Monday, November 18, 2013
She walked into our hearts almost eleven years ago. We adopted her from an MSPCA shelter on a Sunday which would have been my grandmother’s 102nd birthday. She died this past Saturday night, on my mother’s 90th birthday.
I had told Chuck I didn’t want to adopt any more pets. My heart had been broken too many times. I didn’t want any more pain. But as the months went by, Chuck reminded me of all that I loved about living with four legged creatures. I finally agreed, but I said we had to adopt a pair who were already bonded to one another and needed a forever home. At some level I think I expected that to be a big hurdle. I was wrong. Chuck called the MSPCA and soon we were in the car driving to Springfield, Massachusetts.
The shelter was bustling that day; lots of cats in cages and lots of humans looking back at them. Chuck and I walked up and down the aisles. As soon as we finished looking I walked back to where three cats were housed together in a bottom cage. I squatted down; focused on the two cats in the right hand corner. They were butt to butt facing out. I had the sense they had decided to present a united, defensive front to all these human strangers roaming around. Chuck asked me about another pair we had seen in another cage on the other side of the room. I told him he was welcome to go look at them again, but I was staying right there because I was done. Chuck looked around a little bit more. When he returned to me I said he needed to go get one of the staff members because I wasn’t going to risk leaving.
The staff member came over and soon we had the chance to visit with both cats in a little glass room. As Chuck and I got acquainted with the cats, the shelter manager told us about their background. Five animals had been surrendered to the shelter because of a divorce. One cat had to be put down. The one dog had already been adopted. The three cats in that cage were the only ones still looking for homes. The third cat was not well bonded to these two. These two were inseparable. More visiting ensued. As people walked by the glass walls they looked inside and mouthed the questions: “Are you adopting them? Both of them?” Over and over we said “Yes.”
As the time ticked by I became more convinced that my instincts about these cats had been correct. The 5 1/2 year old white cat with the black and brown markings looked very much like our cat Amanda who had lived to be 20. The 6 1/2 year old black and gold cat looked very much like our cat Willow, a stray who adopted us but died very young of Feline Leukemia. The manager left us alone to visit some more. When she returned she told us that the medical staff was worried about their health. They were afraid both cats were developing respiratory infections. It would be best if they were adopted very soon. Were we ready to adopt them both?
The next couple of weeks were a blur. The newly renamed Cassandra and Abigail were in fact very ill. There were lots of trips to our vet, lots of tests, some medications. They lost their appetites. I remember trying to tempt them with sardines; counting the number of little bits of kibble that they would each eat. Because of the respiratory problems, our vet advised us to use steam. I bundled the cats into the bathroom with me. I filled the bathtub with hot water. I brought in a humidifier and turned it to maximum. I stretched out on a pad we used under our sleeping bags when camping and the three of us just breathed. When I saw the paint was beginning to peel from the ceiling because of all the steam, I didn’t much care.
For nearly eleven years Cassandra and Abigail have loved us, let us love them, entertained us, worried us, annoyed the heck out of us and comforted us. They have been our companions; our family.
I can’t write about the end yet. It’s too raw, too painful. I can say that, as we have had to do before, we had to make the decision to euthanize Cassandra because of irreversible illness, at the age of 16. I can say that we were with her when she died. There were no words left unspoken to her. On the ride to the hospital we talked to her about all the things that made her special: how vocal she was; how sweet; how she was ever so photogenic and so willing to be posed for pictures we called her our “Gumby” cat; how we knew that she shared an extra close bond with Chuck. We told her we loved her over and over.
This is the pain I didn’t want. This is the pain I agreed to when I mouthed the word “Yes.” back to all the other humans looking for cats that day eleven years ago. I made the right decision then and I made the right decision Saturday night. But this is the pain I didn’t want. This is the pain I accept in trade for those eleven years with Cassie.