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Whiskers of Wisdom: Insights from a Cat Lover Volunteering at an Animal Shelter Alejandra Gotóo

Whiskers of Wisdom: Insights from a Cat Lover Volunteering at an Animal Shelter

Written by  Alejandra Gotóo Nov 22, 2023

Over the past month, every Tuesday, I've dedicated my time to volunteering at the municipal animal shelter, where my role is to act as a human ambassador for the dogs and cats residing there. My task is simple: make the animals familiar with humans and show them other ways to be human. Prepare them for the moment of the adoption. Many of these animals have experienced direct mistreatment, abuse, and injuries, while some have been victims of negligence. Unfortunately, all these actions are part of humanity. Nevertheless, they are yet to encounter the love they deserve from humans. Humans are also capable of so much love and understanding. Obviously, I do not love them. I cannot love that fast.

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The relationship between animals and humans has evolved over centuries, and my endeavor aims to contribute positively to this shared history. I might not change the world by doing this. It might not even have a huge impact. I do it still. Willingly, knowing it is a Sysiphean task. While walking dogs these past weeks, I have been reflecting, here is a fragment of those thoughts:

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Animal companions and humans are used to one another. Our relationship goes back millenia. It is worth noting that the relationship has changed and continues to change. Perhaps before, not all families would mourn the death of a cat, although there are recorded incidents of such rituals. Nowadays, there is more awareness of the fact that the death of an animal companion deeply affects the human whose relationship was closer. When Kira passed away, I had the five well-known stages of grief, whose official name is the Kübler-Ross model. It was hard. It was ugly. I felt a little bit disconnected because most people did not understand that losing a cat with whom you have spent the last 14 years of your life is a major life event. I cannot state how it is to lose a human loved one, I could only assume as I was too young when grandma and grandpa died.

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I did not have the chance to meet them. Nevertheless, I do have experience with animal loss. I can affirm Kira was not the cutest, not the smartest, not the prettiest… and yet she was to me. I find it difficult to believe every single animal companion that dies is the cutest, smartest, and prettiest. Yet, that is so for the human whose life they shared. As Annemarie Mol, a contemporary Dutch philosopher, stated in her book The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice, diseases are different from the perspective of the patient and from the perspective of the physician, and then, depending on the medical specialty, the point of view differs even more. I extrapolate this concept to grief and love. There is no simple love or grief. These are multiple, intricate, and complex. One can feel lucky and miserable at the same time. I have had the best animal companion and learned about sincere love, and yet I have lost it all.

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There are some pet cemeteries around the world. Psi Los is the oldest and largest pet cemetery in Poland, where one can find gravestones, just as one would with humans. These include inscriptions that remark on the virtues of the dead; some include poems or focus on expressing the humans’ grief. Croatia also has a pet cemetery located at Lukovići. According to the Rijeka government, the exact date of its establishment is unknown. Still, there are some gravestones from the 1920s that serve as witnesses of its age. However, it is not a working cemetery but more a monument. There have not been animal burials since 2004, and the new laws indicate that animal companions must be cremated. Some rumors about it being reopened have been around since 2021, but so far, the cemetery remains a tribute to the human and animal relationships.

Whiskers of Wisdom Insights from a Cat Lover Volunteering at an Animal Shelter

Engaging with the animals at the shelter has allowed me to observe their unique personalities and quirks, fostering a sense of connection and understanding. The shifting dynamics in the relationship between humans and animals are apparent when considering the evolving attitudes towards the mourning and remembrance of deceased animal companions. Today, there's a heightened awareness of the emotional impact a kućni ljubimac's passing can have on their human companions. If you would like to read more about the rituals and practices surrounding animal death, I recommend the anthology Mourning Animals, edited by Margo DeMello.


Alejandra Gotóo (1991, Mexico City), who studied English Literature and recently graduated with a Masters of Social Anthropology is now writing about her time in Croatia as a columnist in Dubrovnik Times. Her work has been published in Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. She has two published novels, Ruptura and Isadore or Absolute Love. Her topics of interest include nature, adventure, language, books, food, culture, animals, conservation, and women's rights. She also writes in her blog: Cardinal Humours.

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