Friday, June 21, 2013
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~Anatole France
My husband jokingly calls me the cat whisperer. It is true; it seems I have an affinity and unique bond with cats. I say it is because I was born in the Year of the Tiger. I understand them because I, too, am a cat.
When we first took Sweetie into our family, it was an adjustment for her. My husband and I disputed over it, but I wanted her to be indoor only from then on. She was used to the freedom of the outdoors, so she didn't like this change. I let her out on our apartment balcony as a compromise, but I wouldn't let her free roam outdoors anymore.
The first time I gave her a bath was quite the experience - for both of us. I've had my other cat, Shadow, since she was a kitten, and while she protests bath time, I can handle her so we both survive. Sweetie was dirty, scruffy looking and most likely never had a bath in her life. I put her in the water, and she howled like it was acid. I did my best to scrub and rinse her, but I had to hurry through it because she was getting angry. The job was done, but not unscathed. She gave me a very nasty scratch in protest. It was shocking to me mostly because of the violence in which she did it. Shadow might sometimes swipe, but it was usually just a warning shot. I got a good lesson that Sweetie, although sweet, had slightly feral attitude when angry. Which really was so infrequent, I can count how many times on one hand. She was honestly so naturally cheerful, we described her meowing more like a singing.
After I dried her off, she howled in misery. She promptly marched to the front door and demanded to be let out. She sat there as though saying, "This place is no fun anymore! Let me out of here!" I laughed and thought it was cute. She was like an undisciplined child. Her previous caretakers couldn't be bothered with her. No one loved her enough to torture her with bath time. I never did it regularly, but that first time was absolutely necessary. She was filthy.
I opened a can of tuna, which seemed to resolve the issue. She decided it was worth sticking around for after all. After her meal, she washed her face and groomed her freshly bathed self. All was forgiven.
When taking her to the vet for her first checkup, she wailed like a catbulance all the way over. The vet poked her with needles, ran tests, and said she was healthy except for intestinal parasites, most likely from her outdoor scavenging. She protested the medicine I gave her, and again sat by the door demanding to be set free. I bribed her back with catnip.
When we took her in, I promised I would love and take care of her. She wouldn't be passed around from person to person like a second hand T-shirt. She had a home and a family to look after her. During the times when she peed on the couch, I'd get angry. It made it tempting to get rid of her...but I could never do it. She'd purr and nuzzle into my hand, and I'd resolve to find a way to make it work. Once I put on my cat whisperer hat and figured out she felt cornered in the bathroom, I put a second litterbox in the living room. Not my favorite place for it out in the open, but it made her feel safe. Problem solved.
When we put Sweetie to sleep, the phrase that I repeated over and over was, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." I asked for her forgiveness as I felt that I had failed her.
I took her to the vet thinking I would get some medicine to make her better, then I never brought her home. It haunts me.
This morning I sat at her blanket by the window, sobbed, and said, "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me."
I imagined her laying there. She would have looked up at me with cheerful eyes and purred like a motor.
And then I realized, there was no need for forgiveness because she loved me. If she was laying there, she'd nuzzle and lick my hand.
I wasn't really asking for her forgiveness. I am asking to forgive myself.
For being the cat whisperer, I failed to read the signs of her declining health. In the past month, she stopped showing up at breakfast and dinner for her meals. I'd put her food in the bowl, and she didn't come running. I'd find her curled up in a ball in the bedroom. I'd pick her up and she'd purr as I dropped her in front of the food. She licked off the gravy and left most of it. That wasn't too unusual for her. She rarely cleaned out the bowl.
I can see now that there was something wrong, but she never complained like she was hurt when I picked her up. I thought maybe she liked the attention. I joked with my husband and said she was becoming a diva.
And I was utterly, totally wrong.
My husband consoles me and says it wasn't my fault. I didn't know something was wrong, and purposely did nothing.
I took her to the vet thinking she had a little tummy upset, and was blindsided that she was terminally ill.
If I had known something was wrong earlier, it would not have changed the outcome, but I would have had warning. I would have pampered her with attention and tried to make her final days more comfortable. But perhaps it would have been more stressful, too. I'd probably come home every day scared that she passed away without me.
The suddenness is traumatizing. I kept apologizing to her because I wanted to take her home, and I couldn't. And one of the saddest things for me is I couldn't even ease her comfortably as she passed on. I've had family and friends die of cancer, and it is always terrible to see. The injections to stop Sweetie's heart simply accelerated it so her suffering wasn't prolonged. This time, I couldn't make up to her with tuna or catnip.
But as I sat at her blanket, I knew she held no grudges.
Everywhere I walk in the house, I see her. I don't literally see her, of course, but I see the memory of her. I came home from class today, and I saw her sleeping on my side of bed where she usually was in the afternoon. Her ears perked up as she saw me come through the door. As I walked by her, I said, "I love you."
I know it's not my fault, but I am still in denial about whether I could have saved her. It's going to take some time for this crushing sadness in my heart to heal and for me to feel some catharsis.
Thank you, everyone, who has sent me kind words and goodies. I will respond to your messages soon.