For all those who have loved & lost pets as they will understand. – Catherine Ann Jones
I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little
they become its visible soul.
As a former owner of three cats at various times in my life, I entertained the idea of breaking the pattern and adopting two kittens instead of one. This way they would have each other when I was out of town teaching both here and abroad. I had heard glowing reports of a local non-profit organization called Grayfoot Cat Sanctuary and thought I’d start there. The owner, Joan, a former dress designer from Los Angeles, had moved to Ojai, purchased several acres of land, and created a cat’s paradise. High above the ground were various cat motels with a connecting enclosed catwalk where the feline inhabitants could visit the various homes some nine feet above the ground. She would drive around and rescue cats then making sure they were healthy, find suitable homes for them.
The newest arrivals were a mother cat and her five kittens – only four weeks old. The family were all born feral, that is in the untamed wild. Told I could have my pick, I began to observe the litter. Quickly, I found my choices and learned something I never before knew: that litters can have different fathers that explains how different the kittens look. For instance, Missy looked like her gray and white calico mother except for her head which revealed an Abyssinian father, seen most notedly in the small head, large green eyes, and shape of the ears resembling the cats depicted in ancient Egyptian art. And Sasha who obviously had a Russian Blue as his paternal lineage, seen as his gorgeous gray short haired coat and green eyes. After watching the brood for several minutes, I chose Missy who was the runt of the litter for her obvious intelligence and curiosity and her brother, Sasha, for his shyness and beauty. Told I must wait two more weeks when they were six weeks old and could be taken from their mother, after an interview which luckily I passed muster, I signed the adoption papers, paid a reasonable sum to cover neutering and shots, and returned in two weeks to collect my new family.
Arriving at their new home, Sasha gently settled in but Missy Prissy remained feral. She would avoid eye contact when held and squirm to be let free. A wild spirit, she would climb up the curtains and walk the brass curtain pole just inches from the living room ceiling or she would hide under the bed for hours. It took a full two weeks of patience before she would let herself be held and meet my eyes. This marked the beginning of an eighteen – year relationship.
The siblings remained close. I observed them when sleeping, curled up together like the Chinese yin-yang symbol of two halves making a complete circle. I could watch them for several minutes at a time as they frisked and played both in and outside. Missy the dominant, fearless one though she was one half the size of her brother, reigned. A feral element remained in Missy while Sasha was a gentle, affectionate soul from the get go.
The brother and sister combo soon became an intricate part of my daily life. Divorced after a twenty-year marriage, my son well out of the nest and living with his own family now in Seattle, I welcomed this new family. Sadly, after eleven years, Sasha became ill and wasted away from stomach cancer.
For many of us, the loss of a pet can be as devastating as the loss of family or close friends. Only eleven years before, I had adopted two feral kittens from a local Cat Sanctuary and they had become family.
Sasha would sleep with me each night yet not allow his sister to join us. The bed was his territory and he wanted me all to himself. Sometimes Missy would stay at the foot of the bed, as close as brother would allow. Toward the end of her brother’s life, I would carry him to my bed as he could no longer walk. One day, Missy hopped onto the bed, went straight to her brother, smelled his stomach then quick as a flash turned and fled in fear to the living room. Two minutes later, she returned and repeated the same action, smelling directly at Sasha’s stomach where the cancer was before turning and running away to the other room. She never returned.
Finally, as Sasha could no longer eat, drink, or walk, and after seeking a second opinion, I reluctantly agreed to end his suffering. I was with him at the end, holding him – he never took his eyes from mine – as the vet administered the fatal injection. Later a friend helped me bury him in the back garden in front of a Buddha statue. That evening, I looked for Missy, his sister, and found her in the backyard, lying on top of her brother’s grave. Two nights after Sasha died as I lay in bed in the dark, I distinctly felt a cat walk across my legs. It was a strict rule that only Sasha slept with me as he wouldn’t allow his sister to trespass ‘his territory’. This clearly felt like him, his weight, as he was twice the size of Missy. However, I rationally thought, “Oh, it’s probably Missy.” I turned on the light and there was no cat anywhere. I got up and found Missy in the living room, sound asleep. The same occurrence happened several times in the following weeks. The presence was crystal clear. There is no doubt in my mind that it was Sasha’s spirit staying on. Sasha, whose love was stronger even than death.
Missy, Sasha’s sister, is alive and well. She still regularly visits her brother’s grave, sitting nearby for long periods. Sasha is gone now yet not forgotten.
After a few days, Missy hesitantly came to my bed, always waiting on the floor to be invited before hopping up. From then on, as her brother had before, Missy would come nightly to her new territory.
Missy was a fearless hunter and to my chagrin would repeatedly bring her trophy captives inside to show me. Apart from baby squirrels and hummingbirds, she would all too often attempt larger game. Once she carried a fully grown live woodpecker indoors. The frightened bird hid under a cabinet. With a broom handle, I managed to free the bird, who was as large as Missy. The bird took flight as I scampered across the room and opened the door just in time for the bird to fly away. Happy ending. Another time, Missy came indoors dragging a 3’foot long snake. After convincing myself that it was a non-poisonous serpent, I picked it up and carried it outside and down the block to some bushes before setting it free. For playtime, one of her favorite pastimes was jumping high and catching a feathered ball attack to a stick I would hold and move higher and higher. She could easily jump up 5’ or more and climb the curtain to walk the high brass curtain rod in front of the sliding glass patio doors. Though a ruthless hunter, Missy never once bit or scratched any human being. In fact, she became a people’s cat, loving the attention new and old friends would bring. Psychic, she would know someone was coming to the front door minutes before, and she would often watch invisible spirits in the air. I loved the wildness in her though as she got older, I was more than relieved when the fierce hunting thankfully came to a close. Content now to sit indoors and watch the squirrels and humming birds who had ceased to be prey.
Missy would actually watch television with me and was especially attentive to the Nature programs when the wild animals would appear. Her ears would perk up and she would stay glued to the screen until they disappeared. Programs with humans carried less appeal.
Clever, too, when I fed her before leaving on a trip, she would act as though she had not been fed, in order to fool the cat sitter. And attempt the same with me upon my return. I soon learned to first call the cat sitter to make sure she had been fed before feeding her again.
Missy developed a wide diversity of language, too. By this, I mean various sounds that carried specific meanings. For instance, there was the meow for ‘feed me’ always at precisely the hour and minute of her feed times. Cats must have an internal clock to be so precise! Then when I would first lay my hand on her to stroke her, she made the low guttural mutter of satisfaction. A different shorter meow would come when she wanted to be let outside. Ever the lady, she never lost the habit of politeness, always waiting to be invited to hop into bed with me or to the couch to sit on my lap. She had great dignity and insight. When friends came and had not noticed her, she would say hello with a beckoning ‘meow’. Few could resist the urge to cross the room and pet her. Though she loved people, with discrimination, she could also sense who not to approach.
She remained healthy – never sick a day – until the evening years of her life when arthritis began to appear, giving her a sexy twirl to her walk. When she could no longer leap onto the couch, I found an attractive pet stool on Amazon which she took to at once, climbing the stool as a queen to her throne.
At night now, though my bed was low, she could no longer hop up. However, she could reach her front legs on the side, and wait for me to hoist her up to the bed where she would spend the night next to me. Her favorite time either nap time or even-time, was after she settled in beside me, I would cover her completely with a quilt. This small hump under the quilt would remain still for hours.
She had the most intimate and affectionate habit of touching her nose with my nose, a kind of cat kiss, if you will. She had the sensitivity to know when I was in my office, writing, to leave me be – unless it was her designated meal time, that is. Also, when I had company, she would be patient even when the meal time had passed. Little by little, she stopped going outside. Sometimes I would carry her out to the back garden to get some sun. Time soon came that even that effort was more than she could muster.
After 18 years of eating everything in her dish, she began leaving most of it untouched. I tried various meals to tempt her such as can tuna fish, but to no avail. I knew from experience that when animals sense their time has come, they stop eating and even drinking water. She knew yet I clung to denial. I also delayed some days before making an appointment with the vet, not ready to let go.
Missy had been waning for several weeks and losing weight. She stayed close, following me wherever I sat or slept. This remarkable feline companion had never been ill except for the last 2 years of arthritis. It was clear for the last few days that she was on her way out even though she never once complained. Still I delayed going to the vet, perhaps knowing that they would only confirm my own diagnosis. They did this afternoon when Dr. Bogart said it would be more humane to put her to sleep.
As it was during the C-Virus pandemic, only animals were taken inside and the owners would wait outside the Vet’s office. Several minutes later I agreed for Dr. Bogart to put her to sleep only if I could be with her. Thankfully, they made an exception and I was allowed inside, adorned with gloves and mask.
Before driving us to the vet, I had placed some busman (sacred ash from India) on her head. Now I placed my hand there and repeated within the mantra given me in India, to aid her on her journey. She kept her eyes directly on me with unconditional trust as Dr. Bogart inserted the needle in her leg, and she purred. The doctors thought that unusual that she was purring as she drifted away.
I drove home with her body wrapped in a towel as I had decided to bury her with her brother, Sasha, who passed away May 7, 2013, at age 11. They were very close. In fact, the night I buried him, I found Missy lying atop his grave. And for these last few days when she went outside to sun, I would find her lying near her brother’s grave, as if she knew that soon she would join him.
I called Robert, my friend and neighbor, also an animal lover, to tell him the news and ask if he would help me to bury her tonight when it is cooler. He said at once, “Yes. I have some tools and I’ll bring them.” So around 7:30pm we buried the blessed friend.
I hosed the ground in front of the Buddha statue where Sasha had been buried seven years ago, and my friend Robert, dug the hole next to where her brother lay. Wrapped in a pillow case where she would nap, I placed her delicately, regretfully. Atop the graves, we placed a large round terracotta planter with one plant. Instrumental music from India played softly in the background as I laid yellow flowers in the planter which now covered the grave. I lit three sandalwood incense sticks and put them in the planter amidst the yellow flowers. Then I stood and tossed rose petals onto the grave and the Buddha statue. I had found a passage from Khalil Gibran which seemed appropriate and read it aloud:
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of children.
And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters
of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though
they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell
in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
April 7, 2002 – May 4, 2020