Thursday, November 13, 2008

My first thought was to say that today's activities would go under the heading "pets," but then it occurred to me in a woeful realization that would have undoubtedly brought forth a new wave of tears if there were any left; it was another form of downsizing. Today was the day my cat, Sassy, decided it was time to die. In many ways it seemed he made some of the decisions, but he was very weak and had almost completely stopped eating several days ago, so any time would have been appropriate. I would not have been surprised to find him dead after returning from a weekend in Houston on Sunday, and I would not have been surprised to find him dead at any time the last few days. But this morning, though I expected him to be dead when I checked on him; when he wasn't dead, I could tell that he was ready to die today. I had several hours before an appointment, and I gave him these hours. We sat together for a long time, until the morning matured. Then he jumped down and wanted to go outside. It was only 60 degrees, which isn't too cold, but for a wasted cat with only a short coat, it was a little cold. So, I set him up, or rather laid him down, on his outdoor heating pad. I put a towel over him and left him there to watch the bird feeder and be outside and maybe have the sun shine on him. It was mostly overcast. Over the next few hours, the cat didn't want much; but he did try to get up a few times. He wanted some water, and he wanted to be in the sun in the garden. I moved him here and there, leaving him for short periods and then checking on him. He was a little dazed but knew what was happening around him...and probably to him. The sun finally did come out, so Sassy got to lay in the garden with the sun on him. I didn't know whether to leave him alone or stay with him, so I did a little of each. Then one time when I went out to check on him, he gave a little cry. I sat down with him and soon he went through death.

I felt like the actual death was peaceful enough. There has always been the question as to whether to get veterinary intervention. Every day for the last year or so. There was less question as to whether to have him put to sleep, though. There was some. Even this morning, when I saw he was ready, weak and listless, I considered it. But I wanted him to die at home and in a peaceful way. I don't know how much discomfort he had over the last months, but he seemed to be able to enjoy his favorite parts of life for most of it, purring, purring, purring. That cat was the best purrer ever or was as good a purrer as the best!

Sassy was a good little fellow. He got annoying, as cats will. I don't know that I will ever open the door from house to the garage without bracing for his rush to sneak past me into the house! And there were the times, years ago, when he would get into the house and then run behind my bed and hide. And all the summer nights when I had to call for him and he would not come in until very late or not at all, but he would be there in the morning if not late at night. We had our routines. He knew his routines, even though they varied considerably. He'd always be at a certain door when I called him at night, for years, and then suddenly he'd change doors and always be at that one. He knew how to find me, to cry at a door or climb on a screen, doing what I called the Jesus position hanging on the screen with his front paws spread wide. He'd know whether I was in the kitchen or the office. He'd hear me in the night or the morning and meow at the garage door to be let in.

Although I had no proof and tried to ignore it, I did feel we had a psychic connection. Nothing big, but maybe sort of constant. With all the times he waited for me or I waited for him. The time I was camping for a week or 2 and either heard (I thought) or dreamed I heard an animal scream in the forest; and I didn't think much about it until I came home and found Sassy severely injured with a big gash in his chest, and then I remembered that scream. It was a vivid sound to me, just once. I still remember it. Kind of unlike the typical sounds of a forest that all meld into each other during a camping trip. I didn't think about the connection much. Our life together was kind of routine. I did what I could to give him time and attention, but I didn't let him run things the way people joke that cats do. I always felt a little bad about not giving him the luxurious life that cats are known for demanding, mostly in the house. But I felt the absence of that connection today, and it left me kind of cold and a little lonely. The world is a little emptier for me now.

I don't feel like I will get another cat, because I always felt badly about putting the cat into the garage at night and keeping him out in the cold and the heat. Alan thinks the cat had a great life and was pampered because I had a heating pad in the garage for him. Maybe so. He surely did love the outdoors, and he had free reign to roam if he wanted to. I am fairly sure he didn't roam far. I think he had a feel for home and how far, perhaps, my voice carried. Or maybe how far away he could be and still hear the garage door close at night, his cue to come in. For an animal, it is natural to be outdoors, though today's pet cats are far from natural cats. So maybe it was a good cat life, with interesting sights and smells outside, and wonderful places for naps. Or was it always scary and dangerous and a little on the edge, even while napping outside? Sometimes, as Sassy got older, I got the feeling that he liked coming into the house to take a real nap where he felt totally safe.

As Sassy got older, I finally sorted out the seasons. I always had felt sorry for him in the summer and let him stay in a little when it was very hot outside. But I realized as he got older, and after my friend Carla told me, that the Great Cats live outdoors in hot climates. It's the cold that is the enemy of the cat. Sassy had a nice soft undercoat, but he had overcoat issues always, ever since we got him. Maybe had he been able to develop a truly sassy coat, I wouldn't have felt so bad for him in the winters. But I did start keeping him out more during summers and letting him in more during winters the last few years. I'm glad of that!

How many lives did Sassy have? I'm not sure what to count. The gash when we were away, at least 2 abscesses from fights (always in the back, which the vet said meant that Sassy was running away), the cystitis blockages and finally the perineal urethrostomy, the move from Alabama and getting locked in the attic for the first few days we were here, having Pi move in and tree him several times and him avoiding the house for a while and finally making a sort of peace with Pi, numerous cats that would appear around the house for a while and obviously be invading Sassy's turf, the possum in the garage at least one night... What is a life? Were there 9 or more? At least 9, even though Sassy was a little young to be dying. He did live a high-stress life, I guess, much more dynamic than that of an indoor lap cat.

Death brings so many questions and really is an answer. I could feel the reality of Sassy's death. But there are so many questions with an animal. And yet, the connection between people and animals, the communication, seems to be universal enough to believe in. Cats and other animals do seem to have emotions similar to those of people. Sassy knew he was dependent on me, yet he was also independent in many ways. He let me know when he was happy by purring, lonely by bothering me for attention, cold by wanting to sit in my lap, miserable by miaowing in a most miserable way, hungry by meowing in another way. He communicated when he wanted me to follow him.

And I hope I will always be able to bring to mind the picture of him running on the driveway with his little legs sort of straight and sort of stiff, not galloping, all legs running separately, but running fast. His legs were very expressive and cute!

I will miss him most when I am outdoors. I dread that sadness that I face. He would appear and keep me company. I'm sure I will look for him, just an automatic quick, fleeting feeling of, "I wonder whether the Sass is around..." And then the realization that he is not.

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