real lj idol | week 13, home game | 1862 words
Worthy of a name
I first met our cat, Tigger, while out for a lunchtime walk with a coworker. We were a mile from the office, down at the quiet end of a busy four-lane road. Tigger was living next to an open field, and came down out of her tree to greet us. The nearest house or apartment building was more than two miles away. Clearly, her former owner had dumped her there.
Years ago, my husband and I had come across an abandoned cat in Tilden Park, in Berkeley. We were visiting cat-free relatives for the weekend, and could not take the cat with us. As soon as it realized that, it plunked its rump down and howled in misery. The guilt we felt over that never left us, so the little cat near my office was destined to come live with us.
She probably had some misgivings when I lured her into our cat carrier and put her in the car, but I sang to her during the half-hour's drive home and hoped that helped.
Our existing cat wasn't terribly put out that we'd brought an intruder home. Thor was a very polite animal, and he trained Tigger well: if you want something, sit next to it and wait. Don't agitate or yowl, and in general, never speak. Thor had a voice embarrassingly like a robin's ("Weet!"), and Tigger had a meow like a rusty door-hinge, so it was all for the best. Those two became very good friends.
Where Thor liked to snooze under bushes (especially plumbago, which left sticky goobers all over his fur), Tigger liked high places. The top of the bumped-out window over the front bedroom or the trellis over the back deck were her favorite spots. Like many other brown tabby cats, Tigger had an overly long lemur-like tail. It hung down like a bell-pull from wherever she was hiding, which made it easy to find her.
She wasn't spayed when we brought her home, so we had that done. That was her first encounter with the Cone of Shame, followed about six months later by another round after having a lump removed from her shoulder. She had a few good years before the next incident, which came after repeated attacks from a mockingbird opened a wound at the base of her tail. The cone helped the skin heal, but the incident seemed to have left her with arthritis. She never liked having her tail bent down around that spot afterwards.
Both she and Thor loved sitting on laps, but Tigger was the only cat I've known who liked to sit across your lap instead of in it. This might have been because she wanted to touch all of her people at once. Whichever person's lap she was not on, she'd stretch out her head or a paw to reach them. She was shy with strangers, but loved her family immensely.
Like many cats, she was a sucker for a nice piece of string, but she liked stick-shaped things too—especially pencils. The first time I found one of her pencil-victims, I thought our son or daughter had been chewing on it. Then I realized that all the dents in the paint were impossibly small. Sometimes I'd be on the sofa paying bills or doing a crossword, and my pencil would disappear. I'd look over, and Tigger would have stolen it for herself. The kids tried to give her a special pencil, but they picked one of those hard, useless, decorated things. They didn't understand that the chewy, soft-cedar Ticonderogas were the only good kind (don't ask me how I know that. *koff*). Occasionally, I'd forget and try to pet Tigger with a pencil, which she immediately wanted to bite, bite, bite. You can't sneak a pencil past a cat—even I can smell them from about a foot away.
All of the cats I've had in adulthood were smiley cats. Not frowny cats, not even regular cats with straight mouths. These cats smiled, even when they were asleep, and if you made them happy they smiled even more. This picture of Tigger in her bed was taken partly to capture her little smile on camera:
We moved to a new house just before our second child was born. Tigger discovered the trellis over the patio benches, and Thor discovered a corner on the roof that caught the sun. Three years later, Thor died at age fifteen.
Tigger mourned the loss of her buddy right along with us. I felt especially bad that we'd promised the kids that our next cat would be a kitten, and we got one three weeks later—too soon for the grownups, too soon for her. Tigger was ten by then, and not in the mood to jumped on by a kitten. Later, that kitten grew to be the alpha cat and was often mean to her. It was five years before the two of them could be on the sofa (at opposite ends!) at the same time.
Tigger was never able to teach the new cat the manners Thor taught her, because the new cat did not care. Being half-Siamese, that cat is hard-wired to be both vocal and demanding—usually both at once. He is weird and highly amusing, but any sweetness comes in 30-60 second quantities before he's had all the affection he can tolerate. This actually worked out well over time: as Tigger got older, her primary goal was snuggling with her family. Having someone home sick was a bonanza—they'd be on the sofa all day with the fleece blanket, and she'd be right on top of them, rattling away.
You'll note that Tigger is right up in petting range, while our other cat (the Whale) is down on Christopher's feet—fully able to enjoy the blanket, but not in danger of being 'excessively loved.'
We lost Thor before we saw many of the signs of aging, but Tigger was with us much longer. A couple of years ago, she began having trouble hopping up onto the sofa, so we got her a footstool. It took a few days to teach her to use it (the first hurdle was her realizing it was not a barricade), but soon she got so used to it that she wouldn't try to get up without it. She played less and slept more, but was just as loving. Two and a half years ago, she developed a lump on her back and spent a lot of time biting the fur off around it. We had it removed, and when the Cone of Shame made her bizarrely paranoid that time around, we realized she was deaf. It was sad that she couldn't hear our loving voices anymore (and sometimes howled to see if anyone else was in the house), but she also lost all fear of the vacuum cleaner. The strangest thing was when you'd hear her crying in distress, and she'd be fast asleep having a nightmare. Her own voice didn't wake her up anymore.
Her loose stomach pouch got fuller, and we watched for signs of discomfort or distress. We'd lost Thor that way to cancer or FIV, so we gave her lots of love in case the end was around the corner. In the last six months, she'd started to pee in places other than the litterbox, so she was kept in the kitchen unless there was a 'babysitter' with her on the sofa—usually, our son Christopher. He spent a lot of time with her draped across his lap, or curled up in her cat bed next to him. The ever-expanding mat around the litter box was a chore, but she was worth it.
You might wonder why we didn't take her to the vet, and Thor's story explains it. We came back from vacation to discover that while Thor's stomach looked as chubby as ever, the rest of him was feather-light. We took him in to be checked because he'd stopped drinking, and instead the vet told us he'd have to be put to sleep—but we couldn't stay with him, because the doctor who did euthanizations didn't usually work on Saturdays and they had no idea when he'd come in. The whole situation felt like such a betrayal. Thor was terrified of the vet, and in his last day of life we took him to the scariest place on earth and couldn't even be with him when he died. Never again.
Tigger was eighteen, and going through a typical decline for an elderly cat. She drank more in the last ten months, and if you noticed her waiting by the water dish and filled it, she'd purr because you'd finally gotten a clue. It wasn't until we came back from a brief trip for Spring Break this year that things finally spiraled downward.
She wouldn't eat or drink much. She ate one meal of wet food and I gave her water with a dropper, but by the next day I was haunting her with the dropper and she still wouldn't eat. She was slowing down, and by the next morning could hardly move.
You always hope. Yes, she was old, but perhaps she was just dehydrated and would feel better with more fluids. We spent Easter Sunday plying her with liquid nourishment and water every hour, and kept her warm and cuddled. Around dinner time, we'd hoped she was reviving, but we were wrong. She died just a few hours afterward.
Everyone was devastated. Knowing that the end will come someday doesn't keep you from imagining that day still lies far in the future. It seems that the longer you have a beloved pet, the harder it is to let go. An hour later, I found my son lying on the sofa with his head on her towel-wrapped little body, sobbing over having lost his "baby-girl." He spent the night on that sofa with her next to him in her bed because he couldn't bear to leave her alone. He'd been so devoted to her, and she to him.
The story of a special cat or dog is hard to fathom from the outside, because it all seems to fit into a generic sense of what cats and dogs are. The sweetness and joy that is so much your part of a relationship with a pet is a closed circle. It has parallels everywhere else, but it hardly seems unique.
Tigger was an immensely sweet cat, as are many—as was Thor. What is important is that she was our cat.
We buried her in the backyard the next day, between an azalea bush and the fence in the exact spot where she so often napped in the shade. My husband wanted to say a prayer for her. His words were,
"Thank you for sending us this wonderful cat."
We can't know if she was the sweetest cat ever, though she seemed so to us. But no one could ever dispute the label my husband gave her. She was a wonderful cat.
We had seventeen-and-a-half lucky years with her, and wouldn't have traded a single day.