had first dibs on all the cool sleeping spots, new boxes to explore, and food.

Who am I kidding? Yoshi was king of

There hasn’t been a huge amount of study on the subject of animals and grief. Still, The Companion Animal Mourning Project, a survey conducted by found that animals do show signs of grief.

An animal may grieve for another animal, or they may pick up on the feelings of grief that their human is feeling. Animals are sensitive and tuned-in to whatever kind of emotional turmoil we’re going through.

Think about it, they’re experiencing their own emotions plus what their humans feel; that’s a lot for anyone to shoulder, let alone a small animal.

When we got Josie, we were afraid that a newcomer wouldn’t go over well with Yoshi. As nearly perfect as Yoshi was, he was once vicious to another cat of ours, Allie. For her safety, Allie had to stay in a room cut off from him.

On the other hand, Yoshi was like a father-figure to Josie. Josie is tough, and if he tried to intimidate her, she’d stand up to him. Yoshi respected Josie’s assertiveness and guts. Plus, he was already 14-years-old when she arrived and wasn’t much of a fighter anymore.

Yoshi and Josie would often sleep butt-to-butt on the floor, in side-by-side boxes, and especially on towels pulled mysteriously to the ground. Any human-use-only material is prime cat-sleeping-real-estate. I’d go into the bathroom, and there Yoshi and Josie would be sleeping on the scene of the crime.

I’ve had cats die before, and I’ve experienced terrible grief, but nothing like what I’ve felt since Yoshi died. I don’t just cry, I sob in a way that causes my whole body and whatever piece of furniture I’m on to shake. Josie stays away from me when my grief gets too loud or too physical.

Animals feel grief too, and, perhaps the best way for me to heal is to do what I can to help Josie feel better. After all, it’s the unconditional love and caring that we receive and give to our pets that helps build a bond between us.

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Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm. Christineschoenwaldwriter.com

Creatures

Creatures

The home for anything animal. Tips, tricks, and talks about animal welfare and the human-animal bond.

Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm. Christineschoenwaldwriter.com

Creatures

Creatures

The home for anything animal. Tips, tricks, and talks about animal welfare and the human-animal bond.

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