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Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

A Tale of Two Kitties

In inevitabiliy, life, memories on April 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

This is an after the fact eulogy, of sorts, for two dear feline friends. It is a bit self-indulgent, but isn’t that what a eulogy is about. It’s not so much about the dead, but a few words to those who have been left behind.

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George, patiently surviving my daughter

14 years ago I was visiting one of my brothers. He’d moved into a house he bought at auction. It dated from the 1950s and had technically had only one owner. It was an old, beat up house. By rights it should have been torn down, but it was in a good working-class neighborhood and, with the right owner, it could be a good house again. I do not know what the previous owner’s job was, but it must’ve been inherently hazardous because he left boxes of heavy rubberized gloves, boots, and aprons on shelves in a small utility room next garage.

Anyway, my brother called me and told me that he’d heard a cat crying, but he couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. He said he’d heard it for a couple of days. So, I dropped what I was doing and hurried over, figuring the cat was probably in desperate straits.

Once I got there I spent a few minutes standing quietly in the utility room till I figured out where the sound was coming from. On the top shelf was a 12″ x 12″ box of the heavy rubberized gloves. I pulled it down and started to gently remove the gloves. At the bottom of the box, curled up and staring at me was the tiniest gray tabby kitten I had ever seen in my life. Not only was it small, it looked like it was skin and bones. Its eyes looked like it was looking out of the top of its head. I gently lifted it out and held it to my body to keep it warm.

I didn’t have a clue as to what to do. It was so tiny and pathetic looking. I wanted to help, but I knew that what this kitten needed immediately was its mother’s milk and care. I wondered if its mother was nearby. Maybe if she could only hear the kitten’s plaintive meows.

It was a cool early spring night and I took the kitten to the front of the house, placed it on the still warm hood of my brothers old pickup and stepped back. The kitten started crying at the top of its lungs. I held my breath and watched as the kitten struggled to move, meowing loudly as it quivered.

It happened so fast I almost missed it. I caught a gray streak in the corner of my eye and the mama cat leapt to the hood of the truck, took hold of the kitten in its mouth and jumped back to the ground running as if the devil were in pursuit! It disappeared behind the garage of the house next door.

I was so very relieved. I didn’t have a clue as to whether or not the kitten was going to survive, but at least it had the best chance a mama cat could give it.  My brother told me that the people next door seemed to be a good family and had been feeding some of the cats that lived on the industrial property that bordered the back of the neighborhood. Unneutered and unspayed they bred like the feral cats that they were.

I headed home and told my wife about it. We talked and decided that if we would adopt it when the time was right.

About six weeks later, we headed to claim the kitten. It had done well, but was only about two thirds the size of its siblings. It’s eyes perpetually looked up through the top of its head. Angel eyes, constantly looking to heaven. Not a good sign. Watching the cat it was evident the cat had suffered from its days without food. It was likely that the cat was the runt of the litter to begin with. Cute, but pathetic.

What really got my attention, though, was her brother. He stood patiently beside her. He appeared, for all the world, to be her guardian. She started to move towards the water and food and he kept pace beside her. She nibbled on the kibble and drank some water. He just quietly sat there keeping her company. When she had finished, he had a few bites and took a few licks of the water and then returned to her side. It was very cute and endearing. The little sister and a big brother guardian.

And so my wife and I took both of them home and named them George and Gracie after the old vaudeville and TV duo of Burns and Allen. George because of his patience and sweet Gracie because of the perpetual ditzy look on her face.

George had an almost canine approach to life. He came when called. He waited by the door for us to come home from work. He didn’t bark, but he sure talked a lot! When we returned to the vet to pick him up after he had been neutered, the veterinary assistant told us that they had caught the vet, a confirmed dog person, sitting in front of the open cage with George in his lap and scratching his belly!

George was such a sweet cat.  Gracie was always a little distant, a little out of it. She had suffered some brain damage, and always seemed a little lost, but George always seemed to be there to check on her.

A year and a half later my daughter was born.  George immediately took to her, curling up against her as she slept.  As she grew older and played with him, George was always the gentlest of souls and patiently tolerated my daughter’s sometimes rather forceful affection.  He never scratched her.  Not once.  George became Elizabeth’s cat.

And so my daughter Elizabeth grew up with George and Gracie as her faithful companions. George would wait in the window waiting for someone to come home and play with him. Ever faithful George.

We always figured Gracie would be the first to go. Every couple of years seem to bring on a new medical crisis with her. She always survived. And George was always George.

Until a couple of months ago.

George started losing his appetite and he started losing weight. After some expensive trips to the vet it was determined that he was suffering from kidney failure. 85% loss of function. It was possible he had a couple of years left in him, but they would be a couple of years of maintenance, IVs to keep his fluid balance up and special food. And so the maintenance began.

George never really regained his weight. Two or three times a week he would go to the vet and spend the night hooked up to an IV. He always returned with some renewed energy and interest in life, but rarely interested in food. It was only a matter of time.

My ex-wife, my 13-year-old daughter and I were somewhat prepared for the end. At 58 years of age I’ve lost more than a few feline companions. Not so for my daughter. My daughter seems strong, however, and I figured she would survive.

And Gracie continued to be Gracie. She’d been suffering from a long-term eye ailment, but didn’t seem to have any other complaint. And this made what happened next all that more surprising… and sad.

Thursday morning I received a text from my ex-wife. Gracie had died.

The night before she had been found by my ex and my daughter trapped in the webbing on the bottom side of my ex’s bed. She had apparently been struggling, but not meowing. When she finally started crying out, they found her and managed to get her loose. She was covered with dust and looked a little worse for wear, but seemed to be all right. The next morning Gracie had been found dead, laying in the middle of the kitchen.

That evening I came over and, with the help of my daughter, buried Gracie under the Magnolia in the backyard. Against the judgment of my ex, I invited George out back to watch. He wasn’t well, but it was a beautiful spring day and he deserved another day in the sun. I dug the shallow grave and, after wrapping Gracie in an old white pillowcase, arranged her at the bottom of the hole. I asked my daughter to put the first shovel of dirt on her. She scooped up a small load of loose dirt and gently dropped it on Gracie.

What happened next was one of those things that stays with the person and makes you wonder about the way the universe works. George, who up till now had taken no interest in our activities, got up from his comfortable spot beneath a favorite tree and came over and stood by the grave, paws on either side of a corner, and lowered his head over Gracie and stood there for about a minute as if taking the moment in. Then he walked away.

We finished with our small ceremony and my daughter placed a brick on the top of the grave to mark it.

That evening we ordered pizza and for the first time in many years our little separated family had dinner together. George, who was usually very attentive to both me and my daughter, seemed a little distant. At one point he stood on a stack of papers and cried out. Then he went over to my ex-wife and got on her chest and curled up. Quite frankly I have never seen him look so tired and old. My ex said that she didn’t think he would make it through the night.

Early the next morning I got a message that my daughter was staying home from school. She and her mother had spent the night cuddling with George and evidently my daughter did not sleep well. An hour and a half later I got another message that George had died. He died in almost the same spot Gracie had been found. My ex had been in the shower getting ready to take him to the vet.

Less than 36 hours after Gracie’s unexpected demise, George joined her. They came in together and they went out together.

It was stormy that day so we waited till Saturday. Once again it was one of those days when the weather was at its best in Houston, cool, sunny, and dry. A perfect day.

We buried George next Gracie beneath the magnolia.

Life is often confusing and filled with random happenstance that takes us by surprise and makes us wonder if there truly is a God.

The expected loss of George and the sudden loss of Gracie feels like one of those moments. And, yet, the beauty of the spring days upon which these things have happened and the way the circle of life has closed for George and Gracie seems more than coincidental.

We will miss our faithful companions. They gave us the fullness of the 14 years of their lives.

We will miss George and Gracie.

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