I don’t pretend to know how the Universe works, but I do know when it’s teaching me a lesson.
When I use broad, sweeping generalizations to categorize something I know nothing about, there’s a good chance I’m about to get schooled. A very good chance. In Las Vegas terms, it’s called an Odds On event.
I’ve always been a self-declared dog person. First, I have an allergy to cats. Second, I’d always found cats to be moody, unpredictable, aloof loners who were likely to lash out without notice.
I was self-aware enough, while making these broad sweeps, to realize that my biased description of cats just happened to also describe my own personality. Did I project my character traits onto cats, and by declaring that I was a “dog person”, actually reject myself? Probably, but that’s another blog post.
My dislike of cats stemmed from being around cats who were the outdoorsy type. While experts at their craft (mousing), they were un-socialized with feral tendencies. All I knew is they liked to bite and scratch me when I offered them cuddles.
There was one tabby in particular I’ll never forget, despite trying really hard. Her name was Nipsy. Her name was truth in advertising, but I was four, and Nipsy was cute. Had she been named Cruel Shredding Machine, I might have kept my distance. The scars on my right hand are testament to her feelings toward me.
On the other hand, dogs.
Dogs were friendly, loyal, fun-loving, and always up for whatever you wanted to do. So many amazing, wonderful dogs have shared my path. Tag, the first dog I ever knew, graciously allowed me to tie my stuffed Big Bird to her back with my bathrobe sash, so he could be a cowboy. And there’s Tucker, the yellow lab mix who used to love tunneling in the snow. He’d lay in wait for someone to walk by, then burst out of the tunnel with a smile on his face, tail wagging wildly as he said (loose translation), “Did I scare ya? Did I? Ha ha! That was fun!” And Hank, my Treeing Walker Coonhound. Best dog ever. He deserves his own post.
So of course, after years of cat smack talk, I fell in love with a man with two cats. Oh how fate must have belly laughed that day.
Initially I tested the waters of his devotion to these cats. I let him know I was severely (probably) allergic to cats. I was hoping he’d say he had a friend or lonely, cat-loving relative he could give them to. Instead, he cleverly kept me away from his house altogether, and when he was sure I was totally hooked on him, he suggested a quick visit, just to see how I felt.
As soon as I entered the house, Sweetie, the Calico, eyed me cautiously from the bedroom doorway, unsure of my intentions. The sleek, slate gray Handsome, however, happily trotted over, then proceeded to rub his long, slobbery canines all over me. The skin on my hand started to react.
“Can you make him stop that?” I asked my future husband.
Much to my relief Handsome left the room. Whew. He quickly returned carrying a small red ball in mouth. He dropped it at my feet, then let out the most unholy yowling I’d heard since the neighbors got a peacock.
“What’s he doing?” I asked. “Is that a hairball?”
“He wants to play.”
“I’m not touching that.”
I think of Handsome with a twinge of guilt. I mean, he had the best of intentions and he was good-natured, but I couldn’t stand him. The teeth rubbing and the constant need for attention, always right there under my feet, waiting for me to interact with him. Funny, he was acting just like a dog. Wasn’t I a dog person?
“Hey Snaggle-tooth, cats are supposed to be independent and stand-offish. Just look at your friend Sweetie over there, not driving me mad.”
Future husband quickly corrected me, “Sweetie is not his friend, in fact, she can’t stand him. She knows no greater joy than putting him in a headlock, then pummeling his face with her back feet.”
That was my first indication Sweetie and I were going to be besties.
Now, this story could easily devolve into a list of Sweetie’s antics such as, “this one time she” and “she used to” and “it was so cute when”. Besides being annoying to read, I can’t do her personality justice here. Suffice it to say, I adored her, she was devoted to me, and she totally changed my mind about cats. Thank you, Universe.
But I do want to share two stories that illustrate how far we’d go for her, and how far she’d go for us.
In her old age, she developed a thyroid condition and had to start medication to regulate it. We tried hiding the powdered medicine in her favorite foods — tuna or sprinkled over the roast beef from an Arby’s Montana sandwich, which we renamed as the “Meowtana”. She’d only eat a little, then abandon the bowl with a look of, “Well, you tried.”
One day my husband, during an unsupervised grocery store outing, brought home a huge cheesecake in a beautifully decorated box. That evening we each had a slice and decided it was the best cheesecake we’d ever eaten. Sweetie must have smelled it on the air and actually begged for a taste. My husband gave her a bite and she meowed for more.
Light bulb — get the medicine!
We saved half of that cheesecake for her so she could take her meds. Her health improved rapidly. When the cheesecake ran out, I went back to the store for more. My husband said he’d found it near the Kosher section.
I scoured the Kosher section and outlying areas and found nothing. Eventually, I had to ask the man behind the deli counter if he knew where the cheesecake was. He shook his head, then asked me when I’d bought it. I told him it was a month ago.
He said, “Oh, that was for the holiday.”
Not being Jewish I wasn’t sure which holiday he was referring to, but I’ve since learned it’s Shavuot and the cheesecake is an important food element. It’s a big deal and has nothing to do with cats.
But I was clueless and I needed that cheesecake. “When are you making more? I’ll just put in an order right now, ok?”
“We don’t make them here, we ordered them from a bakery in Beverly Hills. We’ll have more next May.”
Beverly Hills? Whoa. Even from where we lived in the Southwest, that was a five hour drive. But also, how much did my husband actually spend on that cheesecake?
“Did you freeze some maybe? You know, keep a few back just in case?”
“No. And you do know, the regular bakery section has some…”
“No, my cat won’t eat those.”
The look on his face was mix of confusion, more confusion, and disgust.
I tried to make amends. “We mix her thyroid medication into it, she honestly will not eat anything else. I mean, that cheesecake was amazing! We ate it, too, it wasn’t just for our cat…”
“Next May,” he said curtly and turned away from me.
Ok, who’s up for a road trip to Cali? The things we did for her. And she was worth it.
For those of you who can’t handle the beloved cat dying at the end of the story, I guess you should stop here.
She did die, and the way she did it still has me in awe of her. She knew us, she was connected to us on a soul level, especially my husband, and I firmly believe she understood my words the day I found her hiding behind the old desk upstairs.
She was sixteen and her health was failing fast. She’d become extremely thin and was no longer able to jump onto the couch. One night she actually fell with a thud onto the hardwood floor after attempting a jump. She just sat there, dumbfounded. When she didn’t move I was terrified she’d broken her hip. I’d never seen her fall before. Judging by the look on her face, she was just as stunned as I was.
A few days later, while my husband was out of town on business, I came home and Sweetie was nowhere to be found. She wasn’t in her normal spot, caught in a sunbeam on the bed upstairs. I called her and she didn’t come. I said her favorite word, “Cheeeese!” even though I didn’t have any. I frantically searched the house and eventually found her, curled up behind the old desk.
I called her to come out, but she ignored me. I had a bad feeling about what this could mean. I picked her up and scolded her, “Now you listen to me, Sweetie. You hang on until he gets home. You have to.”
When my husband called to say he was on his way home from the airport I told him Sweetie didn’t look so good and to come straight home.
I held her in my lap that evening, waiting to hear his truck pull in. I told her over and over, “You wait, do you hear me? You wait.”
We rushed her straight to the vet. They put her on a respirator, but they said they didn’t have an overnight staff to monitor her. She would be alone for a few hours and she would either live through the night or not. None of us thought it would be a good idea to stress her with two more truck trips.
We agonized over what to do, but in the end we left her there. The next morning we arrived as soon as they opened. She had made it through the night! They put her on oxygen for a bit, but then took us to a room and asked us if we’d just like to hold her, as she was clearly at the end.
We took turns holding her, but mostly my husband did. He tenderly cradled her like a baby in his arms, and the fact that I was pregnant with our son at the time put me over the edge. One life leaving and one life soon to arrive.
I honestly don’t know how long we were there, maybe an hour. At one point, she became lucid, and pushed herself off my husband’s chest. She looked behind her, seemingly at the air, then laid back down. She died in my husband’s arms.
My husband told me once that he promised Sweetie he would never have her put to sleep. I thought that was a really irresponsible promise to make. What if that had been the only humane option? In the end I think she spared him, not the other way around. She knew, this was the only way it could be.
She did that for us.
Thank you Sweetie, for the sixteen years you gave my husband, for the four of those years I got to share, and for choosing to forge that bond with us. There may be other cats, but never another Sweetie.