I hope I can be forgiven being a bit stressed these days. Our lives have been quite busy, what with medical emergencies, diagnoses, and trips to volcanoes, all in addition to the usual insanity. You would think that a life this full of … stuff really couldn’t accommodate any more drama.

And you would be wrong.

Last night, the wife took the boy to his last cub scout meeting of the year while I stayed home with the girl. As a part of my new life as a diabetic, I’ve been trying to get at least 20 minutes of some form of exercise every day, so I went for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Twice.

As I was walking, I noticed what looked like pieces of a dead cat by the roadway. I did not point them out to the daughter, since she is an animal lover. Although she can be clinical enough to want to dissect any dead critter she finds, she has a soft spot for cats and I wanted to avoid an unpleasant scene.

Unfortunately, as I finished my first lap, and while the girl was getting her bicycle, I spotted more pieces of the cat clear over on the other side of the neighborhood. When the girl returned on two wheels, I warned her that there were pieces of dead cat all over the neighborhood, so she would be prepared if she saw them. She didn’t believe me. She wanted me to point them out to her, but I refused. I told her that if she saw them, she saw them, but I wasn’t going to highlight them for her.

Well, she spotted the pieces near the road on her own, and figured out where the rest must be because it was the only part of the walk where she hadn’t been with me. As I was returning home, one of our neighbors pulled into her driveway and I walked over to say hello.

To make conversation, I said “Boy, there’s pieces of a dead cat strewn all over the neighborhood. It looks like it got hit by a car and then eaten by something.”

Her face went curiously blank. “That was my cat.” she said.

My stomach dropped away like a falling elevator. “Are you sure?”

Yes, she was sure. Her cat had been missing since Saturday, and they had found pieces of fur and a liver. She was trying to maintain her composure, but her eyes were moist and her lip trembled just a bit as we talked. I felt awful, so I offered to go around and pick up the pieces for her. To my surprise, my daughter jumped in and volunteered to do it. As she pedalled off, I told her to make sure she wore gloves.

My neighbor told me the cat had been 16 years old, had been acting confused lately, and had only just recently started going outside again. I saw my daughter coming out of our garage with a cardboard box and rubber gloves. She looked much more upset now than she had when she volunteered. I walked over to where she stood.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to do this?” I asked.

“I want you to do it!” she blurted out, on the edge of tears. “But I want to come with you.”

So we drove up to the entrance to our neighborhood and started picking up the pieces there. There were two legs and a tail there, along with several strips of fur. There was no blood, though. As I bagged up the pieces, another neighbor came by walking her dog. She mentioned that someone had seen a coyote running around, and that there were tufts of what looked like coyote fur nearby. Sure enough, the tufts of multicolored rough fur looked like coyote hair to me. It looked like the cat wasn’t hit by a car after all. We thanked her and drove to where the other pieces were.

This was much more grim, and included the head and front legs. Plus they were getting pretty ripe. But soon everything was bagged, and we returned to our neighbor’s house. She had said she wanted to see what we found, to try and confirm it was her missing cat, Jasmine. Although I opened the box for her, I didn’t open the plastic bag the pieces were in. I told her it was pretty unpleasant. She asked my daughter if it had looked like Jasmine, and the girl confirmed that it had. Now my neighbor and my daughter were both crying.

We told her it looked like she had been killed by coyotes. It wouldn’t be the first time a cat was torn to shreds by coyotes in our neighborhood, which I find amazing, as we are smack in the middle of the suburbs. Then I offered to dispose of the remains for her. She said she would appreciate it.

We returned home, and I started digging a hole in the gravelly hardpan behind our house. My daughter, who had kept a pretty brave face thus far, started to really come unglued. The tears came, more and more of them, and she started trying to make a marker for the grave. She started saying the kinds of things that all of us say when faced with death: “I only got to pet her once. She wouldn’t let me get near her. I hope she at least fought back. Why did it have to be a cat that I knew?”

Eventually, I emptied the bag of pieces into the hole, where they made a pathetic and gruesome and surprisingly small pile, and filled in the hole. My daughter kept trying to paint a rock to use as a marker, but was so upset that she kept messing up the lettering. By now she was crying freely and constantly. I urged her to wait and make the marker when she was calmer. It didn’t need to be done right away.

It was a rough evening for everyone. The girl was so upset that she ended up throwing up her dinner, and had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. My wife made some calls to animal control, letting them know what had happened, in hopes that someone could do something about the coyotes. The last time a cat had been slaughtered, they had been keenly interested, but mostly because they wanted to make sure it was coyotes and not sociopathic teenagers who had torn up the cat.

It’s hard to lose a pet, even when it’s not even your pet. They’re like little furry people. Not too bright, but capable of tremendous affection. Unfortunately, if you live with animals, you have to learn to say goodbye to them. It’s a harsh price to pay, but those of us with animal companions seem to be willing to pay it, again and again, in return for the joy our animal friends bring us.

I’m sorry my girl had to go through with such a macabre exercise, but I’m terribly proud of her for volunteering to do it, and for believing that it was a right and necessary thing to do. That’s the kind of thing that’s hard to teach. They either step up and take that responsibility on their own, or they don’t. I’m very glad my daughter recognized that it was our obligation as pet-owners, pet-lovers, and neighbors to do what we did, no matter how unpleasant it might have been.