Monday, June 29, 2020

Handling the Loss of a Very Special Pet (and What it has to do with Writing)

Those of you following me on Facebook know what we had a particularly painful loss this past week. She was a very special feline in our lives named Serenity.

Let me tell you a little more about her and you'll understand why this was such a blow, and what the subject has to do with writing.

Serenity (top) and Sugar (at bottom)
from approximately 2010.
In 2004, Serenity and her litter mate sister Sugar, who we still have, were given to David as kittens by his Little Brother (as in Big Brothers/Little Brothers) so he wouldn't be lonely when he was deployed away from home.

And they certainly did their job well!

They'd be waiting for him by the door when he came home each night to what would have otherwise been an empty house. There antics kept him entertained and their companionship made his time away a lot more bearable. David was deployed for five years--all but six months of it at Ft. Bliss--and these two feline characters became his best buds.

Serenity (left) and Sugar (right)
Although both calicos from the same litter, the similarities of these two sisters ended there. Serenity was always a robust, healthy, happy individual. Sugar was smaller, thinner, less friendly and seemed to fall more into the "failing to thrive" category. She has very short, very fine hair and has never been able to grow whiskers. She's much more standoffish than Serenity, as well as many pounds lighter. We worried about Sugar's health for most of her 16 years...but never did we suspect it would be the boisterous and hardy Serenity that would leave us first.

When David drove home to the ranch for the weekend, he'd bring the two cats home with him. We used to joke that he was bringing them to visit their country estate. It was probably a good dress rehearsal for their later years, because when David retired from the military, the kitties came home to live at the ranch for good. That was the beginning of 2010.

Serenity with the "real" Maura, who
inspired StarDog #3 (about 2017)
Sugar continued to be standoffish, and as our pup population grew, she remained aloof. Serenity, on the other hand, always the cuddler, was more than happy to curl up on the couch or in a doggy bed with the "pack" all while purring loudly.

She was a wonderful companion to all the dogs--but especially to our puppy, who became her playmate in the last year. They'd run and chase each other for hours then curl up together and sleep.

Serenity just before going
to the vet last week.
A little over two weeks ago, we noted a sudden change in Serenity. She stopped coming to sleep at the foot of our bed at night, and was no longer playing with the puppy. After a few days, most of which she spent sleeping in one of our kitchen chairs, we decided we'd better take her to the vet for a checkup.

She ended up staying at the vet's overnight. And that stretched into a week. In spite of a battery of tests and treatments, she wasn't responding and continued to decline. We'd hoped to bring her back home, but it became apparent she was much too ill. We finally had a long chat with our vet, and though it was a heartbreaking realization, we knew it was her time.

Though 16 years is a pretty long life for a cat, we still wished she could have stayed with us for many more years. She is very missed, and not just by us. Our pup, Zoey, who just had a vet stay herself, is especially missing her, as is Sugar, who still calls for her.

And her loss hit us very, very  hard.

All of these emotions got me thinking about pets in fiction, especially since several books in my series were originally part of the Pets in Space anthologies and included special animal companions called StarDogs. The stories tend to follow these companions while in their youth, and while their character/owners are off on big adventures.

But what comes later? When writing a series that involves important animal characters, that's really something to consider.

Maura--the star of SpyDog and the
third StarDog in my series. StarDogs
are bioengineered -- part dog, part cat,
but also carry weasel and mongoose DNA.
As David and I talked through our loss of Serenity, we realized having these special fur babies is like having kids who you know will never live to see 20.

In the case of my fictional StarDogs it's more like 25, but the point is, someday the characters that love them are going to have to deal with the loss of their amazing little buddies.

Since I have (at least) one more StarDog story planned after Juggernaut--the upcoming story in Pets in Space 5--this is something I'll be facing with my fictional pets. That story is tentatively titled "The Last StarDog." Will it need to at least touch on the fate of the other four StarDogs that came before, as a continuation of the previous books?

That's a loaded question.

Many readers may not want to know about the StarDogs' eventual demise, but on the other hand, can their fate be ignored in a final wrap on the StarDog saga? Many played important roles in the overall arc of the series and in the lives of some of the main characters. How can I honor the memory of each of these smart, brave and resourceful sidekicks without the final edition becoming a depressing downer?

My experience this past week has shown me that I need to give a lot of thought to how I'll handle the wrap on these previous adventures...before I delve into that final StarDog chronicle in my series.

Have a good week.


  1. Sorry for your loss. I have lost several of my feathered friends over the years and it never gets any easier, though some are harder than others.

  2. Thanks, Pippa. We've lost so many over the years that you'd think it would get easier, but since each one is an individual with their own little personality traits and quirks, they do leave a hole in your life when they're gone. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the happiness they bring for the time they're here far outweighs the grief of their passing.

    Sorry about your chooks, too. I know how fond you are of your girls.

  3. So sorry for your loss - Having lost many furbabies myself, cats, horses and dogs, I understand what a huge hole they leave in one's life. I love the 'Pets In Space' series - as animal lovers I think writers have a tendency to include animals of some sort in their stories - and I'm no exception! I hope you will all be comforted by wonderful memories of Serenity and I know she will always live on in your hearts.

  4. I meant to get to this post much earlier, but life intruded. I know from recent experience how hard it can be to lose a beloved pet like this. Each animal we share our lives with has its own unique personality and enriches our own time here on Earth in its own way. Sixteen years seems like a long time for a cat, but it is such a short time in the life of a human--not nearly long enough when they leave us so suddenly. So sorry.


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