At various stages in your life, you'll be betrayed. It happens to all of us.

Friends let you down. Relationships fall apart. They stop making your favorite Pop-Tart flavor. Life isn't always fair and loyalties don't always lie where we hoped they would.

Maybe that's one of the reasons we love our pets so much.

You don't get the kind of loyalty a pet brings from human beings. Their dependency on you and their happiness at your very presence is a love of truly a different breed than any other.

I remember my first pet.

Her name was Zima, after the popular clear, malt beverage that was all the rage at the time I brought her home.

A friend of mine had her, and for whatever reason, I can't remember, had to get rid of her when she was just a kitten.

We never had pets when I was growing up. One of my nicknames was "Marlin Perkins" because I was obsessed with animals - another was "Hoover" because apparently, at one point, I refused to eat at the table and would instead, sit underneath the table and only eat things that fell to the floor, because, you know, that's normal.

Anyway, I somehow brought this cat home. I don't know how I pulled it off, but she was ours.

And it was stressed to me she would be my responsibility.

To make a long story short, everyone in the family fell in love with Zima.

She was a great cat and lived a long life as part of the Wasakoski family. In fact, she stayed when I went off to college and eventually moved out on my own.

In 2000, my roommate and I - my best friend since I was about four years old - went to the Ruth Steinert SPCA when we decided we wanted a kitten.

We eyed up the kitten cage, but they all seemed really skittish. None of them stuck out as a keeper at all.

The woman working then referred us to a room where they had younger cats that were out of the kitten category.

The room was lined with cages and they all were perfectly suitable felines, but one stuck out to me.

He was all black with one white whisker, so he caught my eye because I thought that was kind of cool and unique.

The woman asked if we'd like to see him and we agreed.

As I took him in my arms, he crawled right up onto my shoulder and gave me a little smooch on the cheek.

Well, that did it.

I was sold. We were sold. This little boy was coming home with us.

We decided to name him Salem, I believe, at the suggestion of my friend's older sister. Salem Dwilekoski is what his name reads on his charts.

Salem ended up being very playful and loving to his owners. His favorite spot was to be on one of our laps as he'd purr himself to sleep.

My roommate would eventually move out, and we kind of shared custody of him for a while until I decided, when she adopted a puppy, he would probably be happiest in the home he grew up in since he wasn't too thrilled about sharing space with other animals.

As years went by, he stuck with me through a move to Baltimore and, eventually, back to Shamokin where we live now.

He reluctantly shares his home with a cat I rescued from the mean streets of the Fifth Ward that goes by the name Luxie Lou. She is a lot younger than him, with a lot more energy and tends to harass him a bit, but I believe she has been good for him. She keeps him young and even gets in a few kisses on top of his head when his guard is down.

Salem has always remained loyal and his loyalty is unique in that he really only ever liked my roommate and I. All other people and animals were greeting with hisses instead of kisses.

He has been a bit of a problem child in his older years and would, in recent times, manage to get into any kind of table food he could get his paws on, but what are you going to do? Animals, just like people, can get insubordinate and curmudgeonly in their old age.

But now Salem is sick.

He's really sick.

And it's breaking my heart.

At one point, he weighed 22 pounds. Now, he is down to 6 pounds - he's lost about 3 pounds in the last week.

He eats every day, but he's just not absorbing anything. He has absolutely no mass to him whatsoever. He won't even lay down, he just kind of crouches and buries his head in the blanket. His balance is off. He wobbles and falls over. He's in rough shape to say the least.

I took him to the vet Wednesday, and they basically reiterated what I already knew - that he's sick. Really sick. He's got a major medical issue that we could pinpoint by doing a bunch of tests, but all that will do is tell us what wrong. Hope for reversing it is slim to none.

I don't know what's wrong with him and I don't know what to do and my heart is breaking into tinier and tinier pieces as I watch him deteriorate.

Our sports writer, Chuck Souders, shared his tale of the loss of his dog, Girlie, a while back and I must have read that story five times and cried harder and harder each time. His description of Girlie's last moments tore me up because although I never went through the loss of a pet, as an animal lover, I know it's really a beautiful bond.

Now I'm faced with a similar scenario.

So, what do I do?

Do I let nature take its course or do I take the liberty to decide, instead of watching him waste away to nothing, that he may be suffering and it's time to put him down?

I know he must be weak, but when I scratch his head and under his chin, he still purrs, so I know, even if it's just for a moment, he's happy.

He's not absorbing nutrients, but he still wobbles his way to the food dish every morning and squeaks out a weakened "meow" at the anticipation of his breakfast.

He's also really affectionate lately and would like nothing more than to sit on a warm lap as he tries to maintain his balance and adjusts his weakened frame.

At one point, when I was sleeping last night, I woke up and he, as tiny as he's gotten, was sleeping on my arm with his head nuzzled on my shoulder. It was almost like a full-circle moment. I recalled him crawling up on that very shoulder to give me the smooch that won my heart that day at the shelter.

He doesn't want to leave my side. I guess he finds comfort in being close to me.

So, I'm torn and I'm sad.

I was never faced with this. Is it even my call? How should I have the right to decide when any living being's time is up?

He looks pitiful, but is he suffering? Would I be doing him a favor, or is he clinging to me because he doesn't want to let go?

I don't want to let go.

People may say, "It's only a cat." Other people dislike cats, but, after 13 years, that cat has been there and has always greeted me at the door with a friendly, "meow." Now, a lot of that may have to do with the fact that he's hungry, but still. Loyalty is hard to find these days and that little guy has a very special place in my heart from the day we met and especially after all these years.

I hate this.

I hate that I can't do anything to help him. I fear coming home and finding him already gone, but can I really bring myself to end it for him?

There would be a familiar emptiness and I will grieve the loss as I have when I've lost other loved ones, be it by death or circumstance. It's a pain I've always had a hard time dealing with - letting go.

Right now, I'm just going to take the time to think about it and monitor him and his decline. If it gets to the point where he stops eating, I guess it may make the decision a bit easier.

I can't imagine petting his little head, looking into those big, green eyes and saying goodbye to my little pal forever, but his time is limited and at least I can say I gave him the best life I knew how to give.

So, if you can, keep him in your thoughts, and if you have a pet, give them an extra scratch on the chin to let them know how much you love them and appreciate how loyal they have been.

When we sign up at pet owners, it's inevitable we'll face the day where our furry friend is there no longer, but giving them a good, happy home and the love they bring to our lives makes it all worth it.

(Jenna Wasakoski, a News-Item editor, is a graduate of Von Lee School of Aesthetics and is certified as a professional makeup artist.)