You know things are getting sad and desperate when you start writing about your cat.
For all you cat haters out there, I apologize. Bear with me.
First let me just say that I am a dog person, through and through. I have always hated cats since I was a kid. Well, I wanted to like cats, they just never liked me. As a young, spasmodic child, I would try to pick them up, hold them, squeeze them, and kiss their cute furry faces.
Turns out cats hate that, and now I have the scars to prove it. True story.
Then one day, 15 years ago, I adopted two, young, plain, black and brown tabbies from the local shelter, because I married a man who is an avowed dog hater. They ended up being the sweetest cats I have ever known, who let me pick them up, hold them, squeeze them, and kiss their cute, furry little faces without giving me any scars in return.
They are still alive. Both of them.
Some days I say this with exasperation. Some days, I am ashamed to admit, I find myself singing the line from Morrissey’s “Margaret on The Guillotine”…When will you die? under my breath.
They are old now. And Olive, the one to whom I’ve always been partial, is blind. They have sensitive digestive systems, and we have struggled to find the right food for them. These gives them diarrhea. The others make them throw up. We have decided that cat throw up is much easier to clean up than cat diarrhea, especially when our visually impaired Olive sometimes fails to find the litter box…
Living with a special needs pet is…interesting. When we discovered that she was indeed losing her eyesight, evidenced by her bumping into furniture and using our closets as a place to relieve herself (apparently our stinky shoes reminded her of her litter box), we were faced with the question that many pet owners ask themselves at some point: Do we put her to sleep? She is my favorite cat in the world, so I keep talking myself out of it. We have learned to work around her, and she around us. We have to keep our closets closed at all times, which can prove challenging in a house full of forgetful children (and adults). We have lived in our current home for over 10 years, so she is very familiar with the layout of our house. She knows where her food and water are and can make it to her litter box seven times out of ten.
It is safe to say that nowadays she really doesn’t have a whole lot to offer us. She spends most of the day hiding under beds and avoiding us. She is scared most of the time, unless we are quiet and sitting down. She comes out from time to time, to get a drink or a bite to eat, and then she immediately goes back into one of the bedrooms and returns to her hiding spot.
As a pet, she is pretty much useless.
But she hasn’t always been this way. She used to be the friendliest cat you’d ever meet. She had a sweet, amiable personality, greeting every visitor that came to our house and chat with them. She was, and still can be, a very talkative kitty. She even has a cry that sounds a lot like “Mama.” In her younger days, she used to get into fights with other neighborhood cats, defending our yard as cats do, but she was never the aggressor. My sister-in-law, who is a vet, said you could tell this by where she would get bitten by the other cat. Her telltale wound was always in her backside, meaning she was never the instigator, but the defender of our land, and received the bite as she was running away.
One of my favorite things about her is that if you are sad and crying, she will come and find you, sit in front of you and meow, almost as if she is asking what’s wrong. She does this with me and the kids even still.
She has always had her favorite people. Of course, I am one of them. My sister, Sharla, lived with us for a time, and she and Olive became fast friends. Every night before bed, Olive would sashay into Sharla’s room and announce her presence with “Mama” and hop up onto her bed. She slept with Sharla every night while she lived with us. Then when Sharla moved, she came and slept with Ren and I. Then when we had kids, she would sleep with one of them. She would always pick her “person” and devote herself to them for a time. For a while it was Josephine, but then we had to bar her from going upstairs (too many closets). Now, when the house is quiet, and everyone has settled down, she announces her arrival in my son’s room with a chirp and hops up onto his bed. She sleeps with him every night.
About 9 years ago, she was bitten by a snake. It almost killed her. We spent almost a thousand dollars at the vet to bring her back from near death, and thankfully we succeeded. But after that she was never the same. Her friendly demeanor turned into something more like paranoia. She turned on her sister and can’t even walk near her without hissing. We stopped taking her to the vet, because she would get so stressed out and hiss at everyone for days afterwards. Thankfully, we have a wonderful vet in the family and she makes house calls for Olive’s yearly checkups and vaccinations.
With a special needs pet, you can’t just live your life accordingly and expect them to get with the program. You have to adjust your life around them.
The sad thing is that if you didn’t know Olive when she was younger, you truly wouldn’t know what a great cat she was. That she still is. Many well-meaning loved ones advise us to put her out of her misery, but we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to do it. We love her too much, and remember who she really is, without all the fear. The kids were too little to truly remember what a wonderful pet she used to be, and how many years of love, loyalty, and devotion that she showed to us. Now all anyone who doesn’t know her sees is a cat who hides all the time because she is terribly frightened. Of everything. Of every noise. Because she can’t see clearly. Because she has been wounded, and almost died from that wound. Every sound, every motion is a potential threat to her. She doesn’t know the difference. We see a cat who makes messes on the floor, because she truly can’t help herself. She has special needs. And she is doing her best.
She’s easy target to laugh at, pick on, and make jokes about.
All she has is us to remind her that we aren’t going to give up on her. All she has is for us to show her patience, loving-kindness, long-suffering. All she has is us to pet her and show her grace, to calm her fears, and even get her to start purring again.
So, I will hold on to her a little bit longer. I don’t want to give up on her just yet. I feel like if I were in her place, completely dependent upon others for my care and survival, that I wouldn’t want them giving up on me either. Maybe I am naive and too idealistic. She’s just a cat, you might say. Maybe practicality will win in the end. But until then, I’ll stick it out with her.
I guess my point is that we really aren’t that much different from cats.