It’s been a strange week around my apartment – quieter and emptier than it has ever been, or than any of my homes have been since mid-January 1994. I wasn’t awakened earlier than planned by hunger in a belly other than my own, I wasn’t followed into the bathroom for a bit of ear-scratching, and the only thing that has warmed my lap is my computer. Today, I packed away the scratching board and cat bed, and threw away the litter box. And so ends my first week as no-longer-a-pet-owner.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I made the difficult decision to put my cat Smoky to sleep. She was diagnosed with asthma in the spring (Yes, cats can get asthma. It was news to me, too.) and was doing OK on the meds the vet* prescribed for a while, but in the last few weeks – even with the addition of a second drug – they had just stopped working.
Deciding to have a pet put to sleep is never, ever easy, and harder still when they’re still fairly young – she was only nine. But Smoky had gotten to the point where her whole life was centered around trying to breathe; she was hardly eating or sleeping and even walking from her bed to the kitchen was so taxing she’d stop to rest once or twice along the way. (This, in a distance I can cover in about ten steps.) Worst of all, she looked so sad and scared all the time. When I got up on Monday morning, she gave me a look that I swear said, “Why?” and I knew it was time.
The timing, however, could hardly have been sadder for me, as it came one year to the week from when I had to have my other cat, Dingle, put to sleep. He was an old, old man – almost 17 – so he’d had a good, long life, but still… there’s never a time where it’s a happy or pleasant or comfortable decision to make.
I’ve never been the most sentimental of pet owners – I mean, I loved my cats, but I’ve never been a “my pets are my babies” kind of person. I think maybe because of this I didn’t think it would be as painful as it has been to lose them, but damn, I’m a little bit of a basket case over it.
I haven’t really written much about them in the past – the aforementioned unsentimentality combined with a healthy fear of sounding like a crazy cat lady. But I’m going to risk that now, just to share a little bit about why they were so special to me.
Getting a cat was priority #1 when I moved out on my own. I hadn’t been in my first apartment a month when I answered an ad in the Albany Times-Union. By the time I arrived, only the club-footed runt of the litter remained. When the folks getting rid of the kittens mentioned that no one had wanted him so far so they thought they might take him down to the Hudson with a bag and a rock, I was all in. Naturally. (Pretty sure I came in with “sucker” tattooed on my forehead.) I was smitten with him right off, though none of my friends were. From his earliest days, Dingle (named after a place I visited on the West Coast of Ireland, by the way) was a one-person cat. He loved me fiercely, and hated pretty much everyone else. I thought this was charming, but those on the receiving end of his hisses tended to disagree.
(I was dismayed to discover when I started planning this post that I don’t have any photos of Dingle as a kitten – the two from 1996 or 1997 are the earliest I could find. I thought this was a little odd until I remembered that digital cameras/camera phones didn’t exist in 1994, so nobody documented life as relentlessly as today.)
I had never intended to have more than one cat and often joked that I wanted to keep the pets-to-people ratio in my house at 1:1. But in late in the summer of 2002 Smoky took to living under my car. And then in my back yard. Finally, she followed me inside and sat down in the middle of my living room, with a look that suggested she intended to stay. When I realized that Dingle seemed to like her and didn’t mind all her crazy-kitten energy (most often expressed by jumping on him until he deigned to chase her around), she got to stay.
It wasn’t always easy with her – she got terribly sick about six months after I got her and incurred a vet bill it took me years to pay, and because she was not declawed and an alley cat at heart, my furniture and door frames will never be the same. (Translation: she scratched the living daylights out of everything.) But she was every bit the sweetheart that Dingle was not. Her feral instincts made her initially skittish with people, but after a few minutes she’d warm right up and lay down for a belly rub. I think she missed Dingle as much as I did, and was lonely without him. We adjusted our routines a lot in the last year – most notably, she was allowed to sleep in the bed with me – to make up for her being on her own.
And now, I’m on my own. I’ve long thought I wouldn’t get another cat after they were gone. But I’m already wavering. It’s kinda lonely being home alone.
*For the past year, I’ve been taking the cats to Union Veterinary Clinic near Union Station on Capitol Hill. If you’re in DC and in need of a vet, they’re lovely, kind people. I can’t recommend them highly enough.