Sunday, April 28, 2013

A little life

If you're not a cat lover, or an animal lover of any sort, you may not understand this. I'm grieving for a cat. This cat. Her name is Lucy. I didn't choose it. She came with a name. If you don't have much to do with animals, you may not realise that they're not all alike. Every cow, every horse, every dog or cat - they all have different personalities, fears, curious habits, and relationships. Like people, only in a far less complicated way.

Lucy's world, since she came to live with me, was a very small one; she never went further than my immediate neighbours' gardens, apart from occasionally coming to greet me in the street when she heard my car pull up outside. I tried to discourage that, but she was streetwise, having been raised in a city.

In the summer, Lucy liked to lie in the garden near the front door, where she was ready to greet visitors. I feared that some delivery person might fall over her, camouflaged as she was - a grey tabby on a shadowed concrete path - but no one ever did. Instead, she was rewarded with lots of fuss. The men who service the boiler, among others, were overheard talking to her.

Every Sunday at 3 o'clock an octogenarian friend visits for tea, cake, and a TV murder mystery. To begin with, Lucy was rather standoffish with him, but he won her over with cat treats. As soon as she and Audrey (our other cat) heard his voice, they were there, looking expectant. I provided my friend with a little fluffy mat for his knees, to protect his skinny shanks from her sharp claws, and Lucy hopped up and made herself comfortable for the whole of Midsomer Murders, or whatever we were watching, until about 5pm, when it was dinner-time. My friend doesn't have a TV or a cat, and he doesn't eat cake on weekdays. He regards Sundays as the highlight of his week, and the cats (and previously the dog, who died five years ago) as the main part of the treat. When Lucy lay on your lap and allowed you to stroke her (sometimes she let you know when to stop, with a clout), you'll believe all that stuff about how stroking a cat can lower your blood pressure.

Like most cats, Lucy liked to be warm. On sunny days, she'd sunbathe out of doors. If it was very hot, she trampled a little nest in long grass, in the shade, to doze away an afternoon. If I was pottering in the garden, she liked to sit on an old tree stump, and watch. In the winter, she appreciated the central heating. She'd lie on a window ledge above a radiator, or find a warm spot on the floor over the central heating pipes. Last winter, being so cold, she dozed her way through the worst months.

Not all cats like milk, but Lucy did. She didn't seem able to drink it without splashing some over the side of the saucer (the pretty one I bought from the charity shop just for her), so I had to mop up the splashes several times a week. The RSPCA advises that it is a cat owners' responsibility to entertain her cat, as well as feed it and care for its welfare. Cats can be very fussy about toys, I've found. A promising-looking toy with dangly things attached to a sort of glove was completely ignored. A skinny mouse on elastic, that dangles from a sort of fishing rod, amused her for about five minutes at a time. A pink sausage-shaped thing that smelt of catnip was occasionally hugged and rubbed, and once she even fell asleep with her chin resting on it.

Over the last couple of years, Lucy had to have most of her teeth removed, but she seemed to manage without them. A couple of months ago, she started losing weight. She'd been quite plump when she first came to live here. Now she was skin and bone. The vet took blood samples and speculated about a thyroid problem, but the medication he tried made things worse, so he tried steroids instead. She gained a little weight, but not much. She drove me mad, always pestering for food (I couldn't just leave it out, or greedy Audrey would steal it). I bought all sorts of expensive cat food to tempt her. She'd eat some enthusiastically for a day or two, then refuse it. Things seemed to be improving, and then, yesterday, just after she'd had some breakfast, I heard a horrible noise. It was Lucy, crying out in pain, and staggering around the kitchen. By the time the vet arrived, she had collapsed and was hardly breathing. It may have been a heart attack, the vet said, but whatever it was, and whatever she did, Lucy was unlikely to recover. She was given a lethal injection where she lay, on the floor at my feet, and was gone in seconds. It's funny how death changes you, human or animal. In an instant, you can tell that there's no one there. It's like snuffing out a flame.

I make no apology for being sad about my cat. I'm in good company. Doris Lessing, Brigid Brophy, Mervyn Peake, Mark Twain, Edith Sitwell, Garrison Keillor, W H Auden, and many other creative people, have loved cats. They'll all have felt the loss of their cats. Albert Schweitzer said, "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life; music and cats." He was right.

Cat illustration © M Nelson 2013


Pat (in Belgium) said...

Oh, Margaret. What can I say? This goes straight to the heart and there's nothing to do about it.
At least you were with her when she died...

My mother, who completely freaks out at any display of emotion not her own, once told me as I was sobbing about the death of Sylvester (at nearly 18), if you want a pet that will outlive you, get a parrot or a tortoise. I don't think so!

Margaret Nelson said...

Thanks Pat. That's the trouble with dogs and cats - their lives are so short, you're bound to have this same experience over and over. Still worth it though.

Pat (in Belgium) said...

I agree.
I've had cats -- except for a brief period in university -- ever since I was 12. (After our beloved dog, an Irish setter/ terrier mix for whom I was named, died at the age of 13, my father forbade getting any more dogs. So we went for cats who all had to be male because they "didn't have babies".)
I currently have three, two the offspring of a fourth semi feral cat who showed up in the garden last year & I started feeding. (Still can't touch her so haven't been able to catch her & head off future families...yet.)
Just calculated that if these live even as long as the last two (who died within a month of each other at 14), I'll be in my 80s! (And realized it's entirely possible that my cats may outlive me!)
Daughter (who has one huge white furball)says three is the minimum number to officially qualify as a "crazy cat lady".
I say, bring it and them on.

It IS worth it.

Margaret Nelson said...

I was brought up with a succession of dogs, never more than one at a time, but my dad wasn't keen on cats so we never had one. Since my son was small we've had lots, plus rabbits and chickens. Most recently we had four dogs and four cats, which have all died of various old age related problems. Audrey is our sole surviving cat. She's on permanent steroids, after she got acute anaemia triggered by her annual vaccination booster. I especially missed Wizzy, our Jack Russell, who died as suddenly as Lucy, in very similar circumstances, nearly five years ago. After all the other dogs had died, she and I were almost inseparable, and I still miss her. I didn't think that the cats would appreciate a new dog at their age, having been used to a well-behaved geriatric, so I didn't get another one. Not sure what I'll do when Audrey goes, but I don't think I could live altogether cat or dog free. In a year or so I'll be 70, so it'll probably have to be a sensible senior. Yes, it is worth it.