Home Alone

Smoky, January 2011.
Smoky, January 2011.

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.

Dingle, c. 1997.
Dingle, c. 1997.

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.

Dingle chasing balloons, Christmas 1997. (Or maybe 1996.)
Dingle chasing balloons, Christmas 1997. (Or maybe 1996.)

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.)

Smoky arrives on the scene, fall 2002.
Smoky arrives on the scene, fall 2002.

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.

Best of friends, November 2008.
Best of friends, November 2008.

*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.

13 thoughts on “Home Alone

  1. Eileen September 5, 2011 / 2:02 am

    They loved you too. I’m so sorry.

  2. Chris Gladis September 5, 2011 / 2:11 am

    I know just how you feel. It’s a terribly hard decision to make, even when it’s really the only one. I’ve had to go through it twice, and I hated myself for it.

    However, I content myself with the knowledge (or belief) that all the humans and animals involved benefited from knowing one another, and that our lives would have been just that much less interesting if we hadn’t. I don’t look forward to doing it again, though I know there’s a good chance I will, but I’ll try to focus on the years we had, rather than the terrible moment at hand.

  3. Mom September 5, 2011 / 3:18 am

    Two of the luckiest kitties on earth — to have been loved by you! This post is a beautiful tribute to them. I am hugging you……

  4. Common Loon September 5, 2011 / 7:39 am

    I get it. And I was surprised by the intensity of the grief. Someone replaced the word “pet” with “companion,” and for some reason that helped me be OK with not being OK with my sadness and loss. I’m sorry.

  5. Gloria Larson September 5, 2011 / 11:27 am

    I’m so sorry, Sarah! I’ve had to have cats put to sleep before and though it was the right decision it doesn’t make it easier! I can’t imagine living alone without a kitty to keep me company…I didn’t want another cat after my Louise died in 2006 but I stopped by cat adoption day at the library a month later “just to look” and came home with 2 kittens, and 5 years later I’m so glad I did. BTW I absolutely love the picture of Dingle with the balloons! I hope you will take comfort in your memories of them and I’ll be thinking of you!

  6. susan September 5, 2011 / 6:47 pm

    I’m sorry! I have what I thought was a hate/hate relationship with our cats, but when we had a pretty close call this summer I realized I’m way more attached than I thought. Sending hugs…

  7. Joanne September 5, 2011 / 7:40 pm

    I’m very sorry, Sarah. I think you did the right thing for Smoky–the poor thing must have been suffering horribly. If you need distraction from being sad, give me a call. I need a distraction from being pregnant. 😉 And when you’re ready to adopt the new cat, let me know, I have a friend very involved in cat rescue…

  8. Shannon September 5, 2011 / 9:03 pm

    Aw Sarah, I’m so sorry. Smoky was a good kitty. You did the right thing. Putting a pet down is the hardest thing, I don’t care what anyone else says. I had not been living at my parents house for YEARS and I was married and pregnant with Maggie when they finally put down our family dog, Heidi. I was a wreck all day (and I don’t blame the preggo horomones either).

    And hey! That’s our Collen Road apartment! Fond memories there…even of Dingle, haha.

  9. Sarah September 5, 2011 / 9:59 pm

    Thank you all so much for all the sympathetic – and empathetic – words. It helps a lot to know that I’m not alone in feeling horribly sad about both losing my cat and having to be the one to decide that it had to happen.

  10. Malnurtured Snay (@MalnurturedSnay) September 6, 2011 / 11:54 pm

    I got my two cats way back in ’99 – Guy’s now fourteen (he was two), and Tippy’s twelve. I can’t imagine losing either of them, and they’ve both had health scares within the last couple of years. I think I’m going to go drag them out of their little cubby holes and hug ’em a bit.

    • Sarah September 6, 2011 / 11:59 pm

      I’m pretty sure Smoky would approve of her legacy being extra hugs for your cats tonight. Thanks…

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