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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Last Cat

A few years back, I felt compelled to write a piece called “The Only Cat,” after losing Cody, our huge 28-pound Maine Coon Cat. This left us with Penny as the sole cat in the house, after a couple decades of having at least two, and commonly three or four cats, all adding their own unique personalities to the household. Annabelle lived to the ripe old age of 18. Ben, the first Maine Coon, only managed about a year and a half, when complications from diabetes cost him his young life. We then added Abigail and Penny, after moving to Gilroy, and the trio of happy girl kitties all settled into their new forever home. 

This would soon be augmented with the afore-mentioned Cody, who became quite the conversation piece, with his huge size and beautiful double-layer gray fur coat. Unfortunately, at around ten years old, he also developed diabetes, which isn’t supposed to be common in Maine Coons, but we were two-for-two with ours. After a couple years of twice-daily insulin shots, testing, and frequent (expensive!) vet visits, we lost the big guy. Then, just before returning to Bend from our two-year stint back in the Bay Area, we lost Abigail. And just like that, for what would prove to be a brief period, we were down to just Penny. 


I didn’t want Penny to be lonely, or “The Only Cat,” so we started looking around Bend for a companion for her (and us, truth be told). Online research brought us to the local Pet Smart, where they showed a half dozen or so, cats from the Humane Society. These were generally strays, or cats that had to be given up for one reason or another. You obviously never know what you’re getting in a “pound cat,” but if Penny and Abigail were any indication, you could strike gold and give a great kitty a well-deserved good home. We made an appointment to go in and view a specific cat, who looked like our tabby Penny, and got a good online “review” from the staff. But when we arrived at Pet Smart for our meet-and-greet, we were told that the cat we were scheduled to see had to be quarantined for the day, and we couldn’t see her. It seems that the noisy floor-polishing machines had scared her, and she was not in the mood to be held, pet, or taken out of her cage, on that morning. 


But amazingly, we spotted another little tabby furball walking around behind the cages in Pet Smart’s “holding area,” and we asked if we could see her. The staff was raving about her, and said she was a stray, and they knew nothing about her other than she was a total lover. We sat down on the bench, inside the pen area, and the little gray girl jumped right up on my lap and started purring. Always a good sign. Friendly, fearless, and a natural snuggler. We spent a few minutes with her, thought about it overnight, and adopted her the next day. Penny would have a new companion, and we would be gifted with little Emily. They guessed her age at about two and a half, so she was likely litterbox trained, and still had a long life ahead of her. Perfect. 


Emily adjusted immediately to the big Bend house, but Penny wasn’t too sure about this young upstart, invading her domain. They didn’t fight, but they were never the best of friends, as Penny had been with the previous three. She was the only kitty that got along with all the other ones. Unpretentious, friendly, and totally comfortable with all her roommates. But this little new addition to her domain would take some adjusting. As (bad) luck would have it, Penny got very sick soon after we brought Emily home. Without getting into all the ugly details, the last year of her life wasn’t overly pleasant. She never complained but got to a point where the quality of life was in serious decline. And once again, it was getting very expensive.


After her passing, I re-wrote “The Only Cat,” as we were now a one-cat family. And we consciously decided that we’d keep it that way, meaning “we” would be her companions, as opposed to a house full of cats. 


Emily was a joy and loved running around the big house in Bend. Like all our cats, she was an indoors-only feline, and this made for a happy, healthy life. She was also an “equal opportunity” cat, and spent equal time on both of our laps, as well as any visitors we had at the house. Even 

at night, she’d curl up at the foot of the bed, against one of us or the other. 


We always provided her with good quality dry food, cleaned her sandbox regularly, and there was always a fresh bowl of water for her. And her internal clock would go off every afternoon at five o’clock, which was her time for a handful of Temptations kitty treats. Daylight saving time used to be an interesting challenge, as she was ready for treats either an hour early, or an hour late, depending on the time change. Her “clock” apparently counted 24 hours, vs. what was actually five o’clock. A good argument for eliminating daylight saving time.  


We sold the Bend house in late 2016, and bought a new house in Venice, Florida. While all the furniture and possessions would be moved by professionals, we still had to drive cross-country with Emily in tow. I knew La Quinta hotels accepted pets, so my planning logistics centered around six-to-seven-hundred-mile travel days, which ended every afternoon at a La Quinta. This would be a 3500-mile trip, meaning six nights of strange surroundings for Emily, and six days of mild tranquilizers, so she’d relax and sleep most of the trip, in her super-sized back seat travel container. She handled the trip like a trooper, and never complained. 


Venice was yet another new experience for her (and us). A much smaller house to roam in, no snow, air conditioning and closed windows most of the year, a pool, big pond, and some magnificent birds in the backyard. She always “talked” to the little birds she saw out the windows in Bend, and I’m sure the sight of sandhill cranes, great blue herons, wood storks, and great egrets, were quite an eye-opener for her. Some of these stood four feet high, which is undoubtedly an eye-opener for a little ten-pound kitty. Fortunately, the gators that frequented the holding pond, never came close enough for her to see. They were quite content to remain in the water, or lounge on the shore. This was fine with me, too. I worried about these monsters before moving to Florida, but it’s actually a pretty cool sight when you spot one in your backyard. And unless you step on one, or invade their water habitat when they’re hungry, they don’t want anything to do with you. This is a good thing, as they grow to eight feet long, and they eat virtually anything. Just don’t go in any freshwater body of water here. Ever. 


After four years in Venice, we sold the house and moved to Palm Coast, which is on the opposite side of the state, and a couple hundred miles north. Slightly cooler weather, less chances of hurricane hits, and a change of scenery, seemed like a good plan. But as (again, BAD) luck would have it, we timed the move just in time for the pandemic to hit. This made the whole process of listing and showing our house, touring homes in Palm Coast, and the move itself, a logistical nightmare. But we pulled it off and managed to stay healthy. The downside of the move was that we had no opportunity to go anywhere, socialize, meet people, or in my case, get re-involved with real estate sales. Two years later, it’s finally dying down, but it has been a trying time, for sure. 


It was also a very difficult final two years for Emily. She never complained, but some combination of her old age (over 14, now), and some indeterminable conditions, caused a steady decline in her health and quality of life. Many, many trips to our excellent local veterinarian yielded a lot of bills and medications, but not much improvement. She was at about half what had been her normal body weight for the prior 12 years and had taken to using the dining room rug as her preferred sandbox. Never a good thing. 


Nothing the vet recommended or prescribed was making any difference. Her quality of life continued to decline, and we had to make the tough decision that pet owners know only too well. As one of my Bend friends once said, the toughest part of having a cat or dog, is saying goodbye. 


We both agreed that this would be the last cat. I’ve had cats, quite literally, all of my life. I think I got my first little orange guy at about eight years old. I love having a cat or cats in the house, but dealing with them getting sick, growing old, and dying, was too much. Directly after leaving the vet for the final time, I collected all her stuff, and got it out of the house. Sandboxes, climbing trees, toys, grooming items, food, sand, bowls … everything. The local Humane Society was happy for the donation, and I was more than happy to donate. 


If there’s a positive to all this, it will mean a cleaner house with no cat hair to deal with. No sandbox to clean, no spots on the rug to worry about, no food and water bowls to keep clean and full, and no five o’clock treats. It also gives us much freer rein to travel, without having to have a neighbor look in on her for the time we’re gone. This was easy in Venice or Bend because we had friends. But not in Palm Coast, where we haven’t exactly been social butterflies. Everyone seems to keep to themselves here, including us. 


And while Emily’s now only a memory, I still “feel” her around the house. I can see her at her food or water bowl, walking into a room, jumping up on one of our laps, curling up like a pretzel, and making herself at home until we had to get up for some reason. I still expect her to be at the foot of the bed at night, and I’m still subconsciously careful not to disturb her, imagining that she’s curled up next to my leg. Five o’clock still seems like treat time, but I no longer need to put out her little handful of chicken or salmon flavored Temptations. I don’t have to contend with her shrieking “meows” as it approaches treat-time, but I sure miss it. She’s the last cat. There’s a distinct void in the house, with her passing. I’ll deal with the emptiness, as anyone has to do when they lose their favorite pet, as life inevitably seems to go on. Rest in peace, Emily.