This was an email I started to write to some close friends, to let them know what happened. I decided I couldn’t send it. Although posting it here means sharing with strangers who cannot understand the heartache, it feels better than sharing with close friends who cannot understand.
No one can understand. How could you? I don’t.
My leave of absence at the sanctuary started March 7th. I have worked there for 5 years. For over 2 years my commitment had been that of a second full-time job. Between that and the physical labor involved, I needed a break.
I will not lie. I have enjoyed the freedom in time and responsibilities.
And I knew before I left that this day would come.
I went to the sanctuary on last Saturday for database work and received word that my tiger had not been well. He was an old circus tiger, retired on a contract they have with us to provide a home for when the cats no longer perform.
When I went to see him, it was afternoon. While I will admit he did not always come at my call (he was a cat, after all), it was mostly his late-rising temperament that precluded an early morning conversation as I did rounds. In the afternoons, he always could be counted on to show off for tours in his pool, or just check out whether I came to do training or even feed early.
He was in his den, breathing heavy. He would not move, although I know he saw me. He had been staring into space and when I called, he shifted and his eyes caught mine. After a brief stare, he closed them. I did the only thing I knew to do. I sang to him.
The new boy suggested I visit him during the week. I arranged to be out Wednesday after work. When I got there, GM and the VP of the sanctuary were attempting to coax him into an transport cage to go to the vet hospital in Gainesville.
While my heart a leapt to see him respond and actually come to me, I was immediately distraught by how slow and little he moved. Five feet and he wished to rest.
It was a grueling task to get him into the transport cage. He did not go willingly and was not pleased with my participation in the endeavors. Once we had him situated, I left briefly in hopes that even a small amount of time would lend some forgiveness and memory loss.
He chuffed at me on my return. It is a tiger’s way of saying hello. I’ve never had a chuff almost make me cry before.
We talked some, mostly my promises that he would not have to endure anything unnecessary.
Thursday, around 2 or so, he passed away under anesthesia. An inoperable tumor had been found above his heart that was causing fluid in his lungs. No action was taken to revive him. It was like he just went to sleep and never woke up.
I wrote this in hoping that I’d stop feeling numb. I’ve become pretty practical about death out there. After all, we pride ourselves on being the last resting stop. A good home for as long they live. Which means we see them all die.
But with all deaths before this, I was there. Whether I felt things could have been handled differently, more could have been done, or less should have been, I witnessed it, could learn from it, and go out the next day prepared to give the animals left a better life for it.
I abandoned him. He had two months left and I did not spend them with him. Don’t tell me that I couldn’t have known. I did know. I suppose I hoped that in knowing, in preparing for the worst, it wouldn’t happen.
I left because I felt used and broken. I felt as if everything I did was wrong, imperfect, and substandard because I simply could not carry the load I was carrying any longer.
I have not determined the weight of this load or how long I will carry it. I know that more than anything, I wanted to be a volunteer again last Friday. And I know I am not ready.