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Troutdale, OR 97060

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ISBN 0-939165-37-6
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Endorsement from the DWAA Judge who chose Three Cats, Two Dogs, One Journey for the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award:

In the true spirit of human-animal bonding, this little book takes us through the emotional upheaval of a couple losing their entire animal family at once, with flashbacks of happier times, and finally, their struggle toward healing through a renewed commitment to those animals most likely to be left behind.

This book about three cats, and two dogs and their loving humans gripped me tighter than anything I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s beautifully written and brings to life the deep bond forged by such a tragedy.

--Sue Jeffries, Judge for Merial Human-Animal Bond Award 2000, DWAA

The loss of a beloved pet is always hard to bear, but when the death is unforseen or accidental, the grief can be searing. Three Cats, Two Dogs is an honest, highly readable narrative of one man’s attempt to put the pieces back together in the aftermath of tragedy. This book is a cry for understanding in a culture that too frequently dismisses the anguish of parting with our animal companions.

--Gary Kowalski, Author, Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet

Everyone who has loved an animal has also experienced the pain of loss. But few have known the trauma of losing an entire family of pets in a single, tragic, disaster. David Congalton does more than share his grief. He celebrates their lives, and mourns their passing. For anyone who still harbors unshed tears for small lives lost, this is a cathartic read.

--Sarah Christie Columnist, Dog Fancy Magazine


Three Cats, Two Dogs: One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss

Merial Human-Animal Bond Award,
Best Book for 2000

All material copyrighted 2000 by David Congalton and NewSage Press


My wife Charlotte and I liked to tell our friends, “We always spell love with a T in our house.” There were five special reasons why: Topper, Triptych, Tripper, Trio, and Tess. Three cats. Two dogs. One big happy family. Then we came home from a holiday party on December 14, 1997 to find the inside of our house engulfed in smoke and flames. All five pets were dead.

Just like that. Not one was spared.

Instead, every pet lover’s worst nightmare, multiplied by five, suddenly, dramatically, unfolded before our eyes. And in the weeks and months to come, we would have to learn to face grief head-on and move forward.

More than three months after the fire, the crying bouts continued. I’m 44 years old, reasonably intelligent, and somewhat responsible. Yet, I have sobbed uncontrollably, almost daily. One minute I would seem fine; then suddenly, unexpectedly, I would start bawling like a baby. I cried more in the first three months after they died than in my entire life. Part of me felt shame, embarrassment, for not being able to stop the tear parade, for not being able to control myself. I wondered if it would ever go away.

The night of the Academy Awards in March 1998, I was supposed to meet Charlotte at an Oscar-watching party hosted by two of our closest friends. I dutifully showered and dressed to go out for the evening. I was looking forward to being with everyone, but I never got close to the front door. My mood suddenly shifted; I felt completely helpless.

Thinking of our beloved pets flared up ugly flashbacks to the fire-one painful memory leading to another, a complete emotional chain reaction. The teary meltdown began before Billy Crystal cracked his first joke. Overcome with grief, unable to move, I suddenly just wanted to be alone. More memories. More tears. There was no way I was going out to any party, friends or no friends. About ten minutes later, I managed to compose myself long enough to call Charlotte. She was in her car on the way to the party.

"I can’t make it,” I blurted through the tears. “I just can’t."

"What’s wrong, David?” my wife’s voice crackled on the cell phone. “Is everything OK?"

Long pause as I struggled. “I can’t leave tonight,” I stammered. “I need to stay here."

Charlotte, who had battled through a few crying spells herself, understood immediately. We had been married for almost nine years, but never had been closer than during those first three months after the tragedy. We took turns being the strong one.

"I’m coming home,” Charlotte announced. Statement, not a request. I didn’t argue. After hanging up, I buried my face in my hands and slumped down in the hallway. Sitting there, crumpled up, I didn’t understand what was happening. I wasn’t sure anyone could.

There were certainly those who claimed to understand, those “I-know-exactly-how-you feel” folks. They don’t. Then there are those who should, but couldn’t-or wouldn’t. Certainly not members of my own family. Some relatives never even bothered to bring the subject up during a visit barely two months after the pets died. My editor at the newspaper constantly urged me to find something else to write about. “Enough is enough, Dave,” he argued. Even our close friends appeared to assume that everything was OK with Charlotte and me, that we had gotten on with our lives somehow.

No one really understood. But how could they? I wasn’t even sure that I did. Three months after the fire and I still had enough tears to sink the Titanic.

So Charlotte rushed home and we huddled quietly in front of the television, blocking out the rest of the world, half-watching the awards ceremony, trying hard not to think of anything, or anyone. Later that night, when things had stabilized somewhat and my wife drifted quietly off to sleep, I sat alone, again replaying the events of the past three months in my mind.

Enough, I finally decided. I can’t go on like this. No more nights like tonight.

So I forced myself into our converted office and plopped down in front of the computer; the words seemed to write themselves. I cannot explain this sudden call, but it is a familiar ritual. I write a twice-weekly column for the local Knight Ridder newspaper in San Luis Obispo, California. During the last five years, I’ve often turned this computer into a public confessional to share much of what is happening in my marriage and my personal life--our five animal companions were certainly an important centerpiece to both.

That night in March was another harsh reminder that my heart remains shattered in a million tiny pieces; that I am far from the happy and smiling man I so pretend to be publicly. I decided to put what was left of that heart on paper. At the time, I didn’t know where my words would lead. Nor did I know if they would make any difference about the emptiness I felt. So I began. Words and thoughts about five very special animals. And sudden loss. And grief. And ignorance. And love, especially love.

As I wrote the story of my journey through this unbelievable loss, I quickly realized that this was also a celebration of having animals in our lives. There was never any hesitation for Charlotte or me to open our lives to animals. Topper, Triptych, Tripper, Trio, and Tess were always an important inspiration for my writing. Some of my favorite pet-oriented newspaper columns will be sprinkled along the way, little markers to underscore the extent of our great joy, and profound loss.

I do all this for me, and for Charlotte. But most of all, I do it to celebrate and remember them--Topper, Triptych, Tripper, Trio, and Tess. Three cats. Two dogs. Five reasons why the tears still refuse to go away.

David Congalton

David Congalton survived every pet lover’s worst nightmare--the simultaneous death of his five animal companions due to a sudden house fire. This memoir is a refreshingly honest account of the heartache faced by Congalton. He describes his grief process, unabashed. His story begins with tragedy and ends with redemption-the formation of a new animal family. Congalton depicts anguish transformed into a commitment to abused and abandoned animals. Three Cats, Two Dogs is a down-to-earth read that offers tremendous solace and practical suggestions for coping with grief. Anyone who has an animal companion, and fears the day when he or she may die, will find this story inspirational and hopeful.

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Copyright © 1998