The Life Lesson You Never Want to Have to Learn

Today I learned a really tough lesson.

Last night Simone and I went on a walk. I wasn’t feeling well, but forced myself to get out because I thought it would help. We were about 30 minutes into our walk when this little brindle pitbull with a partially white face and paws started following us. She had seen us from a distance and froze until we got closer and when I greeted her, she hung her head low, wagged her little tail and had a big smile on her face. She had a pretty oval face with floppy ears. Probably about 30 pounds. She didn’t look scrawny, so I figured she belonged to the house we were passing. But she kept following us. For another 15 minutes until we were back at our spot. She kept running into the road at points and even forced a truck to stop for her and she refused to get out of the way. She didn’t seem to have the street smarts that I would expect of a stray. So I tried walking her back to the house were we found her and shoed her into the yard, telling her to go home. It looked like she had turned a corner out of sight, so we went on our way.

Sure enough, a few moments later, the little pup was right by my side again, happily trotting along next to us. So I began asking some of the other people walking their dogs if they knew who she belonged to. I talked to the neighbors. No one recognized her. Since she did not have a lot of awareness of the busy road, I decided to keep her with us for her own safety. We were staying at an Air BnB in a town in Arizona and it had a fenced in yard, so I brought her in, gave her a bath and played with her and Simone in the yard. It was so cute how she licked Simone’s face and every time I sat down, she wanted to cuddle up with me and be pet. She was such a sweetheart.

I called around to try and figure out what to do with her and there wasn’t a great option for turning in stray dogs. Besides that, she looked like a pit and I knew how that would probably end even if I did turn her in. So I started toying with the idea of keeping her. I let her into the house and she and Amelie seemed to be ok with each other. There was the initial spiked-up hair greeting, but she didn’t seem that interested in him and he just rolls with things, so it felt like everyone adjusted quickly.

I made her a little bed, which she quickly stuck her nose up to and stole Simone’s bed instead, and we all went to sleep.

The next day, after everyone was fed, I was working from home and the kids were sleeping in various spots around the kitchen. It was very peaceful. The reception wasn’t great at the place I was staying, so I decided to leave and drive to the next town over to find a better signal for a client call. It was mid-morning and I figured the pups would be tired from playing last night.

Mid-way through my call I started getting text messages from the woman who owns the property saying there were complaints of barking from my place. She said she was worried but couldn’t get home to check on them. She asked if her boyfriend could stop by and look in and I said sure. He went over to the house and claimed that Simone wouldn’t let him in. He also said that he couldn’t deal with this right now because he also works from home. The text exchange was stressing me out, because I was on a call and there was nothing I could do other than rush home when I was done. Which is what I did.

It took me ten minutes to drive back, but it felt like hours. The whole time I kept telling myself that Amelie is a tough kid, he has his claws and he knows how to hide and get away if he needs to. He’s bullied Simone before and can hold his own. More than anything, I was worried about the house. What if they knocked over all the beautiful lamps? Or what if Amelie had climbed the drapes? My mind was racing and my heart was pounding. There are not a lot of things that make me anxious, but this was definitely one of them.

When I opened the door, there was cat fur everywhere. The dogs immediately greeted me and I shoved them outside to assess the situation. Big clumps of hair covered the floor. One of the yellow kitchen chairs was turned over. Some of the food from the counter was on the ground. I walked over to the sink and there were kitty prints all over the counter and the ledge behind the sink.

I started calling Amelie’s name, but knew he must be hiding somewhere and was not likely to come when called. I looked into the bedroom. I was worried that furniture broken and that I would be in big trouble with the property owner. Everything looked disheveled, but intact. There was no question that there had been a battle in here. When I turned the corner into the bedroom, I saw Amelie. He was laying in Simone’s bed on his right side. As I moved closer I realized he wasn’t moving. His side was completely slashed open.

I ran out of the room as fast as I could and collapsed on my knees into the dirt driveway. I wept.

The woman who owns the house came out from next door to see what was going on. While I was in a pile of tears on the ground, she asked me what happened and then went into the house and took Amelie and the bed out and put him in her car. She came over to me and talked to me very calmly and told me what we were going to do. She was going to take Amelie to a nearby vet where they could freeze him until I decide what to do with him and the other neighbor was going to take the dog that I found to an animal shelter. I asked if they were going to kill her and she said it was a no-kill facility.

All I could do was sit in the dirt and cry.

Right before she left, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “I know this is so hard. You haven’t had two dogs before and didn’t know what pack mentality is like. You’ve learned an important lesson.”

I sure have. A lesson that cost my baby his life.

The next 24 hours were dark. I tortured myself with guilt. I should have known better. I should have locked Amelie in the bedroom and left the dogs in the other room. Or I should have left the stray in the yard. I should have known not to trust a dog where I knew nothing about her history. How could I put my baby in danger like that? What kind of mother puts her child in harm’s way? Not just harm, but a violent and gruesome situation.

Then I would take a step back and try to retrace my steps. The dog seemed to not even care about Amelie. She was quiet. She didn’t bark a lot. She didn’t go over to him many times. How could I have known she would be a threat? Of course if I had sensed something in her, I would have been more cautious. But I trusted my gut. I always go with my gut and now my gut has steered me wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Can I even trust myself anymore?

Of course, I also blamed the dogs. How could you do this? How could you be so evil to kill another creature? Simone, why didn’t you protect your brother? You’ve lived happily together for your entire life, six years, and you just let this happen? What kind of soulless being does that? Why are you such a monster? How can I ever love you again?

I didn’t stop crying for twelve hours. I sat outside the house for hours and couldn’t bring myself to go back in. When I finally did, I noticed the blood all over the bathroom. All over the floor and toilet. He must have jumped up on the back of the toilet to try to get away. But that wouldn’t have been high enough. Why didn’t he stay in the kitchen in the windowsill above the sink? I saw his paw prints there. If he had just stayed there, they wouldn’t have been able to get him. He probably thought they were playing and wanted to be cashed. He always pretended to hate when Simone played with him, but I knew he secretly loved it.

He didn’t know he was prey.

I still don’t know everything that went down. Part of me is grateful that he passed quickly and I didn’t have to find him yowling in pain. He could have grown old and gotten a disease or cancer or gone blind. He could have lost his mobility. He lived a happy, rich and healthy life and got to experience a lot of different things. That’s not always the life that cats prefer, but I think Amelie enjoyed the adventure. Anytime we stayed in a new place, he wound wander around curiously and even when he met new animals, he didn’t show an ounce of fear. He was a little punk. He knew how to hold his own. Until he didn’t…

That night I wanted something to drown my sorrows, so I drove into town to find a restaurant where I could eat a big burger and a milkshake. I kept driving from place to place, but every time I thought I was done crying and could get out to go in, I would burst into tears again. I was a mess. So I decided to go into a little diner and order food to go. A diner where I could keep my sunglasses on and my food would be ready quickly so that I could get out of there. As soon as I got back into the car, I was back to sobbing.

I started researching pack mentality in dogs and got a better picture of how it really can change a normally docile dog into something brutal. It was eye-opening to say the least. If you don’t understand pack mentality, please, go look it up.

The next day I felt more at peace. I had my day of deep heart-wrenching mourning and now I was quiet sad. I was glad to have work to distract me and I actually felt ok most of the day because of that. But nights are always the hardest. Every shadow or any patch of black, I thought it was him. All night long, I heard a noise outside that I thought was him scratching in the litter box. I often still think I hear his faint meow. Remnants of his hair would show up. I still periodically find a nail of his here or there. I tried to clean up as best I could, but couldn’t bring myself to get rid of his things, like his litter box and food bowl.

This precious little creature meant the world to me. I know that anyone could say he was just a cat, but he wasn’t just a cat to me. He has been my companion for eight years. Some of the most formative years of my life. I got him when I was in college. He went through my tumultuous twenties with me. He went through my divorce with me. He’s been there for all of the other men I’ve dated. I cannot tell you how many people who didn’t like cats told me that they loved him. He was a spit fire. He had personality and spunk. But he was also sweet. And he and I had a special bond. Unlike any bond I’ve had with any other animal. You cannot brush off that kind of intimacy and loyalty. He was my world.

I’m still processing the whole scenario. I’ve wondered why the property owner’s boyfriend didn’t just suck it up and charge into the house. He could have saved Amelie’s life. I’ve kicked myself saying that no client call or anything work related is as important as my pets and I should have left immediately when I got those texts. I’ve wondered how it all went down. Did she bite his throat? Did she claw him to death? But it’s only torture for me to think about it.

I clearly don’t know what happened. I never will. I have decided to believe that Simone had nothing to do with it, because that’s the only way I know to move on. It’s still hard interacting with her. She, of course, knows that I’m upset and for the rest of the day after it happened, she slept in the corner in the kitchen, rather than the bedroom where I was. That was the first time in her life that she chose to be away from me. I still don’t feel very affectionate towards her. I talk to her and try to explain why I am sad. I hope we can get back to a better place. But I also know it will never be the same.

This is a dark post. But I believe it’s important to share the hard things in life just as much as we share the positive experiences. I believe in vulnerability and truth. If nothing else, hopefully this post helps someone out there learn this lesson from me before it’s too late for them.

4 Replies to “The Life Lesson You Never Want to Have to Learn”

  1. Vulnerability and truth. Very strong and poignant post. I can’t begin to understand the heartbreak you are living. Know that so many of us are sending love, strength, and sympathy.

  2. Cathi Kiger-Watson says: Reply

    I’m really sorry you had this happen but I also know it will make you stronger and smarter. Having been single most of my adult life I know how much your animals mean to you. Your grief is real and it will take time to recover so don’t let anyone tell you it’s just an animal. For you she was your friend and confident and the unconditional love you gave each other was very special. Sending you hugs across the miles.

  3. Carla Sullivan says: Reply

    I’m sitting here crying so hard I can’t see to write this… Oh, Lara my heart weeps for you. I wish I could put my arms around you and make it all better but I know only God can heal your wounds. Grief is a healing time. In your heart you know you had many good years together and now you will go forward with some wonderful memories. It’s never just a cat .. it’s your loved one. I’ll be praying for you as you go on your way. Love Gramma

  4. That is the Amazon credo and it was one Samia lived and died by. Now in contemporary New Orleans, the immortal Amazon warrior is about to learn that there’s a worse evil coming to slaughter mankind than she’s ever faced before.

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