Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 22, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Written 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.
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.
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.
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.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.