During the present COVID lockdown, we are all missing the old normal in our lives: going out for a meal or a movie, popping into specialty shops for those hard-to-find items, the joy of being in public places. I suspect most of us are having an even harder time being away from friends and family.

Lately, I’ve especially been missing my fur-family, the four-legged friends who used to keep me company even when illness or injury kept me from being around other people. During the years the kids were home, we had a variety of dogs and cats, as well as a few other kinds of pets, some we liked better than others. The more recent fur family we picked ourselves. One of my favorites was my friend, Pirate.

She came to us as a throw-away. Some ne’er-do-well had dumped her at a four-way stop in the countryside. One of my husband’s coworkers saw her there, jumping up on cars that stopped at that intersection, apparently looking for her family. A compassionate soul who loved animals, the coworker slept in a sleeping bag in the field, using dog biscuits to lure in the frightened, but starving, dog. Having rescued the poor creature, said coworker had to find a home for her, since she already had all the pets her landlord would allow.

We had recently lost Tazzie, a white dog with black spots. Roger thought his friend’s rescue dog might fill that place in our lives. We named her Pirate because of the black patch over one eye, which eventually faded as she grayed. The vet who spayed her for us when we took her in estimated her to be about two years old. She lived with us for another twelve years.

I was the one who rescued her from the vet’s office (which she clearly hated), so I became her rescuer. In fact, Roger often said that Pirate was not my dog; rather, I was Pirate’s person. I referred to her as my white shadow. If I walked across the room, she walked with me. If I sat in a chair, she lay at my feet. Any time I was at home, she was almost always within arm’s reach. When she suffered a fatal stroke, I was devastated.

But we still had furry company. For almost the entire time Pirate lived with us, and for a few years beyond, we had a brother-and-sister kitty tag team: Kola and Koi.

One day during the height of summer, when cat litters were everywhere and the local humane shelter was overwhelmed, we stopped in to look at kittens, thinking we might go home with one. A family had just surrendered a mother cat and her litter of six, all about seven weeks old.

When we took the handsome, butterscotch-tabby male from the cage, the little calico female jumped up and hung from the top of the cage, meowing like crazy. When we put him down and picked her up, she did the hang-and-meow trick. Then the shelter administrators offered two for the price of one, and we came home with a furry pair.

From the beginning, Kola preferred Roger while Koi claimed me. Our yellow-tabby male grew to be a twenty-pound fat cat while his sister weighed less than twelve pounds, yet she was unmistakably the boss. She even knew how to get her way with the humans. We had let cats sleep on the foot of the bed in the past, but had never allowed one in. Koi found her way inside the covers and often slept in the curve of my body or lying on my chest. During the day, she frequently slept with Pirate, curled up in the curve of her body.  Kola didn’t understand that; he thought Pirate was a dog.

When  13-year-old Koi began to fail, we all suffered. Pirate was gone by then, but Roger and I struggled with the sure knowledge that our pretty calico was not going to recover. When we knew the outcome was inevitable and it became clear she was suffering terribly, we had to let her go. That’s when Kola had his hard time, clearly mourning the lifelong friend who had been both his persecutor and best buddy.

Kola’s mourning didn’t last forever. Before long, he began to enjoy being the last pet standing. We had him for nearly three more years. When he too began to fail, we were at first hopeful. We and his vet had nursed him through a couple of rough times. Yet it soon became clear that he wasn’t going to get well, either, and we had to let him go, too.

Many of our pet-loving friends have asked why we haven’t adopted more furry friends. We are enjoying being true empty-nesters, able to pick up and go if we wish, not having to worry about who will feed and care for the stay-at-home pets.

Still, the empty nest is only part of the reason.  Both of us suffered enough from the loss of these three special friends that we haven’t yet had the heart to “replace” them. We may well do so one day, but we aren’t there yet. Pirate, Kola, and Koi are only memories now, but they are memories we still live with–and miss–every day.