A Farewell to Slinky, Our Beloved Cat Who Was Named by Tablet Readers
Judaism teaches us to be kind to animals. We teach that lesson to our kids by caring for our pets and mourning their loss as a family.
Loss is horrible. Loss sucks. Loss is not ennobling. Compared to the loss of a child, the loss of a pet is small potatoes. But it’s horrible.
Judaism has always understood the fragility of life, human and otherwise. Our religion explicitly talks about the need to treat our animals as we would human beings. We’re commanded to feed our pets before we feed ourselves. Most rabbis say we’re allowed to violate Shabbat to rescue an animal in pain. Kindness to animals is named as a prime virtue in the Torah: When Rebecca volunteered to bring water for Abraham’s camels, Abraham knew she’d be a good wife for his son Isaac. And Midrash Shmot Rabbah says that God chose Moses to lead the people after watching him care for animals. “Once a kid ran away, and Moses pursued it until it came to a tree where there chanced to be a pool of water. The kid stood there to drink, and when Moses overtook it he said, ‘I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty. You must also be tired.’ So, he set it upon his shoulder and carried it back. The Holy One said, ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of my flock, Israel.’ ”
Today, we’re not supposed to alter our pets for our own purposes. No docking dogs’ ears and tails, no declawing cats. The Torah even prohibits spaying animals (it’s in Leviticus, if you want to check, so the next time someone starts trotting out biblical proclamations about homosexuality, feel free to ask them if they spay their pets). (Yes, I spay my pets. And I love the gays. And I think Torah is a product of its time. Go on, send me hate mail; I just lost my cat.)
The responsibility of caring for our creatures has made my kids more grown-up, less selfish. Seeing Jonathan and me grieve has shown them that we’re people who love and suffer. Letting them mourn Slinky in their own way has shown them there’s no wrong way to experience death. It’s miserable. Even if you’re only grieving a little golden-eyed, long-tailed, mischievous fluffball who never got the chance to be a grown-up cat.
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