If one of your best friends happens to walk on all fours, loves to be pet and licks your face to greet you or even to wake you, you are blessed to know the love of an animal pal. I grew up with a lot of animals as a kid and I’m lucky enough to have had several amazing pets as an adult. My mom bred, raised and showed dogs professionally and we always had a few cats and birds around the house. Sometimes it was like living in a zoo, but I loved it. If you’ve never lived with or loved an animal, I feel you might be missing out on a whole corner of living a fulfilling life. I know this fact: pets have greatly contributed to my overall sense of peace and wellness.
My first pet was a female gray tabby cat named Tabatha, or “Tabby.” I got her when I was eleven years old and had her until I was twenty-eight. She was my best friend growing up and made me feel loved even when I didn’t love myself. She was the runt of her litter but had a big personality. She was very smart, talkative and particular, with big, bright emerald eyes, white “mittens” and “go-go boots.” The only thing bigger than her eyes was her purr or perhaps her raspy, Siamese sounding meow! She was also a “ham” (see picture, right). She seemed to completely understand English but preferred to speak “Tabbese.” She came to college with me my senior year and everybody adored her. She leaped into my friends hearts and quickly became a fixture there. They found, as I have known, cats pick you to be their friend – not the other way around. Though, it can seem at times that you’re actually more a part of their staff.
My best friend and roommate Dan was exposed to the wonder of sharing his space with a “majestic creature” for the first time and he was hooked. He’s gone on to adopt four rescue cats of his own! Tabby was our little mascot at school and always had to be in the middle of all the action. She would sit herself between any shoes that were left lying around and so we nicknamed her the “guardian of the stench.” My mom joked that Tabby was the first cat in the family to earn her degree. She had a BA in charm and a minor in cat-titude!
I adopted my sister’s gray and white cat, Tanita, when she moved to Indiana in 1998 and loved her like my own. She was about twice the size of Tabatha and they never really got along. Tanita was quite possessive and I think Tabatha became a bit jealous and perhaps had a Napoleonic complex. But they both loved me plenty. Tanita wanted lots of attention and loved to aggressively rub her chin on me and drool. I’d let her sit in my lap and purr for hours, much to Tabby’s dismay. Tanita was a mature cat when I inherited her and passed away in her sleep just before I moved out of my parents home in 2001. But Tabz and I had still more adventures to purr-sue together.
One late summer day I realized she had slowed down a lot. Her paws had become jaundiced. I didn’t realize she had developed liver disease. She nearly died at age 12. I was devastated when the vet said she probably wouldn’t live much longer without major surgical intervention. Mom and I bit the bullet and decided to give her another lease on life. She had a blood transfusion, part of her liver removed and a feeding tube put into her stomach for three months. It was a risky surgery but she pulled through. Toughest, most resilient cat I ever met! I would come to realize that she truly had “9 lives.”
I got married soon after moving with her to Jersey City. My suburban kitty trooper, degree in paw, was ready for the big city! My ex-partner had two cats and soon we had a combined household of three territorial felines to contend with, all in a railroad style apartment overlooking the Manhattan skyline. The other two cats were an older black male, Lennox, and a small one-year old black female, Ishi. Again, I loved them as though they were always mine. He was quite charismatic and she was a bit skittish, but I doted on them both. The step-siblings got along for the most part. In fact, one day we walked in on Lennox and Tabby in a “love embrace.” Apparently they had been having a secret affair! We realized that Ishi needed a little brother or sister (and we needed to adopt another cat or have another hole put in our heads)!
It was Christmas time in 2002. We went to Garfield, NJ (fitting, yes?) and adopted a new kitten, Jackomo, a very handsome gray short hair tabby, like Tabatha, but without white mittens or boots. We weren’t looking for a tomcat, but when I met him I knew he was a lover. But when Tabatha met him she was not impressed. In fact she thought he was quite the the scamp. She was right! He was “up her skirt” night and day as a little guy but he finally chilled out after a few well placed swats. His first year was spent sleeping on my head at night and chasing Ishi down the length of the apartment. He completed our set and became my darling boy. Our four kids were happy and healthy together for four years, enduring another move to Hackensack, NJ. But nothing can last forever as life is ever so precious, fragile and finite.
Both Tabby and Lennox developed diabetes in 2005. Lennox had to have insulin shots which I administered. Both went on a strict diet. It was challenging but I’d do anything for my babies! Tabby had gotten so sick by that Spring, I knew I had to consider a humane option to alleviate her suffering. She had survived the liver disease, several moves and new family dynamics but her tiny body was finally giving up. She became weak and gaunt. She went to the vet and we decided she had to be put to sleep. My little girl deserved only the best and I knew it was time for her to cross the proverbial “rainbow bridge” to peace and harmony. I didn’t know if I could handle it. I decided I had to give her a big girl talk.
I had made the appointment to have her euthanized at the vet’s office on the following Monday. I sat and pet her on my bed for an hour that Saturday and told her, “Tabby, you know I don’t want to do this, but it’s for your own good. I can’t watch you suffer for my own selfishness. If you can find a way to pass at home, before Monday, please do us both the favor.” She looked up at me with her wise emerald eyes and blinked, then crawled into my lap to sleep for a while. The next day was Palm Sunday. It was a bright Spring day in New Jersey. Tabby kept running to the windows and swatting at them. I thought she saw a bug or perhaps had some dementia. Maybe she just wanted to go outside and play?
I decided to treat her to some tuna on the balcony, since she loved fish and lolling in the sun more than almost anything. She began to lap up the tuna fish water and looked up at me with a smile in her eyes. I turned away to do some dishes in the kitchen and looked back a moment later and she was gone. I looked all over the apartment, calling her name. No answer. Where could she be? Then it dawned on me. I looked over the side of the balcony. There she was, four stories down, on the pavement! Lying motionless on the parking lot asphalt!
I flew out of the apartment and down the four flights of stairs like a whirlwind! I ran to her side and she picked up her head an meowed at me!! She was alive!!! I couldn’t believe such a withered animal could endure the fall. If I had to describe the look on her face, it was disappointment. I don’t think she wandered and accidentally fell off the balcony. I think he jumped. I honestly believe she had taken my request to heart and tried to do herself in to spare us both that dreaded trip to the vet. I scooped her up and since it was Sunday had no alternative but to rush her to my mom and dad to get checked out. Mom said she had no broken bones and to take her home and make her comfortable. Then, in the morning, take her to her appointment.
When we returned to the apartment she was dazed but still jumped onto the window sill, swatting at the windows to be let out. She wanted to find a way out. She fell to the floor so I held her and administered pet acupressure to help her let go. She looked up at me one more time and meowed a soft “good-bye.” I was fortunate; my little angel died in my arms, at home, at age 17! She never made it to the vet’s, having honored my wishes, sparing me the pain of what I couldn’t face. She had tried to “fly” that day but finally earned her wings in heaven. The three other cats gathered around to bid their farewells and my ex and I sobbed like two ninnies. ‘Tis always the way when someone so beloved must leave.
Within a year we moved to Tampa to start over fresh. New Jersey had become so crowded, the winters too harsh. I wanted to buy a bigger home for our family, hoping it might grow again. By now you realize I’m an eccentric cat person. So be it. Lennox’s diabetes had become unmanageable by the summer of 2006. We had to make another terrible veterinary appointment, in a strange new town. It all happened so fast. We went in and he got the shot. He protested. It was difficult to witness for the first time. My ex and I were heart broken, all over again. But after that I was glad Tabby went the way she did, in an oddly dignified manner. We were down to two cats, Ishi and Jackomo. The new house seemed somehow too vacant.
Jackomo’s sweet and assertive personality and Ishi’s gentle, sensitive nature helped to fill in our hearts. But the ex always wanted an all white cat with blue eyes, so our search for new adoptees began. We wanted to rescue a female in need of a home and heard of a new kitten fitting our description nearby. It was the spring of 2007 and kittens were multiplying faster than flowers. We found what we were looking for, a lovely white female we named Dream. But there was a bonus: in a box of rescue kittens I saw an irresistibly cute orange tabby female that I fell in love with at first sight. She looked right up at me and ran to my hand to be pet and let out the tiniest, sweetest meow. I said, “I want THAT one!” I named her Ginger Puss. That day we adopted fraternal twin girls. We had four kids again, a full family, and we made a happy home again, for a time.
By 2012 my ex and I realized we had irreconcilable differences when I discovered an unforgivable infidelity. It had been a rough few years of unemployment and financial difficulties, critically ill parents and my sister’s passing and a communication breakdown. We had to part ways. Sometimes, even when you love someone, you can’t fix what’s broken and you come to know you just can’t build a life together anymore. In the divorce we decided it was only fair to split up the “kids.” Jackomo and Ginger Puss had become lovers and practically inseparable, so I took them. I had to let go of Dream and Ishi, much to my heart’s chagrin. It kept the house and poured all my love into my little boy and girl. But the transition was especially rough on Ginger.
She had always been a loveable but sickly, skinny cat with various ailments since she was six months old. Having put her through a battery of tests that were mainly inconclusive my vet encouraged me to give her lots of love and hope for the best. The breakup made her anxious and depressed and she lost a lot of weight and began to have fainting spells. She was put on a new diet and medication which took the edge off, but I knew she was still not well. I met someone new and we became fast friends and lovers. The cats seemed relieved that I was happy again and took to my new partner with delight. Ginger did much better for a while, putting on some weight and having more energy. She and Jackomo’s love affair blossomed, too, constantly grooming each other and sleeping together. It made me wish they weren’t neutered so they could have kittens. Both were showered with love and returned it to us in full.
But Ginger’s underlying health problems came to a head recently when we noticed she was retaining fluid in her abdomen. The vet confirmed she had a congenital heart defect and would have no more than six months to live. I found myself devastated all over again. She’s not even eight years old. I find myself having to consider how to relieve her suffering again and wishing for miracles. My “li’l punkin” may soon have to cross that rainbow bridge to meet Tabby, Tanita and Lennox so much sooner than I thought. I feel grateful for the wonderful years I’ve shared with her but feel cheated that I can’t have more. It seems so many things keep being stripped away from my life as if to teach me that I’m still whole, even if it feels like my heart is disintegrating. Perhaps that is the nature of letting people or animals into your heart, fully. As the old song goes, “You’ve got to give a little, take a little and let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”
I’ve had so much love in my life, much of it the four-legged, furry kind. Cats have helped to shape my life and my happiness and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Through the ups and downs their love has been a constant and I wouldn’t trade away the pain or moments of grief I endured in their passing if I had to sacrifice the endless joys they’ve given me. I still have hope that Ginger will somehow recover and I know one day there’ll be room for another sweet kitty cat in my heart. Jackomo still needs big hugs and kisses and Ginger needs her daddy to stay strong. Sharing this story of how my cats have helped form my life and spirit is of itself part of my healing process. I hope it inspires you to pour your love into an animal that needs it.
The pets who find homes and loving parents are truly the lucky ones. I believe those who choose to become pet owners usually realize that they’re actually the lucky party, fortunate to experience the endless love and joy a pet can bring into their hearts. There’s nothing like a cat to make you feel there is still magic in the world. Don’t let a vacancy sign hang on your heart too long. Remember pets are like Jello. There’s always room for more. I know there’s another kitten out there who needs me. Someday my partner and I may even get a dog. For now, my sweet Ginger Puss and Jackomo will get all the love they can take! As with all my past feline companions, no matter what, we are best friends fur-ever. I hope you’re wise and blessed enough to allow a dog or cat to help you find personal happiness and wellness in your life, too. Pets are, by nature, generous, therapeutic and full of endless patience, forgiveness and love.
Be well! ~Namaste