Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Sentimental Essay About Cats

The love of animals is a joy which transcends generations and distances.
Leanne, commenting on my last post, mentioned her fondness for our Willis, a cat she will never meet.
I have noted that most of my favorite blog writers also love cats.  We get to know these creatures through photos and through the way we humans describe the adventures and the personalities of our feline friends.
{And yes, there are dogs and horses--I've known a few memorable ones, but it has always been cats who are my special love.}
I become a "fan" of these faraway felines, and I am saddened when a friend posts the news of a beloved pet's death or disappearance.
Losing a pet is not in the category of losing a family member or friend to illness or tragedy, but it has its own particular and honorable place.
I used to feel that I shouldn't share my grief when one of my cats dies---there are those who would say, "Its only a cat--you can get another!"
There are those who would not understand the place that a special cat claims in our hearts and
in our daily routines. 
Loving animals and sharing our space with them is a blessing known to an 'inner circle" of like-minded folks--who need no explanation about the joys and sorrows of loving pets.

In a lifetime of making a home with cats I have noticed that often it is the naughty and imaginative ones who call forth our deepest affections.
I have cats that you don't hear much about--because they don't do very much--they are background cats, placid, perhaps not terribly bright, who are content to eat, curl up in a favorite place to sleep away the day, occasionally seeking me out for a brief cuddle.
The truly unforgettable cats are those that follow me from room to room, sit on my desk as I type, push aside my book  ["see me! see me!"] when I want to read, squash up against me at night, natter away at me while I cook or clean or sew.  These are the cats who knock my pens off the table, nibble my plants, wake me up in the morning and escort me to the kitchen.
These are the cats who have always known and snuggled close when I am tired or ill, or simply in need of a lapful of  furry warmth and the soothing sound of affectionate purrs.

My Oscar, pictured here, was one of those special cats.
He was one of a large litter born in a shed at the home of J.'s niece.
I adopted Raisin, the noisy, needy runt of the litter and brought her home--where she immediately attached herself to J.
Several weeks later Oscar was presented to us. He decided to be "my cat."
Oscar was twice as large as his litter-sister--a cheerfully noisy affectionate creature who greeted me each morning by landing exuberantly and heavily on my back, chest or face the moment my eyelids fluttered.
He 'talked' a great deal,; he wound about my feet frequently tripping me.
He hovered when I sewed, rearranging quilt blocks as fast as I laid them out on the guest room bed.  He plucked pieces of fabric from my sewing basket, made off with carefully cut squares and triangles, returned moments later to unreel spools of thread or topple the ironing board.

He would postion himself in front of the auto-waterer which sat on the tiled kitchen floor, smack the plastic reservoir gently. Another smack--not gentle-- and a bit of water would slosh onto the floor.
Great surprise--and a jump backward, then he moved  in for a hearty swipe, letting loose a flood which caused him to shake his paws in disgust.  Alerted to the spill I would speak to him sternly [as sternly as one can while laughing!]
His look of astonished innocence never varied--"Did I do that?"

Oscar and Raisin were inseparable.  She often stalked him, hiding, her skinny tail twitching, before the sudden rush to bowl him over and  the sound of sleek wiry bodies thumping about on the floor.
Gentle giant that he was, he allowed her to thrash the stuffings out of him.

Oscar was barely 8, a cat in the prime of life, when we noticed a lump on his hip.
It was a malignant tumor and inoperable.
"Take him home and love him," said our sensible and compassionate vet. "You'll know when it's time to bring him back."
He was still my funny affectionate Oscar.  For a few weeks he could still play with his sister Raisin.
As the tumor bulged, his gait slowed and changed. He could no longer fold his leg close, but must lie with it awkwardly stretched out.  I placed a step-stool at the foot of the bed so that he wouldn't have to jump.  He clambered up to lie beside me at night, whiskers tickling my face, while his sleek body thrummed with his mighty purr.
He gave up climbing the staircase.  Raisin, puzzled, tried to entice him to games of hide and seek--darting up the stairs, pausing at the landing to look back at him.
As he spent more time resting she kept him company in the basket in a sunny window.
I watched each day as he slowed, noted how many times he stopped to rest when moving from one room to another, still devoted to being where I was.
He was thinner, his beautiful coat less glossy, but his big blue eyes were still bright.  He had a way of opening them wide and tossing his head whenever he saw me, uttering a funny chirping meow.
However light my step, he noticed and greeted me, but he no longer hurried to twine about my feet.
The day came when I knew that his weariness must be acknowledged.
I held him, tears falling onto his head.  He purred, gave his little chirp.
I phoned the vet, placed Oscar gently in the cat carrier.
In the truck I unlatched the carrier door and Oscar crawled into my lap.
 I talked to him softly as I drove, told him what a lovely and beloved boy he was.
He purred and chirped the entire 30 miles to the veterinary clinic.
He was still purring when Bill the Vet applied his stethescope.
"Stop purring, cat," said Bill, "I'm trying to hear your heart!"
He lay on his good side on the table while Bill gently prodded the swollen hip.
"You've been able to keep him longer than I would have thought possible when I took the x-rays two months ago.  There's fluid building up now, the tumor is putting pressure not just on the hip joint but the surrounding nerves as well."  
His voice and eyes were kind.  "It's time now to let him go. Do you want to wait in the other room?"
I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak.
My hands stroked the length of smooth fur, I passed a finger along the jaw, up around the brown velvet ears.
The rumbling purr filled the small space as Bill prepared the syringe and moved quietly back to the table.
"Hold him still," he said. 'It will be quick."
The needle slid into the vein, Oscar's purr stopped, and I felt the life beneath my hands depart.

Oscar left us in the winter of 2006.  His sister Raisin, is 13 years old this September.
She is still bossy, demanding, a creature with an uncanny "knowing" about her.
She was never quite as exuberant after Oscar's death.  We noted how she looked for him, searching upstairs and down for her playmate, calling plaintively.
J. indulges her finicky appetite, listens attentively when she tells him loudly of her woes.
I call her "old lady cat"--and sometimes scold her gently.
She has always had a "delicate stomach."
I clean up after her, corner her and poke the necessary gob of hairball paste down her gullet.
"Raisin is having a bad day," I announce, as I clean up the 3rd or 4th deposit of urpped food.
J. looks at her with loving denial, "No," he says, "She'll be fine. She just ate too fast."

When the time inevitably comes to part with one of these loved companions, I sometimes wonder, in my sorrowing mode, why I let myself in for this grief over and over again.
I groan at the cost of cat food, cat litter, vet visits.  I clump up and down the basement stairs morning and everning cleaning litter boxes.  I rescue my papers and my fabric and my plants
from invasive claws and teeth.
I give up wearing the black pants and skirts which don't camoflauge cat hair. I chase down floating fur wads with the vacuum cleaner,  tuck an old blanket or towel over the best chair and pretend I don't notice the claw marks on the back of the leather sofa!
And at the end of each day I am escorted to bed by a parade of cats, marching down the hall, tails waving; I wake to the cajolery of morning purrs and blandishments that are all about that anticipated spoonful of tinned food!
Not least, I am part of that inner circle of those who love cats--who paint their portraits, photograph them, talk about them and write about their whimsies and their endearing uniqueness.;  I'm one with you who know a home without the company of cats would be a lonely, too quiet place.

Raisin and Oscar during his last weeks.


  1. Very touching MM.

    If only the little blighters gave less than they took it would sometimes be easier when we need let them go. But, in spite of what some think about cats, they give such a lot in a miriad different ways.

    Most of us cat people will have taken similar sad journeys with sick cats, agonised over the right time, trying to distinguish between the right time for us and the right time for them until we find the right time for both. It's a hard thing to describe and you've done it well, just as it's sometimes hard to describe the little things that make each one unique and individual.

    I was brought up with dogs and didn't get a cat until I lived on my own in my twenties. I quickly appreciated the difference and have had a cat around almost always since. It's hard to let them go but it would be harder I feel to be without them.

    Unfortunately grief is the price we pay for love and memory can be {as I suspect it was here} bittersweet.

    As you know I often write about my cat - or more accurately 'our' cat which sometimes deigns to spend time with me - and her odd, comforting, amusing and sometimes frustrating ways and I too understand the comments about scratched furniture, cat hair and cat litter on the floor.

    Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.......

    or more likely - just like you - couldn't!

  2. I wish I wasn't so emotional - satt here unashamedly weeping at your post. How you must miss Oscar - and what a beautiful boy he was. Why is it that our dearest cats are the ones who have to go ahead of us too soon?

  3. Your post is so succinct that I have nothing to add except to say that I agree with every single word..

  4. Sharon- a lovely piece of writing- even if it did make me cry. I too have known those awful final days, when you know its right but your heart is breaking.Its so hard to say goodbye. and yet the prospect of not having any cats around is unthinkable, and so we have more, even with the knowledge that more painful days will come.

    I was nodding as I read this, for just about everything you wrote applies to me and my cats too. (and i think you probably know that!)I think- and i have thought about this- There are people who like cats, and there are those of us who are cat people, and there is a huge difference.

    and yes, Willis is wonderful!

    Leanne x

  5. Loved your heart wrenching post, even through tears.
    I know too, the heart breaking issue of letting go, even when our beloved pets are dying, and grief is part of the love/hate/disgust we sometimes feel when pets are bad/onery/loving/busy/throwing up/ripping up the furniture, carpet/ etc.
    I have always loved animals, but especially cats. I've had dogs, cats and a whole bunch of others, but cats are my shining stars, and yes, I too, grumble about food, litter, messes, but its in the stars about owning animals, and it doesn't matter which kind they are, like us, they make messes of all kinds.
    Take care

  6. This touches me too. I am a dog owner but I know too well the terrible responsibilty of making the ultimate decision for them.
    The reason I started keeping dogs was having lost 3 cats over 2 years, I couldnt bear to have another.
    This was very well written and describes your unique relationship with these 2 lovely animals perfectly.

  7. This was an extremely well-written tribute or memorium. I think knowing when to let go is a heart-breaking decision even when we know it is the best thing for our little friends. I am writing a history of the cats of Lakeview Point where I live and am finding it more difficult than I thought. But I want to have a remembrance, something to return to, in years to come. Your piece has helped me in how I will write my cat history.
    Thank you in letting us get to know Oscar.

  8. What a moving account ...I have held all my cats that I have had to let go on their final journey and you captured every emotion that we cat people put ourselves through ...tears were shed as I read this post. xx

  9. Our cats live deep in our hearts whether here with us or long gone. You have captured this so beautifully with your words, as I read, like the others, accompanied by tears. Thank you for all your great writing, whether cats, gardening, country life, it's all a blessing to us.

  10. I too have shed tears at your description of beautiful Oscar, and the pain of helping him to leave life at the end.

    Home, for me, would not be home without my cats.

  11. Oh, I'm so sorry. Dogs are my first love but I have had a few memorable cats over the years. I remember the profound sadness when we had to take Alex, our 15 year old golden retriever, to the vet for the last time. And I remember crying when I had to dig the hole myself to bury my pumpkin cat Biscuit because Jim had just had surgery on a broken leg. Pets do wind themselves firmly into our hearts and lives...