In Praise of FelinesI’m a cat person. With few exceptions, I have been enchanted by every cat I’ve ever met. For this month’s Faves page at the Wet Noodle Posse web site my fellow Noodlers share stories about their favorite pets. When I saw the call for postings I was stumped. How could I ever choose a favorite?
The first cat who owned me as an adult (I was in college at the time) was a black and white American shorthair named Shasta (after the soft drink). She was the epitome of cat, elegant and aloof, and she ruled our home with an iron paw. She liked to wake me up in the middle of the night so that I could sit with her while she ate. She would sit on my lap for hours, but if I so much as twitched an eyebrow, she left in a huff. If ever a house needed a pet door, it was ours, because Shasta loved to go outdoors just as much as she liked to be inside. Every evening we would jump up and down like jacks-in-the-box, letting her in and out. My parents called her Miss Come and Go. Shasta had a soft side, though. When I took a trip to Scotland she took up residence on my bed, making a nest out of my forgotten robe and meowing at everyone who would listen. When I came home she wouldn’t let me out of her sight for a week. When she passed away at the age of thirteen I felt as though I’d lost a child.
I swore I’d never have another cat after that, but it was only a month or so later that a co-worker’s cat had kittens. When I went to see them (believe me, it was against my better judgment) I met Thunder. Thunder was a tiny female tortoise-shell who was the busiest little bug I’d ever seen. She was nosey, noisy and as far as I could tell, never slept. She used to run around my apartment, vocalizing “vroom, vroom.” My friend Lucy said she was going to buy Thunder a little leather jacket and have “Hell’s Kitten” embroidered on the back. I have a hundred Thunder stories, but time and space are limited here, so I will tell you the most important thing about her. She was a fighter and she taught me to be a fighter, too.
When Thunder was eleven and a half years old she was diagnosed with diabetes. The vet suggested we try to regulate her blood sugar with diet, but after a month or so we realized that wasn’t going to work and she started on daily insulin shots. I taught her to jump up on the end of the kitchen table for her injection, and never once did she balk or refuse. There was no joy in the task for either of us, but she seemed to know it was necessary. But since there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for a scratch behind the ears, we got along fine.
Thunder’s sugar crashed one Monday afternoon in the spring of 2003, and I rushed her to the vet, sure I’d lost her for good. Our vet, a saint if there ever was one, managed to pull her little fanny out of the fire and saved her life. I knew our time was limited, though, and I took care of her as best I could. That July, when I went to New York for the RWA conference (that was my Golden Heart year and I couldn’t bear to miss it) she and Max, who’d joined our family about a year and a half after I got Thunder, had not one, but two pet sitters.
By October, as I watched her grow more thin and frail, as she stopped eating and drinking, I knew it was time to let her go. I took her to the vet, who once again pumped her up with fluids and medicines to increase her appetite and gave us the gift of a week in which to say goodbye. The morning of her death I left her nested on my bed, bright eyed and chirpy. I would never have left her if I’d known the scratch behind the ears I gave her would be our last. Maybe she knew that, and put on an act for my benefit. Maybe not, but nevertheless, she was gone by the time I got home from work that day.
I buried Thunder in the little woods behind my house. I can see her grave from my kitchen door. One week to the day after her death I got “the call” from Silhouette, and as I listened to my editor make her offer and rave about how she loved my book, I stood by the door, thinking “We did it, little bug. We did it.” I dedicated “Daddy in Waiting” to her, since she spent almost as much time in my study, keeping me company, as I spent there writing it.
I think Max missed Thunder as much as I did, but in a way, her passing allowed him to step out from under her shadow. He always waited patiently for Thunder to have her injection before he got his breakfast. He allowed Thunder to go downstairs first each morning. Thunder was always first in line for pets, but Max was always willing to wait his turn. He is the epitome of the gentlemanly cat, very handsome, but not arrogant about it at all. He had a stroke a week after Thunder’s infamous sugar crash, but because of the brilliance of our WonderVet, he survived. Now it’s his turn to take medicine every morning, and mostly, he’s good about it. It’s as if he, like Thunder, knows how important it is. He’s surprised me by turning into a regular snuggle-bunny, but that’s fine, too. I like the little taps he gives me on the arm when he needs his ears scratched or a kiss on the head. Every morning he lays on the pillow by my head and stares at me until I wake.
As he grows older (at seventeen and a half, he’s been labeled “in pretty good shape for a senior citizen” by the vet) I wonder what our future will be. Knowing nothing good last forever doesn’t help me accept the inevitable. Of course I say I’ll never have another cat, because certainly there isn’t another cat on earth like him. Or Shasta. Or Thunder.
But, of course, when you’re a cat person, anything is possible.