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Published April 08, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Cat mourns owner

Dear Dr. Fox: I’d like to share a story about the close relationships between cats and their masters. My late mother’s cat, Dakota, whom I now own, is 16 years old.

By: Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I’d like to share a story about the close relationships between cats and their masters. My late mother’s cat, Dakota, whom I now own, is 16 years old.

My mom was ill for three years with cancer and would go to the hospital frequently for chemotherapy treatments. For the two weeks before she died at 85, she was a hospital inpatient.

One morning, Dakota ran ahead of me to my mother’s bedroom and jumped on the bed. She stared at me intently with a questioning look on her face. I said, “I’m sorry, Dakota, Mommy won’t be coming home today.” This happened several times.

When my mother died in the hospital, I brought her clothes home and placed them on her bed. Dakota immediately jumped on the bed and began smelling the clothes. Then, to my amazement, she began to cry. This was not the “I don’t want to go to the vet” wail – it was soft whimpering and crying.

The next day, I was away from the apartment for quite a while, busy with funeral arrangements, etc. When I returned, Dakota smacked me on the wrist and then cried again. This time, her face reminded me of an ancient Greek tragedy mask.

A friend suggested that I give Dakota something that belonged to my mother. I gave her my mom’s bathrobe. She slept on it for naps and nighttime for a month. Then I removed it, which I think helped both of us with the healing process.

I now have Dakota, and we have bonded in ways that surprise many people. – V.L.P., Silver Spring, Md.

Dear V.L.P.: Thanks for sharing your experiences with your cat, Dakota, and the death of a family member. Your letter reflects both your cat’s sensitivity and awareness, as well as your own. Perhaps the close companionship of fellow creatures, when our hearts and minds are open to them, can elevate us to a greater sensitivity and understanding of the nature of love, putting an end to the cruelties we inflict on what one philosopher called the children of a greater god.

Dear Dr. Fox: Our 12-year-old son is pleading for us to buy him a pet iguana and a hedgehog. He has recently become interested in animals, and we think this is good for his education. Since visiting a big pet store and seeing these animals, he fell in love with the two he wants.

I worry about proper care and wonder what you might advise. – D.W., Arlington, Va.

Dear D.W.: In my professional opinion as a veterinarian, conservationist and animal-rights advocate, both state and federal governments should outlaw the trade of importing and captive breeding of exotic, nondomesticated species. Many are harvested from the wild, including tropical fish. Others are smuggled, and many die in transit. Those that are captive-born generally do not adapt to the domestic environment, become easily stressed, require considerable expertise to be properly cared for, and can have diseases transmissible to humans and other animals.

Children can learn much and develop empathy caring for conventional cage pets, such as hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs. Your son is at a good age to start volunteering at the local animal shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center where he can help clean enclosures and wash out food bowls, learning the basics of animal care. I did the same at his age.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at