Adopting After Losing a Cat

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Guest post by Sarah Chauncey

After the death of a beloved cat, it can be hard to believe we could ever open our hearts and homes to another. While it’s true that each cat (and our bond with them) is unique, keeping our hearts closed to future felines means we can wind up dwelling on the loss, rather than exploring new bonds.

When my soulmate cat, Hedda, died, I was ready to adopt about three months later. As so often happens, though, life had other plans. It would be another year and a bit—and many, many “interviews” later—before a new kitten found her way to me.

While it’s true that each cat (and our bond with them) is unique, keeping our hearts closed to future felines means we can wind up dwelling on the loss, rather than exploring new bonds.

Finding the Right Kitten (or Cat)

Towards the end of Hedda’s life, I had a dream in which she spoke to me—in a croaky kind of voice, because the feline larynx isn’t made for human language. She said, “I try to come back within two years.” That increased the stakes exponentially. I wasn’t just looking for a kitten; I was looking for Hedda’s next incarnation.

My lease only allows for one cat or dog, and that made the search harder. Kittens who can be happy as singletons are few and far between. I kept hoping that one would show up on my daily walks—the classic “cat chooses human” story…but that didn’t happen. I met several who were adorable, but I just didn’t feel a connection with any of them.

When a friend sent me a photo of a shorthair tortoiseshell cat at a rescue in a neighboring town, I was immediately smitten, yet cautious. By that point, I’d been “smitten” with half a dozen kittens whose photos had convinced me they were The One, but things hadn’t panned out.

A few hours later, I was home with Ariel.

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Introducing Ariel (aka Hello, Tortitude)

The name “Ariel” means “lion of God” in Hebrew. I translate that as “lioness of love.” In mystical traditions, Ariel is also the archangel who oversees the natural world—and the natural world is my happy place.

I hadn’t planned on adopting a tortie. My only requirements were female (personal preference) and shorthair (allergies). As much as I adore black cats, I was a bit concerned that if I adopted another one, I’d constantly be comparing her to Hedda. I now joke that I have a half-black cat.

Ariel showed her tortitude early on. It took me days to figure out how to convince her to eat wet food. I tried topping food with nutritional yeast (nope), FortiFlora (nope) and finally, ground Parmesan (aha!). Turns out my little girl is addicted to cheese.

As Jackson Galaxy has said of torties, Ariel is super-sensitive to the energy around her. Whatever I’m putting out, consciously or unconsciously, she reflects back to me.

She is super-chatty, even more so than Hedda—and her range of sounds is impressive. I haven’t yet figured out what each one means, but when she’s bored, she flops on the floor dramatically and lets out a distinct whine. She leaps onto the keyboard with abandon, explores the shower as soon as I step out, and chews everything from shoelaces to my phone.

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For the most part, Ariel is one of the happiest and most laid-back kittens I’ve ever seen (though at the moment, she’s a tween, which means she has two modes: full tortitude and snugglebunny). In the two months since I brought her home, she has never stopped purring, except when she’s asleep.

I don’t know whether Ariel is, in fact, Hedda’s next incarnation. I sometimes wonder if I missed some signs, or I didn’t wait long enough. That said, I adore Ariel, and my understanding is that animals have more fluid energy fields than humans, and there may well be aspects of Hedda in Ariel, even if she’s not the exact same soul.

Below are some of the things I found helpful both during my search and while acclimating to a new feline presence.

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Bonds develop through shared experiences. You aren’t likely to immediately feel the same depth of bond with a new cat as you did with the previous one.

When You’re Adopting After a Loss

Take your time, and go at your own pace. Some people want to adopt a new companion right away; others prefer to wait a bit. Neither choice is better than the other. Don’t let others pressure you into following a timeline that doesn’t feel right.

Open your heart again. Some people worry that they’re betraying their late cat by adopting. Love doesn’t die. It multiplies. If anything, your previous cat would like to see you happy and giving a good home to a fellow feline.

Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Regardless of how long it’s been since your previous cat’s death, adopting is likely to bring up a wave of grief. Adopting a new cat means admitting that the previous one isn’t coming back. This took me by surprise—after all, it had been 19 months since Hedda’s death.

There might not be a lightning-bolt moment. In my case, the certainty never came. I just knew that if I didn’t adopt this particular kitten, I would always wonder whether I should have. And I’m glad I did.

Be curious. The new kitten or cat will likely have different traits than you’re used to, and while this can bring up grief, it can also be a wonderful opportunity for discovering the awe and mystery of life.

Bonding takes time. Even if you feel an immediate connection, as I did with Hedda, bonds develop through shared experiences. You aren’t likely to immediately feel the same depth of bond with a new cat as you did with the previous one.

What was it like for you, adopting a new cat or kitten after a forever cat’s death? What did you find helpful or surprising? Share your experience in a comment.

Sarah Chauncey is the author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna, an upcoming gift book for adults grieving their cat. She runs @morethantuna on Instagram and Facebook, “a celebration of nine lives,” and she started #tunatributes, a support community for people grieving their cat. She lives on Vancouver Island.

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19 Comments on Adopting After Losing a Cat

  1. Stephanie
    October 7, 2018 at 2:32 pm (4 months ago)

    Thank you for this article. On August 20, my beautiful soulmate little boy Jonah died of lymphoma at 10 years old. All of my prior cats lived into their late teens and early 20s; none ever died of cancer. Jonah’s cancer was diagnosed in May; we went immediately to an oncologist and began chemo & steroid therapies.

    While I was shocked at his diagnosis, I was happy to hear that many cats respond well to treatment for lymphoma. Unfortunately, Jonah’s was a very unusual lymphoma, concentrated in his brain & sinuses. It progressed quite quickly and he began having seizures…a very frightening experience for both of us. It was such an emotional time and then my heart just broke when he died. I still cry over him daily; I honestly never knew I could miss someone this much.

    Random circumstances brought a new kitten into my life *less than a week* after Jonah’s death. I went with it because historically, cats have found me at just the right time. Although it didn’t feel right, I decided to have faith. Having Jonah’s things all around me was so difficult, I figured I couldn’t possibly feel worse.

    The baby’s name is Elijah and he’s a beautiful, sweet little boy. While I was very happy to have him, it was really a lot of feelings at once…happiness, grief, guilt…you name it. I just let myself feel everything. I had such a strong bond with Jonah; sometimes Elijah’s presence *did* make me feel worse…of course I haven’t bonded with him in the same way yet and he was often a reminder of how much I’d lost. I didn’t like that feeling, but I did my best to not judge the things I felt.

    I’m still doing that now…trying to acknowledge all of my feelings and be at peace with this process, but I’m also getting to know Elijah for the beautiful individual he is and finding him delightful. There are definitely times when I compare his behaviors with Jonah’s and feel disappointment when they’re not the same. Regardless, the balance has begun to favor happiness and love over grief and loss; I have faith that will continue into the future.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 8, 2018 at 5:36 am (4 months ago)

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Stephanie. I’m glad Elijah found you and helped you through grieving Jonah and opening your heart again.

      Reply
  2. Lisa
    September 25, 2018 at 9:08 am (4 months ago)

    I remember when I was thinking of adopting again after Jiji died. He had died in October and it was around January or February I was thinking of adopting but I noticed my anxiety kept getting worse at the idea of adopting and I thought I should wait a bit as I wasn’t quite ready. One of my friends adopted two cats from a local rescue and was told there would be kittens available soon (kitten season) I had my heart set on some beautiful tabbies but this rescue does first come, first served and I was given the choice of a different litter’s last two. Two tuxedos, one boy and one girl. At first I was disappointed as I wanted a tabby and had never considered anything else. But I was awestruck at the female kitten’s photo. I choice her having never met her. She was an absolute sweetheart from day one! She has a great bond with all of us, and our special bond involves lot of bedtime snuggles and cuddles. I was the only one that was ever able to bond with Jiji so that’s a big change right there. We have different rules for the new kitten, I don’t allow her out unless someone is home and never at night, she also has a less interest in going outside than her departed brother. Her birthday is in February too, it was almost like my being was telling me it wasn’t quite time yet in February as our baby wasn’t ready to join us. I’m so happy we have her now.

    Reply
  3. maye
    September 21, 2018 at 4:19 pm (4 months ago)

    The picture of a beautiful tabby cat, Rori, was in our neighborhood online newsletter. Six months prior to that time, our beloved tabby Tizzy died. I vowed we would not have any more cats. However, I could not get Rori’s image out of my mind, and I called. Her owner was days from taking her to a local shelter, so we added another tabby to our family. Having a cat again gives our home the feeling of completeness! After Rori joined us, she showed signs of hyperthyroidism. She responded well to treatment, but then she showed beginning signs of kidney problems. This is well managed with diet. We are into our second year of “Life with Rori”, and she is our constant companion – no regrets even with the unexpected problems with which we are dealing.

    Reply
  4. Debbie Savoy
    September 21, 2018 at 10:32 am (4 months ago)

    Loved the story of adopting Ariel. I rescue cats and have our cremation for animals, called Paws in Heaven, on speed dial. I have thought often about putting an album of cats needing a home there for people that have lost theirs. Wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate. As I deal with so many and sadly lose a few a year, I never get very long to mourn as so many more need me. What do you the think? Wonder if they had your book there or a pamphlet to help those that are hurting and may hopefully save another feline. Maybe a copy of your story could help me save more cats here.

    Reply
    • Sarah
      September 23, 2018 at 5:12 pm (4 months ago)

      Hi Debbie – I’m a firm believer that each person (and their time frame to adoption, and the reasons for that) is unique. If I’m reading your comment correctly, I see two separate, valid issues here: 1) helping people process their loss, and 2) wanting to find homes for rescues. Comforting people with the intention of convincing them to adopt might backfire (some people might experience that as pressure.) However, you’re welcome to refer people to this post.

      Reply
      • Debbie
        September 23, 2018 at 7:04 pm (4 months ago)

        Thanks. I agree they may not be ready, hence your article or book to help those who choose to read it. If I can figure out how, can I make copies to leave at Paws in Heaven? And it would be up to them if they choose to take one or look at an album. I’m sure they would not want to think about choosing a new kitty immediately. But maybe they will remember it’s there and when they are ready they will look.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          September 24, 2018 at 10:07 am (4 months ago)

          Debbie, all content on this site is copyrighted, so you can’t make copies of the article, but I encourage you to refer people to this article and others in our Pet Loss section: https://consciouscat.net/category/pet-loss/

          Reply
  5. Margaret Babcock
    September 20, 2018 at 6:11 pm (4 months ago)

    I am the one that adopts the day of or the day after I lose one of my cats. I usually have two and usually adopt a kitten. This last time I lost my beloved Stuart, I adopted a 4 year old cat. This was a completely different experience and took both of us a few months to adjust. Winston (I changed his name to that) had been taken to his vet to be euthanized because his previous owners said he was aggressive. I suspect they had a child they allowed to terrorize him. Winston can be snarky but he is not aggressive. After about 4 months of telling him I was not going throw him away, we both bonded with one another. He and my other cat, Bradley get along fine; they are not buddies like Bradley and Stuart were but they are friendly.

    I agree that you need to let another cat into your life – you need the love and so do they!

    Reply
  6. Robert Toth
    September 20, 2018 at 4:21 pm (4 months ago)

    We lost our 16 year cat, Itty Bitty. We have adopted a kitten (Snooky) and the bond was instant!!! It very much lessened the pain of losing Itty Bitty!

    Reply
  7. Cheri Collins
    September 20, 2018 at 3:27 pm (4 months ago)

    Don’t forget the seniors! I adopted a cat (who is sleeping on my bed now) when she was 12. She was headed for the death chamber because she was in such bad shape no one wanted her when she just had to have a new home. I had met her and knew she was social, very affectionate, very sweet. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being killed because no one wanted her. With good care (including a good vet) she’s made it to 15 and is looking very healthy and pretty.
    I spent a year making friends with a feral cat who turned out to be the feline love of my life. He moved into my home and my heart and we had 13 years together. He developed CHF and died last Nov. I will always miss him. But Bennie, the rescued girl, has been a great comfort. She is such a loving companion, I don’t know how I would have got thru the first months after Boo’s death without her.
    So often there are senior cats needing homes, waiting unhappily in shelters. I encourage people who find themselves needing some new love in their homes to at least meet and consider older cats. Kittens are fun, of course, but older cats can be a lot of fun, too. And one senior cat doesn’t usually need a play companion.

    Reply
  8. Debi
    September 20, 2018 at 1:28 pm (4 months ago)

    I very much relate to this story. When our kitty, Marmalade died on my late husband’s birthday, we knew we needed a companion for our other kitty, Cholla. The buddy system had worked well for us all. I had my heart set on a calico, and when a local shelter found a box of abandoned ones, Zoe stood out as the one! Turned out she was most likely born on the day Marmy had died. In any case, she is the most wonderful kitty ever! Still healthy, except for some arthritis, and will be 20 in January. <3

    Reply
  9. Maggie
    September 20, 2018 at 12:40 pm (4 months ago)

    Thoughtful post, thank you. I wasn’t in a hurry to adopt again after caring for two cats in the process of leaving in less than three years. After all, we had one cat left, young, healthy and good company. But after we returned from a short trip and our cat sitter reported that Mickey Mouser hid the entire time, we decided he needed a companion. I knew he liked laid-back male cats, so my search was based on my cat’s desires, not ours. We heard about a young cat who had been scooped up in a TNR operation. He turned out to be in poor health but very loving, certainly not feral. Once he recovered, he was anything but laid-back! Rufus the Red wasn’t the cat we were looking for, but he turned out to be the perfect cat for us.

    Reply
  10. Alice
    September 20, 2018 at 10:38 am (4 months ago)

    I had developed an incredible bond with my first kitty, Abby, a gray doll-faced Persian I actually found at the local shelter! For 9 years we had each other, and then kidney failure took her from me. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I thought that I could never go through such pain again. But coming home to an empty house was even worse, so 3 days later I went to a local shelter, and believe it or not, there was another Persian, a tortie, whom I immediately adopted! From then on I’ve never been without a kitty at home. And I know those that have preceded me across the Bridge would approve of my giving another homeless little creature a forever home.

    Reply
  11. Ellie
    September 20, 2018 at 10:33 am (4 months ago)

    I’ve always had more than one cat so when one died I had another to take care of. The hardest and scariest thing is that I have lost 3 cats two years apart each. This year I’m on that 2nd year and I am so vigilant with the remaining two. You never forget the one who left and took a piece of your heart.

    Reply
  12. Janine
    September 20, 2018 at 8:27 am (4 months ago)

    Four months after we lost Pono, we came across Lulu at an adoption event. We didn’t plan on adopting a kitten that day but she just seemed to pick my husband that day and he couldn’t walk away. We often think she might be Pono’s reincarnation because she has so many traits (mostly the naughty ones) that Pono had. But she really had brought a lot more love to our house and we are smiling again.

    Reply
  13. Mr Puddy
    September 20, 2018 at 7:35 am (4 months ago)

    LOVE LOVE your article !
    You know ? my mom used to try to talk to her friend. He lost two kitties, then he never ever want to adopt any again. my mom tried to talk so many times, so many years so we will send your link to him =^x^=
    Thanks

    Reply
  14. Maru
    September 20, 2018 at 7:02 am (4 months ago)

    I have lived with cats for as long as I remember, so I have departed from a lot of them. Never had a doubt about welcoming home another one when the moment comes. We need time to mourn, and we never forget the former feline companions, -each one unique, kind of magic all of them- but knowing us or not, there is always another kitten ready to walk into our lives around the corner.

    Reply
  15. Lyn Eggleston
    September 20, 2018 at 3:55 am (4 months ago)

    Thank you! I was devastated by the sudden death of my beautiful Sylvie.

    I miss her still.

    I was overwhelmed by tortitude and Esme- different personality but I feel she chose me.

    3 legs do not hold her back- she is purring next to me as I type- I am so thankful for both of these beautiful girls.

    Reply

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