I am wrought with emotion. It's taken me quite some time to sit down and write this memorial for my very special Cleo - the first resident of The Wildcat Sanctuary. Earlier this summer, she had her senior wellness exam. At 22, she appeared very healthy. I was even expecting a few more years with her.
But this month, her appetite began to decrease. She still came up for her favorite treats and I spent a lot of quiet moments with her. During one of our last visits, I saw she was breathing heavily, something that wasn't an issue the day before. Immediately, I knew in my heart this was it.
But I wasn't ready. I had a very hard and stressful day and I didn't feel I could honor Cleo the right way if I had to make the decision today. I made the choice to ask the vet to give her supportive care to ensure she was comfortable. We'd say good-bye the next day or two when I could come to terms with her leaving us. But as in the beginning days of the sanctuary, Cleo led and showed me I had to do what was right. While she was sedated for her exam and care, she made the choice for me that I was struggling with. Cleo's breathing became faint and her blood pressure dropped. She was telling me it was her time and it was okay to let go.
Letting her go when she needed was the true way of honoring her, not necessarily when I would be ready. She guided me now when I needed it most, just like she had the last 22 years. And even though I had to say good-bye, I still wasn't ready to let go. I shut myself down, compartmentalized, asked those closest to me not to talk about it and just kept myself busy.
I was in survival mode. Then her voice in my head said, "That isn't the way to honor me. Take the time you need. But when you're ready, think of me, grieve for a short time, but remember to feel the love you have for me." I waited several days before I finally knew I couldn't bury it anymore. I had to honor her. I took a long walk through farm fields. My walk took me a different way than I'd ever taken. I kept walking and walking until I had a view of the entire rolling fields.
In this quiet space, I sobbed. So much emotion. The hurt of saying good-bye and having to let go, the guilt of getting her as a kitten and her never being able to be free. I'm thankful that, her entire life, she only knew love and kindness, even though it was in a captive environment. I felt happiness that she's finally reunited with her partner, caracal Sampson. But most of all, I felt fearful. Fearful of the future, because losing Cleo, the first resident who called TWS home, is the end of an era.
It closes a chapter and now puts me on a journey that feels a little unfamiliar, especially without one of my strongest guides by my side. But then, as I looked out at the beautiful field, a peace also came over me. I was blessed to be Cleo's first caretaker. But she was blessed to have so many additional caretakers at the sanctuary, too. They provided her just as special a life as I did, making her so happy. They loved her just like I did. They noticed her health decline just like I did.
And I still have a lot of animals guiding and leading me every day. They provide new lessons. And new residents will continue to join us, each one special and magnificent in their own way. Change and transition can be hard. But it can also bring new growth.
No one will ever take Cleo's place, I know that. I also know each cat who comes to the sanctuary deserves the love Cleo experienced. And they will receive that love. Cleo, as I feel the breeze from the fields, the light from the sun, and the energy from the animals, I know you are still guiding me each and every day to always do what is best for each and every one of them.
I love you my dear friend. I was so lucky to have 22 amazing years with you as my teacher. Enjoy being reunited with silly boy Sampson. Enjoy many cuddle huddles together. Forever in my heart! I am thankful for each moment with you. Donations made in Cleo's honor will be matched and go towards the building of a much-needed, new animal hospital. Thank you for loving her, too.


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