Remembering Juno

Six years ago, I finally relented, giving into the pleas of my daughters (and my husband), and agreed to adopt a pet. I never had a dog or cat, rabbit or hamster growing up, the result of my mother’s allergies, so I had been hesitant. However, after an hour or two at the humane society one rainy Saturday that spring, we settled on Juno, a three-year old male rescue cat with a heartshaped nose and a sweet but mischievous disposition. We adored him from the start. Why had it taken me so long to say yes?

Juno quickly became everyone’s favorite, thriving on attention as he lay on the kitchen floor when we prepared dinner, chased his shadow down the hallway, mingled with guests at our Christmas parties, or followed a repairman around the basement. He even sat with us on the couch during the pandemic as we watched Mass each Sunday. And my daughters smothered him with unconditional love, despite an occasional accident on the rug or swipe at their legs. Even for those, like my mother, who weren’t “cat people,” it was impossible not to love Juno.

His sweet but mischievous disposition began to change this summer though, as he became less playful and more lethargic. Happy purrs were replaced by weak meows. Concerned, we brought him to the vet who gave us devastating news: cancer. There was little that could be done, so we took Juno home. Though a shell of his previously energetic self, he persevered, still sitting near us as he bore his suffering quietly. We prayed that the medication added to his food each day would cure him. It didn’t. Patrick found him one morning early this fall, curled on his beanbag chair, motionless. Our lives never seemed so empty.

During times of sadness, as Catholics, we find comfort in prayer, and this time was no different. In memory of Juno, we prayed to St. Francis who loved all creatures. We remembered Noah who cared for the safety of animals. Above all, we thanked God for bringing Juno into our lives, enriching us with his companionship, and entrusting him to our care. That brought us comfort, along with the stories we told of Juno’s happy times and the sympathy we received from those who also loved him.

Soon after his death, I walked by the beanbag chair, now empty, the imprint of his little body still embedded. The girls could not bear to move it. Six years ago, I thought that grieving the loss of a pet would be short-lived, even trivial. Through Juno’s presence, I now understand the power of loving and mourning an animal. As part of our family, he showed us the importance of being playful, displaying compassion, enduring illness, and respecting life, even in death.

When friends ask if we’ll get another cat, our answer is usually the vague “at some point,” knowing this emptiness, though waning, needs to be filled. But the other day, Patrick said his coworker’s cat had just given birth. “Kittens?” Elizabeth asked, eyes wide. “They have kittens?”

Though nothing could ever replace Juno, I don’t think that beanbag chair will be empty for long.