Letting Go Of Lily

It happened just under a month ago, in the early hours of December 29th. Lily had been sick for the past few weeks, but was declining the past couple years. Age was taking its toll and there was nothing I could do.

I had taken her to the vet the week before to have her checked out. Her breathing just hadn’t been right lately. She was hanging her mouth open a lot, sleeping all day, and her appetite had pretty much fallen off altogether. The doctor didn’t think a whole lot of it. She’s just old, he said. Besides, her heart and lungs sounded good, her blood work showed no reasons for concern, and it could have just been a secondary infection related to a brief illness she had a month earlier. He recommended I give her some antibiotics and sent us on our way. I had been scared she was dying, so this made me feel a little better. It gave me some hope that the end wasn’t as close as I thought. But deep down I knew. The ones who love you always know.

I gave her the medication regularly for the next week but there was no improvement. She seemed to be getting worse. By Wednesday night I was scared. She would hang her mouth open, her breathing rapid, and cry out for me. I didn’t know what to do. I would pet her and try to figure it out. I’d bring her food and water. I’d carry her to the litter box. No matter what it was, she didn’t want it. But she did want to go outside. She would cry at the door, begging me to let her out. I didn’t want to do it. It was freezing out there. The wind was stinging. Ice clung to the stoop. It wasn’t where an elderly cat should be.  She didn’t care. She wanted me to open that door.

img_5348Finally, I relented. She walked outside, a little wobbly, and headed down the steps and up the driveway. I couldn’t believe she was doing that. She had lost so much weight over the previous couple years. Under nine pounds, she was barely more than skin and bones. But off she went into the cold, dark night. By the time I turned around to get my slippers on and follow her, she collapsed by the car. I think she had decided to die right then and there, but I wouldn’t let her. I scooped her up and carried her back inside, placing her back in her bed. She fell back to sleep, but it wouldn’t last long. I made the decision that I was going to bring her back to the vet to have her put to sleep. I’d do that the very next day. I never got the chance.

Just a couple hours later, after a fitful rest, she starting crying to me again. I picked her up and carried her to her litter box. She peed a little and crawled back toward her bed. I helped her the rest of the way. As I walked away I heard her moving around again. I doubled back to see where she went but couldn’t find her. I kept walking and, around the corner from the kitchen by a heat vent in the living room, she had collapsed and was laying on her side. I ran over next to her. She was struggling for breath, her body convulsing slightly. This was it. My Lily was dying. All I could do was be with her and try to comfort her. I pet her and stroked her ears. I told her it was okay, and that I loved her. The convulsions slowed until finally she moved no more.

I knew she was gone, but I just stayed there sitting and petting her. A few minutes later, the clock on the wall chimed to let me know it was 4am and that my life had just changed. For the past 18 years, hardly a day had gone by where I didn’t have Lily with me. Now, just like that, I’d never have her again.

I let her lay there a bit longer, both so the other cats could see, and because I was still shaken up. I was sad, yes, but also somewhat relieved. I knew that it had not been a great life for her lately. Though she was dead, I understood that her suffering was over. Ultimately, I wrapped her body in a couple of towels and brought her out into the shed. It was so hard to lock that shed door behind me. It felt like I was leaving her in a morgue. It felt so disrespectful. So final.

I knew that I didn’t want to bury her. The ground was frozen solid anyway, and I hated the idea of just leaving her under a couple feet of dirt. I couldn’t ever enjoy the backyard again knowing Lily was decomposing over by the fencepost. So, after a night of tears and intermittent dreams, a call was placed to the vet to make arrangements for cremation. A few days later, I picked her up in a small tin box. That’s what is left of my baby. That and the memories I keep.

Over the next couple weeks it got a little easier. If I talked about her, I’d try to focus on the fun stuff. If I dwelled on the sad stuff, or if my friends asked how I was holding up, I would cry, and I didn’t want that. So I’d focus on the happier times, and little by little the tears were less frequent. But then I came home from work one night, grabbed the mail, and saw a letter from the veterinarian’s office. It’s normal of them to send a sympathy card, so I pretty much knew what to expect. I opened it up, saw the card, and opened it. Inside the card was a decorative piece of cardboard, and there in the middle was Lily’s paw print in ink, taken just before the cremation. It instantly moved me to tears. I walked into my bedroom to change clothes and cried for 15 minutes. As simple as it was, I was touched. Once my vision was no longer blurry, I measured the paper. 5×7 inches. I went to Amazon and picked out a frame. It arrived a couple days later, and now the framed paw print sits on my living room mantle.

img_5940Lily was a unique cat. Very feisty and set in her ways from an early age. She was also, like me, very much a loner. She was never one to want to play with other cats. If they tried to play with her, she’d smack them upside the head and hiss. It’s nice to play back old memories occasionally, and it’s weird the stuff that comes to mind. How she would always run to my bedroom when she was in trouble because she knew I would protect her. How, if I was trying to get her to come inside from a night out, I would have to jingle a particular set of keys. From down the street she would come running all the way to door, then she would sniff the air, twitch her tail, and run off again. It used to piss me off so bad. I remember how high she could once jump. My brother and I would take turns swishing a feather duster above our heads. Lily would stare at it, measure the height, and spring up past our faces to grab that feather duster. And the wrestling matches we would have! Boy, did she love those. She would plop over on her side, I’d grab her belly, and she would latch herself onto my arm, nip at my hand, and kick away with her back legs. All the while her eyes would be looking wild and her ears would be laid back. But she never hurt me. Between the bites, she would lick my fingers, and she always kept her claws in. We could wrestle for five minutes at a time, but she would never leave a scratch. I could pick her up, flip her end over end, lay her back on my shoulder and walk around the house with her. As weird as it was, she loved it. Never once did she think I would hurt her, and of course I never did. She trusted me completely, and I loved her so much in return.

I’m shedding the first tears in a while as I write this, but it feels good in a way. I just miss her so much. That’s why I’ve titled this entry “Letting Go Of Lily.” The part about losing her was tough, but I got through that. 18 years is a good, long life. But the letting go part is hard. She’s on my mind and in my dreams often. I see her everywhere I go. There will never be another like Lily, but I’m glad she was mine.


My Cat is Eating All My Clothes

This is Morgan.  Morgan is just under two years old, and has been pure hell on wheels since I got her.  She stalks and harasses the other cats, jumping on them while they sleep.  Other times she hops on their backs when they attempt to Beastrun away, riding them through the house like they were her own personal pony.  She jumps up on countertops and knocks stuff down.  She literally runs up walls and tries to grab on to pictures or holiday decorations.  She even figured out how to open cupboards and began chewing open cans of food.  It got to be that everyday she would up her game, figuring out new ways to be destructive.  Morgan didn’t even seem a proper name for her, so I started occasionally calling her Beast.  She actually seemed to like it.  Thing is, I probably should have known that she might try to live up to the moniker.  Well, live up to it she has, because lately this Beast has begun to eat my clothes.  No, seriously.

It all started with shoelaces.  Normal enough, I thought.  She’s a cat.  Cats like to play with strings, right?  I couldn’t be surprised if I found a piece of my shoelace missing a time or two here and there.  I’d just start putting my shoes up and tucking the laces inside.  Problem solved.

Or so I thought, anyway.

Next I caught her chewing on my blanket a few times while I was laying in bed.  A little weird, but I was able to scare her off by yelling or clapping my hands.  No real harm done.  She just seemed to *enjoy* nibbling at it, I don’t know why.  But I couldn’t very well let her chew holes in it either.

That’s when things started getting bizarre.  I’d start to find holes in my pajama pants, for instance.  At first I’d attempt to rationalize it away.  They’re a few years old, maybe they’re just worn out.  It couldn’t be the cat.  Just couldn’t be.  Why in hell would a cat want to destroy my pants?  Besides, I wasn’t finding any of the missing pieces of cloth laying around anywhere, and Beast frequently likes leaving little trinkets (such as candy wrappers, balled up receipts, bottle caps) that she has found along her journeys out in the living room to play with later.  I even checked in her “lair,” which is what I began calling the area behind and underneath the sofa where she would hide out at times.  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.

But then I was getting dressed for work one day, and my brown shirt had a huge piece missing at the bottom.  There’s no way this could be explained away as normal wear and tear quite so easily.  Still, I had not seen any piece of the cloth laying around and, wait a minute, it’s not like I left the shirt laying around anywhere.  It had been hanging up in the closet for the past week.  If she had actually ripped it off with her teeth, she would have had to be standing on her hind legs to do it.  I knew she was a Beast, but would she really put that much effort into something like that?   few days later, I find out my favorite blue flannel has holes up and down the sleeves.  What in hell is going on here?  And where in hell is the cloth?  Could she really be eating it?

flannelNo, couldn’t be.  If she was really eating the missing cloth, she would be sick.  Refusing to eat.  Vomiting.  Something!  But no, this cat had all the energy in the world, and an appetite to match.  She wasn’t even lethargic.  Hell, she barely seemed to sleep.  It just didn’t make sense that she could be eating shoelaces, pajama pants, and my t-shirt, and not show some signs of distress.

I began to look online for answers.  It turns out that a number of people had cats who were doing similar things.  They wanted to know why.  Some suggested their pet had separation anxiety, or was just bored.  Others said the cats had the feline form of pica, where you crave and eat non-food items such as clay, dirt, or, I guess, shirts.

That’s when I found a piece of clothing in her stool outside the litter box.  Now I’m nervous, and kicking myself for not getting her to a vet sooner.  Why in hell did I wait?  Shouldn’t I have realized it didn’t make sense for all the missing material to have just disappeared?  The appointment was made to get her an x-ray and find out if she needed surgery to alleviate the obstruction in her bowels that I had now convinced myself she had.  This poor cat.  She is days from serious health problems, and here she is running and bouncing off the walls, terrorizing the other cats wherever they go.  She doesn’t even know the trouble she is.

The day of the vet appointment comes, and I even bring along my flannel shirt so they can see what we’re dealing with.  I’m just waiting to hear how much is in her belly, and how much it’s going to cost for her to have surgery.  They do an x-ray and it’s the strangest thing.  It’s totally clear.  She doesn’t have a scrap of t-shirt in her.  The vet says that, strange as it may sound, it’s likely that my clothes simply broke down in her belly, and she digested them like she would normal food.  So, does she have pica?  No.  Pica is extremely rare, and simply feasting on my clothes alone isn’t evidence of it.

So, what in the hell is it?  It turns out that it’s similar to something I wrote earlier.  She just enjoys chomping on clothes.  It soothes her, makes her feel better.  Nothing more or less than that.  She’s just a cat who needs to be kept occupied, and when I’m sleeping, away at work, or even just sitting quietly in the living room, she needs something to do.  So, when there’s no cats around to chase, or she’s a little bored of leaping up the walls, she might take a stroll around the house looking for something to chew on to give her some relief.

Though I’m down a few shirts, admittedly I feel a whole lot better.  Still, I’m not leaving clothes within her reach quite so easily anymore.  I’ve stopped using a hamper for laundry, and started using a tote I can lock up instead.  And I keep my bedroom door closed a lot of the time so that she doesn’t get any ideas about heading toward the closet.  It’s kind of a pain in the butt having to implement these changes, but in the end it is a tradeoff I’m happy to make.

Still, I wish I had started calling her something sweeter sounding.  You know, like Buttercup, maybe.


Missing Mallory

I’m what you might call a very private person.  Even my closest friends have found that I’m not always eager to share my innermost feelings.  Maybe I’m just no good at the intimacy thing.  Or, maybe I just prefer listening to sharing.
But today I want to tell you how much I’m hurting at the loss of my cat, Mallory.  Last Friday, June 14th, she was snooping around the grass in the backyard when my neighbor and her grandson came scampering over, scaring my cat away.  We saw her run around the house.  We thought she might double back.  She had never been on her own, so we were sure she hadn’t gone far.  Apparently, we were wrong.

Within seconds of disappearing around the corner, the search was on.  Up trees, under porches, in open sheds and scattered bushes around the neighborhood.  Nothing.  The sky eventually turned dark, and we hoped Mallory would lay low and possibly return by nightfall or even early morning when the streets were quieter.  I stayed up all night waiting; hoping she would turn up.  I walked the streets around my neighborhood calling her name and jingling her favorite toys.  That was 9 long days ago.  Each day, as hope begins to fade, it gets tougher.

Even though I have torn my hair out trying to find her, I’m terrified of what has happened.  Did she get stuck somewhere she couldn’t get out of?  Is she scared?  Hungry?  Is she even still alive at all?  I don’t know.  And that’s what is so terrible.  Not knowing.

I sit outside in the middle of the night hoping to see her come strolling up the driveway.  I walk out back where I saw her last.  Night after night, she doesn’t show.  Oh, I think I see her.  I’ve seen a thousand shadows where my heart skips a beat as I hope it’s her.  Sometimes it’s just a rabbit or, worse, someone else’s cat.  Those moments june2are heartbreaking.  I stand up quickly and start calling to her.  But the cat just runs the other way.  It doesn’t know who I am, and there’s nothing I can do to make it stop and come closer.  Other times the shadows I see are nothing at all.  Just my own brain making patterns out of nothing.  I don’t believe in ghosts.  But that’s what it feels like.  It feels like seeing the specter of a lost loved one disappear right before your eyes; and with it the hope you once had.

My sleep has definitely been affected.  I not only sleep less, but what sleep I do get is broken up by my constant waking up and checking the doors and yard.  It took a few days, but I’ve started to dream about her.  I go to bed, half expecting her to jump up next to me and prop her back slightly against my arm like she used to.  When I remember that she’s not there, I drift off to sleep and see her in the doorway of my room.  She’s home!  Someone found Mallory!  I wake up to reality.  Reality hurts.

I’ve cried my eyes out several times over the period of her absence.  I’m crying now just writing this.  I miss her terribly.  I miss how her meow sounded like not much more than a tiny breath.  I miss throwing her favorite toys across the room and listening to her squeak in delight at chasing them down.  I miss her hiding milk gallon caps and their color-matched rings under rugs throughout the house.  I miss the way she would stretch:  sitting on her hind legs while raising her front legs straight up into the air.  I miss her following me into the bathroom, jumping on the toilet before I could get there.  I miss her sleeping in the sink.  I miss coming around a corner and having her reach a single paw out towards me, then running away when I tried to pet her because she wanted to play chase.  I miss how much she loved a paper grocery bag, using each one as a little hiding place for weeks afterward.  I miss her hopping up on the kitchen counter out of pure nosiness just to watch me make a sandwich.  I even miss how she would leave her little poops on top of the litter because she just couldn’t be bothered to bury it.

I just don’t know what else to do.  I keep ads up on Craigslist.  There are missing posters scattered throughout the neighborhood.  I even made up flyers offering a reward and handed them out to teenagers.  It’s as much as I can afford.  And while $50 isn’t a lot of money, it seems like about a million bucks to them.  I get knocks on the door from kids saying they’ve seen Mallory.  They lead the way, but it ends up not being her.  Sometimes, the phone rings and the person reports seeing the exact same cat.  It can be frustrating, but it’s worth it to have a few amateur detectives keeping their eyes peeled.  At least I know they’re trying to help.

There’s a greenhouse nearby that my mom checks out regularly.  Quite a few strays have found their way there, and the good news is the workers feed them.  But Mallory has not yet stopped by for a meal.  She’ll keep checking.  I’ll keep hoping.

I don’t understand how she was able to disappear so fast.  At first I jokingly thought to myself that she ran around the back corner of the house and into another dimension; that she ran so fast she broke the speed of light.  But that is just not funny to me anymore, because I just want her back.  I want her to come home.

I’ve had to deal with a great amount of anger at my neighbor.  I blamed her for making the cat run away.  Why didn’t she at least holler first before she came over with her grandson?  Why did her grandson have to make a june3beeline for the cat?  Did they have to make such a scene at coming over?  There were many times I wanted to pound on her door and tell her to keep herself and the damn kid the hell away.  But she didn’t know what would happen.  She didn’t know Mallory would run away.  She was scared to talk, much less even look in my direction for a week afterward.  It took me some time to even acknowledge her.  I’ve forgiven her now.  I just wish we could do it all over again.

I told you earlier that I’m a private person.  I also keep my world very small.  I have a tiny circle of close friends and I don’t go many places.  But losing Mallory makes me feel very small and the world that much bigger.  How many places could a cat hide?  Why won’t she come out?  Will I ever see her again?  Does she even remember me?

These questions and a variety of others cross my mind relentlessly throughout each day.  Support from friends and help from neighbors has been nice.  But all I can do is just hope that, wherever she went, she found food and water.  Maybe even got taken in by a kind person who noticed she looked lost.  Even if I never get to hold her again, I’d prefer that scenario to the alternative.  I hate the thought of her wandering this giant world, lost and scared, hungry and thirsty.

I don’t know what will happen from here.  I don’t want to think about the odds.  I just want to find her.  Until the final word is written, I’ll keep searching.  What else can I do, right?