Growing up, we never had pets. My mother was allergic to anything with fur, so we had no pets of the four-legged kind. We had fish, but as you cannot safely remove a fish from the water to play with it, fish don’t really count as a pet.
When I was in college, my parents moved to the country. Their nearest neighbors were half a mile up the road. One day, on a visit, the neighbor’s little girl came out with two young cats by the scruffs of their necks and said “You wanna cat?” I took the black one, who was named Cedric. Over the course of the next day, I discovered that I’m allergic to anything with fur, and Cedric decided that my mother was his person instead of me. Knowing cats as I do now, I am not now, nor was I then, upset by this apparent defection. Cats pick their people, and that’s all there is to it.
It’s one of the things I like about cats…they’re not wishy-washy. They know their minds. They know who they like, who they don’t, and what’s worth their interest. I think my life would be better lived if I had that kind of discernment and steadfastness of mind.
The next cat I had, I got as a kitten from a co-worker. He was a black little fur-ball with a white key on his chest, and I named him Sebastian. After Sebastian Cabot, the English actor who was the voice of Bagheera, the panther, in the Disney version of The Jungle Book. He was great kitty, but got lonely in the house by himself. If you know cat behavior, or dog behavior for that matter, a lonely cat is a bored cat, and a bored cat becomes a destructive cat. So Sebastian needed a friend.
I took week of vacation during my first job to take care of my mother after she had knee surgery. My reward was a kitten from her vet, who ran a home for orphans and wayward mothers. He was a little tan and black tabby with peach colored fur on his belly. Sebastian took to him right away. The only option for his name was, of course, Cabot.
It turned out that Cabot was a Maine Coon cat. He grew to be a whopping 18 pounds, stood almost a foot off the ground and his tail was as long and fluffy as his body was. He played fetch. He warbled instead of meowed. He was a sucker for anyone who called him a handsome kitty. This meant he had a lot of friends, because he was a very handsome boy, and my friends and guests told him he was handsome all the time.
We moved to Houston when Cabot was a year old. I let Sebastian out of the apartment one evening, and he never came home. I was disconsolate for quite some time, because I could picture in my mind all kinds of bad things happening to a black cat around Halloween. Or that he was trying to get to our old house in Texarkana, and couldn’t find it, and was lost, confused and hungry in that huge city. I had a dream about two weeks after he left, that I was walking through a neighborhood nearby. I was just on a walk, without purpose. But then, in a yard in the distance, was a black kitty with a white key on its chest. I hollered out for Sebastian, and the kitty came running. I picked him up, crying and hugging him, petting his head and loving on him, with him purring and butting his head against my hand. Then a little girl came out of the house and called a different name. Sebastian crawled out of my arms and ran off to the little girl, who picked him up and took him inside the house.
I don’t know if Sebastian really found a new home, but I did feel like it was an answer to prayer. I felt like I could quit worrying about him, that he was being taken care of by people who loved him.
Cabot ended up living with my parents for a while. My father thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and Cabot dug Daddy too. Whenever I went to visit, Cabot would hang out with me for a little bit, but he always ended up on Daddy’s lap while he watched TV.
After my father passed away, and I was living where I could have a pet, I took Cabot back to live with me. So he wouldn’t be lonely, I got him a friend – Willow. More about Willow in a little bit. I remember a time I had been on a road trip and had just come home, when my mother called to tell me that Cedric, who by this time was an old boy, had diabetes, and she couldn’t manage it or him any more, and the kindest thing was to gently put him down. Because he’d been my cat first, and he had been in the family for a very long time, she wanted me to be able to come home and visit him before she took him to the vet. I was pulling out my suitcase to pack it for the weekend, as Cabot came be-bopping into the room. He saw the suitcase, stopped in his tracks, and let out a stream of warbles that I’d have to censor if I could translate from Cat-Talk into English. However, I know very definitely that somewhere in the harangue he said “What?! You’re going somewhere again?! You just got home!”
Cabot was also an escape artist. I watched him figure out that he could jump onto my rocking chair, use it like a spring board and leverage a barely open window into one that he could get under. He then proceeded to pry open the screen, and without knocking the screen out of the window, jump out to explore the flower beds outside the window.
Cabot developed cancer when he was 12. The vet wasn’t very hopeful, and fortunately didn’t try to sell me extreme measures that only would’ve caused Cabot pain and bankrupted my finances. He told me that when Cabot no longer was interested in food, that was the time to end his suffering. He did give us some medicine that might make a difference, and for a while, it did. Cabot, who had lost interest in almost everything, perked up for a bit, playing with the sheets as I changed the bed linens, played catch, etc.
We had a routine at night. I’d get into bed and grab my book. Cabot would hop onto me, knock the wind out of me with his 18 pounds, and we would have a Cabot-Annie mutual admiration society meeting, with me petting his silky head and him kneading. The night we came back from the vet with the cancer diagnosis, I said, “Bubba, you’re going to have to tell me when it’s time, because I can’t make that decision on my own.”
About a six weeks later, following our usual routine, Cabot jumped on me. But this time, he didn’t knock the wind out of me, because he’d lost so much weight. I could hardly feel his kneading me, and the look on his face broke my heart. Very plainly, it said “please make this stop.” So, I called the vet the next day, and that evening, flanked by my best friends, I took my boy to the vet to cross the Rainbow Bridge.
Knowing you’re doing the right thing, doesn’t help the feelings of betrayal and loss. He’d lost half his body weight. He was in pain, and it was the kindest thing to do. But I still felt like I had betrayed my best friend.
Willow kitty, is another black cat. I couldn’t figure out what to call her for the longest time. One night, I was on the phone with a friend, talking about an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. I said, “I can’t believe Willow did that.” And out from under the desk came little no-name kitten, meowing in question. I told my friend to hold on, said the name Willow again, and the kitty came gamboling to me. And thus, no-name kitty became Willow.
When she was six months old, she got very sick – so sick, the vet gave me his cell phone number. We ended up having to give her subcutaneous fluids to bring her fever down. But my sweet, know-no-stranger kitty became, if still a sweetie, a touch-me-not, scared of her shadow kitty. She’s special, and she’s been my favorite, even when Cabot was alive.
Willow kitty is now 12 years old herself. She’s spent the past week under some piece of furniture. Thursday morning, she was weak, and not very happy that I had found her hidey-hole. Thursday night she came and spent time with me in my room, and was getting around pretty good. I got up for a moment, and she crept back to whatever hiding place she has now. I wasn’t able to find her Friday or Saturday morning. Saturday evening she crept out, wailing, and stumbled into my room. Her legs wouldn’t hold her up, she missed the litter box, and then passed out in the doorway. I couldn’t get her to eat, but she did take some water. I held her, sat on the floor with her and petted her head, and then put her next to me on the floor. Sunday, she stayed on my bed. I put her on the floor last night, and somewhere during the night she slunk off. I haven’t been able to find her in the house. Brian’s boys are here for the weekend, and I’m sure that the noise of two pre-teen boys is too much for her.
She’s an awesome girl, has been the apple of my eye for almost 13 years. I don’t want this to be the end. I don’t want this to happen while I’m not in a position this week to take her to the vet and ease her out of her pain. I’m not ready for my Willow girl to go.