I guess I should really start by saying that I have a long history with cats, strays mostly. My first ever cat showed up on the doorstep of my parents’ house when I was nine. For a while, she camped out in our shed, and then, one cold winter night she meowed at the door, and my parents finally relented and let her in.
As an adult, the first cat I got was a cat that my husband and I found at an animal shelter just after we first moved in together. He was a skinny grey tabby kitten with a terrible eye infection. We moved him with us to five different homes, including across the country, where he rode as a carry-on for a five hour flight. Needless to say, all the moves stressed him out a bit, and he became a bit of stress eater – hitting 20 pounds and losing his stripes.
When we first moved to Arizona, we adopted a beautiful long-haired orange tabby. We found him in PetSmart, in a Humane Society adoption cage, with a sign that said “Today’s my last day. If I am not adopted today I will be euthanized.” It was nearly five o’clock, and though the cat was beaten up, limping, and looked like he may have been in a fight with a coyote, we took him home. He healed, and became incessantly grateful to us for saving him. He followed us everywhere, waited for us faithfully by the door, tried night after night to join us for dinner. And he had a jealous streak, and enjoyed chasing the grey cat under the bed any time he dared come to us for attention (causing, of course, more stress eating.)
A few years later, we found ourselves in PetSmart yet again, and happened upon a skinny black kitten, the runt of a litter that had all already been adopted. And before we knew it, we were bringing him home. On the car ride home, as I held the tiny cat inside my zip-up sweatshirt, my husband mentioned that it might be a good idea if we had kids before we adopted any more cats (or walked into any more PetSmarts on Saturdays when the adoptees were there).
And so we did. Two of them. Two kids, who at first, tried to rip the cats’ tails off, and then learned to pet them gently, and love the cats as much as we did. And while we became lost in diapers and late night feedings, the cats were always there, keeping us company, lying on our feet when we were up in the middle of the night. Our black runt of a kitten fell madly in love with both of the other two, taking turns keeping them company throughout the day.
And then a few weeks ago, we left for a few days to go to a funeral. Everything was last minute, and we were running out the door, with barely time to make our flight. As we were leaving, I saw the orange cat sitting by the door, as if he wanted to go with us, as he always did, and I gave him a pet and told him I’d see him in a few days.
But while we were gone, my neighbor came in to the feed the cats, and found him, dead, on the kitchen floor. We don’t know why or what happened, but we know it must’ve been quick because he was fine when we left, fine when my neighbor saw him the day before. We never really knew how old he was, because no one could say for sure when we adopted him that Saturday afternoon nine years ago, as he was about to be euthanized. But he never seemed old.
Since we’ve been home, the house has been quiet. No one running to greet us at the door. No one trying to jump on the dinner table. No one hissing at the grey cat when he jumps on our laps. Our orange cat was a cat who thought he was a person, and to us, in a lot of ways, he felt like a person. Which is why I’ve been dreading writing this post all week. Because there’s no tangible way to describe it, how much a pet, a little furry animal whose life you’ve saved, really does change your life.