This post has been delayed since I was simply not ready to write it immediately after our loss, and thereafter have been out of town and occupied with the delayed planting of my garden. But it is time, past time, to honor a longtime member of our household. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, and hope you understand my need to chronicle our meeting and her passing.
Some of you know bits or all of her story. On February 9, 2000, I was driving my usual route north along I-75 after work. As is my wont, I was in the left (faster) lane, but keeping a sharp eye out for the unexpected. Construction had been lingering along this stretch for months, and on windy days, debris had been known to blow across the median wall separating northbound from southbound. This watchfulness is how I detected a brownish lump sitting atop the wall; I took it at first to be one of the sandbags previously noted along the construction site, but drawing closer, realized it was in fact an adult cat. On the wall of an expressway. At rush hour. Obviously there wasn’t a thing I could do at that moment and from that location. I changed lanes rapidly so I could exit at the next opportunity, turned around and got myself southbound, repeating out loud, “Please stay on the wall… please stay on the wall, just a bit longer.” The timing of traffic on the lighter side of I-75 could not have been better. Once again in the left lane, I was able to safely slow since no one was immediately behind me, and pull off onto the shoulder as close to the wall, and her location, as possible. Her attention was still focused on crossing northbound, one paw extended as if preparing to jump down. I realized that my appearance may well scare her into oncoming traffic (a sight from which I would never have recovered), but I also would never have forgiven myself for not at least trying to help. Powering my window down, I made the expected coo-ey, kissy noises of one attempting to lure and comfort a frightened animal. Her head whipped around to focus on me, eyes blazingly wide, cuts on her face. Ever so slowly, I got out of my car and watched her carefully for any signs of bolting but she remained still. I swallowed deeply and slowly encircled her body with my arms, preparing to grasp her. I was ready for anything… she could have turned into a clawing, biting wildcat and I knew I would not let her go. But she did not; she came to me willingly, blood from her face transferring to my shirt, and allowed me to sit back down in my car with her and close the door. Mission accomplished.
I was driving a Honda Civic at the time, not know for its abundance of spare space; yet in her trauma, she wedged her plump striped body completely under my passenger seat. When she would become quiet, I worried since I had no idea of possible internal injuries; “Talk to me, kitty!” She would meow a bit so at least I knew she felt well enough to be responsive. Twenty minutes later we were in my driveway, but she would not come out from under the seat. As it was a cold winter day and I feared for shock, etc., I eventually restarted my car to keep her warm until I could devise a way to coax her out. This involved much patient chatter of some 40 minutes, but I believe it was the can of tuna which finally did the trick. At length she emerged, to be carried (with her tuna) into my house and upstairs to our office until I could decide what to do next.
You see, we had a cat. My Shadow. The Queen Bee. She who would brook no other creatures in her domain, who’d reigned supreme -if alone- for years. We simply couldn’t keep a second cat (I thought.) So I tended to immediate matters at least, inspecting and gently cleaning her cuts as well as I could and determining that she was otherwise physically sound. She was so responsive – this was a cat who had known the love of a human and trusted in it. Her purr… I had never heard such a loud, solid purr, and haven’t to this day. That evening as I curled around her in her makeshift bed, still sequestered in my husband’s office, she purred until she finally dropped off to sleep. I thought for sure someone must be looking for such an affectionate and domesticated animal. Also in my handling of her, I had noted scabs on all four paws (!) where claws would have been and gathered that she had just been de-clawed; perhaps she’d gotten away while someone was retrieving her from the vet’s office. I called several shelters in the area to see if anyone had reported a missing brown tabby, but no one had heard anything. I left my information with them in case anyone came looking for her, but was never contacted. In subsequent days, I also trolled the neighborhoods close to where I found her, looking for LOST posters and the like.
The next morning, I took her to our own vet for a onceover, and she was determined to be otherwise healthy, clean and well-fed… estimated age of between one and three years old. The doctor assured me my Shadow-cat WOULD come around and accept an interloper; his multiple rescues had all acclimated to one another and “now sleep in a pile together.” Since I couldn’t justify leaving her at a shelter after what she’d been through, assuming any of them had any room, I decided to at least attempt an adoption and my husband agreed. We now needed a name. I’d always grooved on the perceived letter M on tabby foreheads and figured any kittycat who came with her own monogram should be named accordingly. The problem was because of her size and build (she was unusually wide even when not plump) we had thought her to be male, and so I named her Mason. Upon learning at the vet that she was simply a, um, statuesque female, we made a slight adjustment and called her Macy.
Several weeks later, two things occurred which gave us some insight into what might have happened to her and how she wound up where I found her. One was a conversation with my nail technician who had worked with rescues, and explained how dogfighting rings typically use young adult cats to bait the dogs and instigate conflict. This horrifying scenario jived with the second event which occurred while I was out of town on business for a couple of days. While talking on the phone with my husband, Macy on his lap, he suddenly went quiet. “Um, April? She isn’t declawed. They’re growing back.” Her claws had been brutally clipped so far back, it took over two weeks for them to reappear and this also explained the scabs on her paws. I’ve been informed since that this also is typical treatment of bait cats so as to prevent any (premature) injury to the dogs. Once bait animals have served their purpose, they are frequently disposed of from a moving vehicle which may explain how she wound up on I-75; or perhaps, strong, quick and resourceful animal that she was, she managed an escape. It didn’t matter, really. Although Shadow was less than enthusiastic, it became clear to us that Macy would now have a home for life.
However responsive and affectionate she was, it also became clear with the passage of time that her experiences had left their mark. She loathed, in the most violent of terms, to be picked up or handled. Petting was fine, and she had no problem occupying a lap. However, she also had no compunction about biting or lashing out and was in general a nervous animal. Unless my husband was home. In the contrary way of cats, while tolerating and trusting me as her rescuer, it was my husband around whom her world revolved. She was simply… addicted to him. Where he sat, she sat upon him and where he lay, she smooshed up against him noisily purring. A motorcycle rider and hunter, he is not infrequently out of town and these absences tried her temper most sorely. Typically by the third day of No Daddy, no one (feline or human) could enter a room she occupied without being hissed at. She was his constant companion at night, purring next to his head until she finally dropped off to sleep.
Over the years, we acquired more rescues and in spite of certain recurring tensions, generally everyone did acclimate as the old kind doctor had predicted. It took about two years, but finally Shadow and Macy reached a certainly level of detente and would allow the other to occupy the same queen-sized bed (albeit at opposite corners.)
I won’t go into her health and habits in the last couple of years which remained good in spite of noticeable weight loss, but when I returned from a trip to Florida in early May, I was struck by how labored her breathing had suddenly become. She was also quite distended around her midsection. I ran her into the vet’s office the next morning where they could not determine what was happening internally as the fluid she retained blocked all attempts at x-rays. After several days of drug treatments and an eventual procedure using a needle to drain the fluid, they suspected either heart disease (manageable at least in the short term) or tumors in her chest cavity. It was recommended we seek the services of a more specialized facility for an echocardiogram. Without this last test, we could not make an informed decision; we wouldn’t allow her suffer a painful life, but also didn’t want to euthanize prematurely. She was stable and breathing well, and continuing to eat and drink, so we elected to wait a few days for the echo. Those three days at the vet had amounted to $500; the ultrasound of her heart would be at least that, and we preferred to get another paycheck under our belts then take her to the specialist five days later. We did not get the chance.
Sunday evening (May 12), she would not eat. We had noticed a fair amount of drooling that began to escalate and turn bloody, and suspected some sort of gum infection; her teeth were sound particularly for an older cat. So back Macy and I went to our vet first thing Monday, where our kind and pretty Dr. Robin noted the subtle offset of her jaw and discovered a marble-sized tumor along her left jawbone. The tumor in all likelihood was causing the jaw to dislocate, but without dental x-rays, this could neither be confirmed nor remedied. However one cannot obtain x-rays of that precision on a cat without anesthetizing them… and a cat of that age cannot be assured of surviving general anesthesia. Even if the odds were in favor of her coming out of it, the tumor near her mouth seemed to confirm the suspected presence of tumors elsewhere. Our girl was hungry, in considerable pain, and so tired. As our vet spelled out these hard facts, my eyes filled and then hers did as well; our course was clear. I called my husband at work and tearfully explained that we had to let her go. I said my farewells during this half hour I had alone with her, as she left the exam counter to curl up upon my wrap in a corner of the room. I sat close by, stroking her head and kissing her between her ears in the way she’d always liked so much that she’d push her head forward to situate herself just right. Finally, Christian came and I moved aside; at the end of the day, she would always be his cat… or more correctly, he would always be her human. His arms encircled her, much as mine had on that first cold day, to protect and save her. And safely comfortable, she slipped away.
He had decided well in advance that he would take a different path then I did with Shadow, whose ashes remain with me in my sewing room. Under a gorgeously lush pine tree, he made a grave which is adorned with the cement figure of a cat curled up sleeping.
She graced our lives and taught us to love on her terms for over thirteen years; the hole she has left is vast and unfillable, but her legacy is that because of her, we unwittingly turned into feline rescuers and have subsequently saved six more precious kitties. They don’t know what they owe her… but we do. And we will never forget.
Good-bye, sweet one.