About 13 years ago, while glancing outside through the patio doors, I spotted a little bundle of fur creeping along the deck in the corner where the railing meets the wall. And then there was another little ball of fur coming around the corner. And another. And another. And finally the fifth kitten sibling stuck her nose out from under the deck.
Five little kittens, three of them all gray, one all black, and one tortoise shell colored, were searching the area around the deck for...what? Their mother obviously. They couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, so their mewing and searching had a desperate quality. The mother cat must have made her home under the deck, feeling safe and secure enough to have her kittens there.
Seeing those five rather forlorn creatures suddenly made me think about the bloody smashed carcass out in the street in front of the house. The kittens’ mother was certainly not going to be bringing her brood any supper that day. Or any other day. We were now faced with five orphans in need of a home.
Capturing those skittish kittens was no easy task. We couldn’t get close enough to them before they would scamper back under the deck away from our grasp. But realizing they were probably hungry enough to discard some of their caution, we placed a bowl of milk inside a wire dog kennel with the door ajar far enough for them to get in, but not to escape too readily when we aproached. Four of the kittens were seduced into the cage and held captive. The fifth one, the tortoise shell, was far more wary and standoffish. I spent the better part of an hour sitting quietly near the cage, trying to coax her close enough so I could grab her. Finally the smell of that milk and the proximity of her siblings to the food was enough to overcome her fear of capture.
As a family we were never “cat” people, preferring dogs as pets. But faced with those five little cute kittens, and a daughter who insisted we keep one of them, we somewhat reluctantly became the new home of the tortoise shell cat. We found a home for one of the others, but had to take the remaining three to the local shelter. So there we were, the nurturers of a kitten who needed a name. In honor of her mother who lay in the street, we named our new kitten Smoosh.
Most cat fanciers will tell you that a tortoise shell cat is generally aloof and shy, maybe even unfriendly. Smoosh proved to be all of that. Never one to seek out a lap to nap on, she prowled the house and tolerated our presence. She and the dog got along well enough, but Smoosh most often preferred her own company to that of her housemates. And yet, despite her loner personality, we came to accept her and she us. She made her wishes known with an occasional sortee into our presence where she would mew her instructions for us until we did her bidding. Once her authority was again established, she would retire to her favorite perch atop the loveseat in our bedroom, where she could monitor the world through the window.
As cats go, Smoosh was a contented traveler, hunkering down under the car seat to wait out the journey to wherever we were taking her. And we took her everywhere with us. She put on a lot of miles under that car seat, going with us on vacations and of course to the lake. It didn’t matter where we took her, once we arrived she would establish her rule and seek out the best hiding place, only coming out of hiding to nibble some cat food, take a dainty drink of water, and perform her daily toilet.
She was never an outdoor cat, living her entire life inside, the queen in her castle. Her haughty demeanor seemed to suggest that the outdoors was for the riffraff, the commoners, who were beneath her notice. And it’s true, we waited on her, providing everything she needed, so hunting or providing for herself was never a consideration.
Our bedroom became her domain where she could luxuriate atop the bed, rolling in hedonistice contentment on the plush comforter. She reluctantly allowed us to use the bed at night, but not before always strolling between us, tail and head high, to exact her tribute of ear scratches and back strokes. If I had a book in my hand she would use the corner of it to scratch her own ears and neck, never even offering a thankyou for my holding the book for her. When the lights went out she would claim her spot at the foot of the bed, daring us to try to displace her with our feet.
As the years went by, she became more and more reluctant to go down the steps to use her litter box, sometimes showing her displeasure by leaving us lumpy, untidy messages in the upstairs hallway. So of course to accommodate her wishes, we moved the box and her food upstairs. With that, she was rarely seen venturing further than the top of the stairs where she could look down on us mere mortals.
Age and infirmary come to all creatures eventually, and those afflictions arrived too soon for Smoosh. Thirteen is not that old for a cat--about advanced middle age--but when any kind of physical difficulty occurs, treatment at that age can be problematic. Around a month ago, Smoosh stopped eating. She continued to drink, but wouldn’t even nibble at her food. A trip to the vet for tests and a course of treatment proved ineffectual. She still refused food and soon was unable to even hold down the water she continued to drink. Another vet visit again showed no cause for Smoosh’s condition. Not eating for so long--we tried to entice her with different foods and special treats--caused her to lose fully 1/3 of her weight. Lethargy set in. She no longer cared to get her ears scratched or her back stroked. She didn’t seem to care when we took over the bedroom each night. Smoosh was wasting away before our eyes. Yesterday after she tried to drink again, she gagged the water back up convulsively and then struggled to get back into her favorite spot on the loveseat. Unable to jump up onto her usual perch, she slumped with resignation on the floor beneath the desk. It was time.
No matter how much you discuss the possibility, no matter how much rationalization comes into play, no matter how convinced you become that the inevitable must happen, it just is not an easy decision to make or carry out. But watching our pet suffer and waste away was every bit as hard to do as making the decision to ease her suffering. When Mary arrived home from work, we called the vet and told him that the time had come and that we were prepared to take that final step. Mary held Smoosh in her arms on the way there, crying softly and nuzzling kisses on Smoosh’s head. When we arrived at the vet’s office, Mary went inside to pay the necessary fees while I held Smoosh close one last time. Then I took her inside while Mary waited in the car. The vet was so sensitive and solicitous and reassuring. I held Smoosh the whole time until her heart stopped. I gave her one last kiss between those ears she so loved to be scratched and left the office fighting back the inevitable tears. We sat for a few moments in the car gathering strength from each other, had our cry, wiped our tears, and said one last goodbye to our Smoosh.
As cat lives go, Smoosh could have done a lot worse. Going from orphanhood, hiding under the deck, to mewing contentedly on the plush comforter on our bed, all her needs met by us, her servants, was a fortuitous leap. She benefited greatly from our willingness to give her a home. We benefited far greater by having her with us for so long.
So now she is in cat heaven where she won’t have to share the bed with anyone, where catnip and treats are doled out at her whim, where the warm sunlight coming in the window never dims. RIP Smoosh.