One day a 60 something year old woman that we will call Raina enters the animal shelter looking for a pet for her 93 year old mother that we will call Claire.
Claire was an elderly woman that worked hard her entire life for many different organizations and non-profits so that she could someday afford to become a homeowner in a nice neighborhood. Claire and her son were eventually able to successfully purchase a home in her 70’s but now 93 years of age (and son has passed away) refused to live out her golden years anywhere except for the one place that she and her son worked hard to obtain (as well as the one place she knew) – her home.
Raina, Claire’s daughter enters an animal shelter sometime in 2018 looking for a pet for her elderly mother to provide companionship, is shown a beautiful black domestic short haired cat by the name of Junebug. Junebug is also awaiting a suitable pet guardian to come in and provide him with a permanent home.
The vet explained to Raina that Junebug also has a sister named Ladybug and that they both were thrown out of a window by their prior pet guardian before they both ended up at the animal shelter. Horrified by the story Raina made a decision to adopt Junebug leaving Ladybug for another potential suitable guardian.
I personally knew Claire and would often come to visit Claire when traveling to Washington DC. Whenever I was at Claire’s home, I would often play with Junebug and subsequently fell madly in love with him. Junebug would follow me everywhere and I would spend lot’s of time with him telling him how much I loved him. Junebug was such a peaceful soul. His peace was radiant with a vibrating frequency so powerful, the magnetic pull made you want to have him in your life. The kind of peace not often experienced with human beings. I would often rub him and say “Junebug can I have some of your peace”. This magnetic pull made Junebug’s personality infectious.
The ER staff, the veterinary staff, my family, my friends, my other cat Gi Gi -everyone loved Junebug. He would just skip into a room with all of his happiness and make everything better. As a close friend of mine once said, Junebug was high on life. Everywhere Junebug was taken, everyone fell in love with him.
Claire resided in a three story home that was handicapped accessible (with a lift, ramp and wheel chair) partially made possible with the assistance of her family. Claire shared with me that she kept Junebug locked in the basement primarily at night for two reasons. The first reason was so that Junebug would not trip her up near her stairwell when coming out of the room to get onto her lift to come downstairs. The second reason was so that Junebug could kill the mice in the basement. Unfortunately for Junebug, the basement was unfinished without any ventilation or fresh air and it was later discovered that the house had mold caused by internal water damage due to faulty plumbing. The basement was also an area where the laundry machines were and laundry was done. This was a dark moist area with one window that remained closed.
Once it was brought to Claire’s attention that the house had mold and that she could not afford mold remediation or removal experts it was reluctantly decided by Claire and her family that it was time for Claire to move in with a family member where it was safer for her to live out the rest of her years.
In the meantime, while in the state of NJ I would often think about Junebug and how I wished that Claire and I lived in the same state. I often thought that if Claire and I lived in the same state, I could bring Junebug over on the weekends for play dates with my cat Gi Gi and I could see Junebug more often. Once it was brought to my attention that Claire was moving, I immediately called Raina and Claire and made a case for why it was important for Junebug to be with a responsible pet owner that could better care for him. Both Raina and Claire agreed Junebug would be in the best of care. I went and got Junebug, brought him from DC to NJ, as he was now a new addition to our home, I was ecstatic.
In the two months and two weeks that Junebug was in his new home, he and Gi Gi received play dates three times a day, a pet gate was installed to responsibly introduce Junebug to Gi Gi who did not know how to properly socialize with other cats. I watched Jackson Galaxy videos on Youtube as well as the Jackson Galaxy’s show on Amazon to learn everything I could to provide both Gi Gi and Junebug with the best home possible. Junebug got special treats and was very well behaved. Junebug was still a baby at only two years of age but if you looked at Junebug you would have thought that he was about 6 years old like Gi Gi. Needless to say that Junebug appeared very happy in his new surroundings with his additional extended family as he was crazy about Gi Gi. Junebug spent most of his time trying to make friends with Gi Gi.
WHEN EVENTS A TOOK TURN FOR JUNEBUG
One August day, I was doing laundry for the first time since Junebug’s arrival. Junebug appeared as if he was trying to cough up a hair ball but nothing was coming up. I’ve had cats prior to Junebug so I thought nothing of it because cats cough up hair balls, it’s what they do. I looked up a few minutes later and noticed that Junebug went in the bedroom. I thought nothing of it because Junebug would often go in the bedroom at around 9 pm as he was trained to go to bed early by Claire. Both Junebug and Gi Gi were on a regular feeding schedule three times a day. At 4 am I went into the bedroom to give Junebug his 4 am meal and he was not his chipper self. When I motioned for Junebug to jump on the bed before feeding time, Junebug just stared at me and waited for a very long time before jumping up on the bed. I said, “oh, you are a very tired baby today”. Junebug also did not eat the food that I put out for him (which was not like him) but I just thought that he’s not hungry for some reason. I left went to bed and came back in the bedroom in the morning at 11 am to provide Junebug with his 11 am feeding and Junebug came from under the bed staring at me with a lethargic, dizzy look like he was going to pass out any minute. Junebug presented the way humans present themselves when they’ve had something slipped in their drink. I immediately starting calling a friend (to no avail) for a ride to the ER. I then jumped into an Uber to take my baby Junebug to the Emergency Room. Junebug stayed back there for a long time, then the ER vet called me while I waited outside in this COVID climate to ask had Junebug ingested any poisons or toxins. I assured her that Junebug remained in the bedroom nowhere near poisons and toxins because he was being introduced to another cat. Explaining that during the introduction phase, he stays in the bedroom and is watched at all times when he is out of the bedroom. The ER doctor went on to explain to me all of my options which were either running a series of test or providing treatment for the symptoms that she surmised based on her expert opinion. The doctor gave a cost of 800 dollars to run numerous test for feline cancers and other medical conditions or 800 dollars do an X-ray and treat what she thought to be a diagnosis for something called aspiration pneumonia. I wanted to focus on diagnostic testing to see if Junebug had a pre-existing condition but the ER doctor felt that it was in our best interest to focus on treatment (I had expressed that my funds were limited to do both). I work as a therapist in Hospice Care as part of a five man interdisciplinary team and I am also a researcher so I get the importance of diagnostic testing.
Once the doctor was certain that Junebug had aspiration pneumonia, the ER doctor offered an additional option of hospitalization for 1500 dollars per day for at least four to five days which I could not afford in this COVID pandemic environment. The doctor explained to me that when Junebug vomited, the vomit got into his lungs and caused him to aspirate – hence the term “aspiration pneumonia”. I spent 806 dollars for an ER visit and they wanted me to spend 1500 per day for hospitalization. While I was in distress, the ER doctor made me feel bad that I wasn’t going to cough up 1500 dollars per day for intravenous IV fluids and antibiotic hospitalization stating to me “I’m going to put down that you refuse to provide the best care necessary for your pet”. I became emotional and began to weep.
When I asked the ER doctor do you know what caused it, she yelled at me and said “pets get sick”. I began sobbing, but after I calmed down, the therapist in me realized that the ER physician reflexively yelled at me because she didn’t have an answer to my question. I asked the ER doctor, if she could provide some information on whether or not Junebug was going to make it. My words exactly to the doctor “please let me know so that I don’t spend additional money for an inevitable outcome of euthanization”, which I experienced with my pet Toni in 2013. The ER doctor snapped at me once again implying that I wanted to euthanize my cat without looking into additional treatment options. While judging me, it had later occurred to me at some point that the ER physician wasn’t fully transparent on her knowledge that pets with aspiration pneumonia typically have a poor prognosis. She advised me to take Junebug back to the vet in two days – as I believe that she knew that Junebug was not going to make it. I reluctantly made an appointment for the up coming Thursday and brought him home with the hopes of nursing him back to health with medications provided by the ER. Things were looking good for a day or two. I stayed in the bedroom with him for 3 days singing and playing guitar providing him with music therapy, rubbing my baby providing him with additional comfort then his condition progressively began to worsen.
Junebug was in so much pain that he was gasping for air, could not take water down via syringe feeding and foam would come out of his mouth once trying. On his last night going into the morning, I awakened to find Junebug standing on his feet for more than six hours because it was too painful for him to sit or lie down (which meant he spent the night standing without moving) looking as if all he wanted to do was just lie down and go to sleep. I knew that I had to put him down to stop the suffering. I called my vet crying hysterically to please fit us in somehow. The vet said can you come in now so I rushed Junebug to the vet. After I got there, she told me that I made the right decision to bring him in immediately because he was on his way out. I asked the vet would it be possible for me to hold him in my arms while they put him down to provide him with the comfort of a familiar face (which is also what I did with my cat Toni in 2013). Due to the COVID protocol, the vet stated that it was not possible, but that she could bring him back outside for me to say my final goodbye and that I could film it if I wanted (which I did).
THE GRIEVING PROCESS
After Junebug’s untimely demise, I spent roughly about two months grieving replaying over and over in my head what could have possibly happened. As a therapist and researcher, I am a pretty good problem solver. I agonized on what could I have possibly missed. I kept thinking to myself, “Junebug had to have had a pre-existing condition” “there is no way that a cat that young, strong and vibrant just up and departs”. As I am agonizing, I am still trying to take it one day at a time with some good days and some bad days. Two months later on a particularly good day. I awoke feeling pretty good and I get an alert for a Jackson Galaxy video entitled “Ew Splew, Why Does My Cat Throw Up”. My heart stops in terror and I think to myself “Oh God, am I going to find out some information about Junebug at this late date and is this information going to mess up my good mood on my only good day subsequent to his death” after two months of sheer hell. I made the decision to reluctantly click on the video. Jackson proceeds to do an encyclopedia on the different types of cat vomits and what they could possibly mean. Jackson then goes on to describe exactly what I watched Junebug do right before my very eyes as I was folding laundry. It became very clear to me that my suspicions on Junebug having a pre-existing condition were spot on. Then it hit me, “Junebug had asthma and he got it from being locked in that basement most nights and many days”. I remember coming to DC to visit Claire and Junebug was in the basement most of the day. Junebug would only come out of the basement when Claire came downstairs to eat and get her mail but once she went back upstairs, Junebug was back in the basement for most of the evening and at night.
I started grieving all over again because I just recently learned how Junebug passed away. I learned two months after his passing that he had asthma. As I spent the last two months wrecking my brain trying to figure out what happened. How could such a vibrant young cat pass away within a matter of days? I finally had the answer.
After further research I learned that perfumes and detergents can trigger an asthma attack in cats with asthma. Junebug must’ve smelled the laundry detergent from when I brought the freshly washed clothes up with the strong detergent scent in them that I hung in the bathroom and it triggered an asthma attack (which on it’s surface looked like a cat trying to cough up a hair ball).
As I began to grieve all over again, there was this notion emerging that I killed him by bringing laundry into the apartment which triggered an asthma attack (not knowing that he had asthma). There were also laundry machines in the basement of the home that Junebug lived – prior to coming to live with us.
A close confidant that was also a pet owner tried to console me by explaining to me that responsible pet owners are suppose to provide regularly scheduled vet visits or at least a vet visit when the pet is showing signs of distress (which Junebug had an asthma attack in the prior home). Further going on to explain that once pet owners have a history of the pets medical record from vet visits, they should turn that information over to the new owners to help inform treatment protocols moving forward.
The idea that Junebug had a pre-existing condition along with the information that my confidant provided me with made me feel a little better but I still needed something else to help me find my peace with this idea that Junebug was gone forever. I suddenly began to think about a surgery that I had two years ago where I was horrified. I did not want to have the surgery but was told by my physician that if I did not have the surgery I would die. I told all of my doctors including my pulmonologist that I wanted the best anesthesiologist because I had a poor anesthesiologist 10 years prior for the exact same surgery (which caused me to almost die in post-op). I remember the second anesthesiologist consulted with me to find out what happened in the surgery prior and reassured me that I would not have the same experience. I was put under in 2018. The procedure with the second anesthesiologist was a much better procedure than the time before because I had one of the best anesthesiologist in the hospital. I felt like I was on a cloud floating before I went under. It felt really good and I did not asphyxiate in post-op due to negligent intubation when I came to – like the surgery prior.
I researched Euthanasia to learn that in most cases two drugs are provided but in Junebug’s case there were three drugs. One of the drugs causes a disconnect between the brain and the body to alleviate pain before the actual euthanasia. I watched the euthanasia on camera and thought of Junebug feeling as if he were floating on clouds with the pain subsiding before euthanization saying to himself “oh I feel so much better”. This is what provided me with that final feeling of peace that I was so desperately seeking. I needed to wash the indelible memory planted in my brain of Junebug suffering on that final day – away.
THE LESSON FOR ME IN ALL OF THIS
I don’t blame Claire and Raina because they had enough love in their hearts to take Junebug out of an animal shelter. Although they were not equipped with the tools to understand that pet ownership is not just providing a physical roof and food for the primary purpose of killing mice. Responsible pet ownership is a combination of providing love that involves emotional support with petting, rubbing, playtimes and socialization with other humans as well as other pets (without basement isolation). A roof over a pet’s head is just not enough and definitely not a basement. Unfortunately many pet owners work jobs and leave their pets home all day thinking that because the pet has a roof over it’s head, this is enough. I was once guilty of that. What happened in the prior home was not intentional abuse but was negligent none-the-less. Both Claire and Raina loved Junebug the best way they knew how with the limited educational resources that they had available to them on responsible pet ownership at the time. They explained to me “we are giving Junebug to you because we know how you are with animals and we know that Junebug will get the best care with lots of love” and I appreciated that sentiment.
As a family member watched me grieve she said to me “Shunda you are suppose to learn a lesson from all of this”. The lesson that I believe that I was suppose to learn was simply this:
Junebug was better than this world, thus he was brought here for a very brief time to be utilized as a little angel to teach a very specific lesson on the importance of responsible pet ownership. I always knew that Junebug was special from the moment that I first laid eyes on him. There was a higher spirit that spoke to me and said “go get him immediately” because although the damage had been done to his poor little lungs after over more than a years worth of nighttime (and sometimes daytime) basement living, “what you can do Shunda in these last two and a half months that he was here on this earth is to give him a better life, a good life”. A higher power knew that I would be home every single day due to the COVID pandemic so in his last two months and two weeks, Junebug was told I love you almost daily while receiving playtimes, music therapy, cat socialization, human socialization, massages, kisses, treats, a pet gate and so much more.
This lesson also made me remember a story that my psychology professor a Romanian woman who came to the US to get her PhD in Psychology once shared with the class. A story on mass infant death in a Romanian orphanage due to thousands of babies being denied both human contact and human touch. I remember thinking when she shared that story that human touch and socialization for all animals (as well as fresh air) are essential to preserve life. Let us not forget that humans are nothing more than sophisticated animals with higher intellect. For anyone out there whose listening: please, please, please do not bring pets home for the primary purpose to kill mice. Pets need more than just a roof and food.
I WILL LEAVE YOU WITH THIS
Junebug had the best life before he left this world and was able to float on clouds and be at peace subsequent to his untimely demise. Junebug had three families that wanted and loved him. Thank you for making my life and Gi Gi’s life better for the two and a half months that you were here. Thank you for bringing smiles to everyone that met you. We love you, and although to some, you were just a cat, for those whose lives you touched, you will forever remain in our hearts and in our minds. Gi Gi and I will miss you. Rest easy my sweet baby.
Shunda Wallace is a musician, composer/orchestrator, filmmaker, music psychotherapist and author. Visit Shunda on shundawallace.com (on any device) or shundawallace.com (on computer or laptop).