Losing a pet is never easy, but saying goodbye to one I had hand-reared and had given us so much joy and unconditional love for 13 years broke my heart.

I had been living in Thailand for less than a week when I was told that a blind kitten needed rescuing. Our landlord gave strict instructions that we were only allowed one animal and we already had Rasta, our dog, so we were pushing it with a cat. Anyway, a kitten was in need and off we went to rescue it. However, when we got there, we were introduced to his brother – who happened to be blind in one eye. How could we possibly leave him? Then as we were making our way out, someone came up holding the tiniest kitten I’d ever seen. It turned out that this kitten had been rescued as its mother had died and was less than a week old with no chance of survival without a home and someone to take care of it.

Find one, get three

That was all I needed to hear. Three kittens later and we were finally making our way home. Oh and what a wonderful home it became with Brutus (blind kitty), Caeser (half blind kitty) and Cleo (tiny kitty).

As soon as I could, I took Cleo to the vet where it was confirmed that she was about three days old and had virtually no chance of survival without her mother. But I was not about to risk losing a pet I had just rescued so I took it upon myself to be mother. There were no resources at that time in Chiang Mai for orphaned kittens so I researched and found a formula I could make and after a few attempts, she took it from my bottle substitute. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship! Despite being told by everyone not to get attached as she was so vulnerable, I was attached within the first few hours. I hand-reared her and wow, the love she gave back in return – for the rest of her life – was incredible.

She was always a tiny cat, never reaching more than 3kg in weight, but what she lacked in body mass she made up for in personality. She was my baby. She was also instinctively maternal.

Instinctively nurturing

One day, we received the terrible news that our dog, Marley, had kidney failure. She had never been particularly close to Marley, simply humouring him during his puppy years. He was only a young dog which made the diagnosis even sadder. During his last few weeks, he became increasingly weaker and Cleo was always beside him. She never left his side. She would clean him, sleep with him and just be with him. She knew.

When I gave birth to Ella, she instinctively knew this was something so precious. She would guard her as she was sleeping (obviously not in the cot!) and sit by her side when she was awake. As Ella turned to a toddler, the others would run and hide in fear of a tail pull or worse. Cleo however patiently took whatever Ella had to give. When Ariya came along, she was equally as maternal. She loved those girls. Finally came Connor; and from the moment he was born she watched over him (as an elderly cat now). They all had the most special bond with her. She taught my kids what it means to really love an animal and for that I will always be grateful.

Old, tired, beautiful girl

Despite only being 13, her body started to fail as a much older cat’s would – a direct result of her difficult start to life. After a major scare in 2018, I wasn’t sure how long we’d have left with her. But she was a fighter and literally clawed her way back to life and lived the most amazing 12 months. But almost exactly a year later, she decided she’d had enough of fighting and wanted to be at peace. She spent the last day of her life in the girls’ bedroom just watching them. We knew it was a matter of hours so through tears we said goodbye. It broke my heart to see the kids in pieces, but we owed it to Cleo to give her the most loving send-off. She loved us with all of her heart and gave us the most amazing 13 years. But That just wasn’t long enough. Faced with losing a pet, you realise that regardless of how long you’ve had with them, it will never be long enough!

I was holding her as she took her final breaths and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My heart hurt as I said goodbye but there are 13 years of loving memories to look back and smile at.

Saying goodbye to a pet

If you have recently lost, or are about to lose a pet, and don’t know what to tell your children, read my post on losing a pet and how to tell your children here.