“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France
If there is one species that interests me to no end, it is cats. Big and small, domesticated and feral. Preferably in an original state and not genetically manipulated by breeders to please our eyes. There is something about the nature of all cats that echoes the ‘original features’ of the wild cat. They are independent, do not need humans to survive in the great outdoors and if you are lucky, one or more will like you enough to allow you in their space.
My history with cats is long and eventful. I cannot remember a single day in my childhood without a cat being present. As I moved out of my parental home, I chose my own personal cat. As if one could ever truly ‘own’ a cat 🙂
I picked the scrawniest tabby kitten from my local Humane Society and called it Macsy. A small, slender female tabby that weighed less than 6 pounds. She was an indoor/outdoor cat, which was perfectly fine, because I lived in a farmhouse with many other critters. I was going to have her neutered at six months, but well before that she surprised me with a litter! I am sure I am not the first person to have that happen…
I remember the night of the delivery well. I never let her sleep in my bed, but that night she was carrying on in the hallway so loudly and insistently, that I caved and opened my bedroom door. She crawled right under the blankets and when I wanted to remove her, my hand was wet! It was then I found out she was in the middle of labour! Thank the Lord that I was able to find good homes for all 3 of her offspring! Macsy disappeared from my life quite suddenly around the age of 8 years. I don’t know what happened to her. She never came home. She was either hit by a car or taken by a dog or other wildlife. It is the most horrible way to lose a pet: never knowing how life ended for them.
I was catless for a while, but not for long. I had moved to another city and lived in an apartment. It was a lonely place sometimes. I again turned to the local Humane Society and picked out a young cat. I did not want to have another tabby, because it would remind me of Macsy too much. This time, I brought home a good-looking black female with beautiful white markings. In the years that followed, I moved from one city to the other and she of course always came with me. I named her Roetje, which means ‘soot’ in my native Dutch language. She was a wonderful companion and I loved her with all my heart. A couple of years later, she made it known to me that she was lonely in the apartment. How did I know that? Every time I was leaving, she would put her front paws around my legs and give me a little bite and look at me directly. To me, this said: ‘Don’t go! I want you to stay!’
This time, I wanted to choose a kitten of a certain type. I was very partial to turtoise cats. They are often quite the character with a lot of spunk and their markings are usually unique and beautiful. I found a turtoise kitten through a newspaper ad. The owners of the litter grilled me for an hour to make sure I was a good cat person! When I brought the kitten home, I decided to name it ‘Tuttel’, because of her turtle-like colourings. I kept her apart from Roetje for a while, but not for long. In the beginning they did a lot of play-fighting, but one day I came home and found them sleeping in the same cat-bed and that was it. They were friends for life!
They were both indoor cats. After the loss of Macsy, I did not ever want to run the risk again of losing cats to the outdoors, no matter in which way. But my two furry friends had other plans! I would let them out on my balconies, supervised only. One day, I was preparing a meal in the kitchen for just a minute when they stepped onto the back balcony. When I looked up, both cats were gone. I searched the apartment, but to no avail. Where the hell had they gone?
It turned out that both had decided to jump on the drying rack on the kitchen balcony. And both fell down. Four stories. I was in a complete panic! The only people I knew in this low-rise apartment were an elderly couple on the ground floor. I asked them to help look for the cats, because I believed they had both fallen. And I was right! They were both OK though. I was lucky. I found Roetje first, who was crying loudly under a bush. It took a lot longer to find Tuttel but when I did, she too seemed none the worse for wear. What a blessing!
A couple of weeks later a friend of mine, who really liked Tuttel, had her on his lap and was fondling her. Suddenly, he told me to come and feel her stomach. There was a bump there! Oh no! Was she sick?! Poor thing! The next day I took her to the vet, he felt her stomach and told me she in fact had 4 tumors and that he preferred to refer to them as kittens… Sure enough, little Tuttel, that had not yet been neutered at that point, pulled the same trick on me as Macsy and took advantage from her fall to get pregnant!
I was lucky again and managed to find good people to adopt all kittens. I decided to keep one for myself. I named her Belly, because she had a white belly. She was basically a tabby, but the tortoise genes also gave her some red patches. Tuttel’s character changed after the pregnancy. I got her neutered and she developed an intense dislike to me. My friend, who had discovered her kittens first, offered to adopt her. They got on like a house on fire and it was the perfect solution!
Roetje and Belly traveled with me all over The Netherlands. But then came the day that I met my first husband. He was of Dutch descent, but had spent most of his life in the Asian Pacific area and Australia. We decided to move to Australia after we got married. I naively believed him when he said that Roetje and Belly would have to be in quarantine for many months before being allowed into Australia. I am talking about an era where hardly anyone had Internet and I never checked the regulations. Roetje was 16 by then and Belly was 14. I did not want to put them through such a big change. I had to look for somebody who would want to look after them. I did find a nice lady who did, but this was probably one of the hardest goodbyes I had to say.
And things got worse. In my new country, barely 2 months in, I started to have recurring nightmares about Roetje. Fortunately I no longer remember the details, but I do know that the dreams were bad. At first, I told myself that it was just because I missed her so much and felt so guilty about moving away. But as months went by, the dreams did not abate. I had, by then, received a letter from Roetje’s and Belly’s new caretaker and she had written that all was well and that both cats were settling in nicely. I believed this about Belly, that was an uncomplicated character and would totally be able to adjust. I desperately wanted to believe the same thing about Roetje, but secretly I had doubts. However, I did not want to be the kind of person that does not trust the new caretaker and keeps bothering her. So I did not. But after six months had passed, and I was still having these dreams, I asked one of my best friends to check on the new owner.
Not long after she telephoned me. She told me to sit down and that she had bad news. She did not have to say more. I knew. Roetje had passed. She had in fact passed just 2 months after I left. Which is when my nightmares had started, believe it or not. My friend told me that she died of stomach cancer. But in my heart of hearts I did not believe that. I think she just faded because I was no longer there. I decided never to have another cat. The goodbyes were just too painful.
We were walking in one of the shopping malls some months later, when I noticed 2 kittens in the window of a pet store. They were adorable. Both were ‘torties’. I stopped and filled my eyes with them, then walked on. My husband offered to get them for me, but I started to cry instantly. I just could not face getting attached and losing another cat, let alone two. He felt for me and talked me into meeting the kittens. We were told that one of them was already spoken for, the other was still ‘available’. So we took her home. We named her Sammy. She was a ‘tortie’ with fairly long hair, so some mixed blood. She was a regular big cat and it was truly wonderful to have a cat in the house again. She was doing really well.
Six months passed and my husband’s daughter came to visit for Christmas. My husband had a dog at the time and we were going shopping for some food. My step daughter went to the back of the pet store to ‘pet the animals’. After I had paid for the dog food, I went to fetch her and there she was: sitting on the floor, in the adoption center, with a tiny, tiny and frankly fairly ugly kitten on her hand. It had enormous ears, like a bat. And it cried non-stop. “Look”, my step daughter said, “She is so tiny! Here, you take her! Maybe you can make her stop crying!” She put the little creature in my hand before I could react and lo and behold, it stopped crying, curled up, started to purr and promptly fell asleep… “Owe!”, my step daughter exclaimed, “Now you have to buy her, she just chose you!” I could not argue with that and so it was that I was, once more, the owner of two cats.
We had to make up a story for my husband though, because he was not in favour of having two cats in the house. I said to my step daughter: “Leave it to me, follow my lead…” When my husband came home, we had the little cat in a pet carrier. I very convincingly told him we had found it on the driveway. When his reaction was: “Owe!”, I knew I was OK. He was OK with adopting it and it was then that I came out with the truth. Which did not matter anymore at that point. I named the kitten Dixie and she became part of my life really quickly.
At the same time, we were having trouble with Sammy. She was attacked by another cat, in our yard. I ran out when I heard the screams, and Sammy rushed into the house, quite upset. I checked her out, but other than some wetness I did not find any injury. No blood or anything like that. Our neighbours over there had a nasty Tom cat, it could have been him, or a feral cat. After a couple of days 3 big abscesses developed on her spine that needed to be drained in surgery. When she came back home after the first surgery, she was a different cat. Very, very aggressive, hating me. I think I got her home too soon. The vet said this is just the craziness that happens when they are still half in anaesthesia. But it never really changed back to normal. Even after the wounds healed she never liked me like before.
Dixie and Sammy cat traveled with me as I moved to other countries and one of the later countries, Bermuda, had a climate similar to where I was in Australia. That is when she calmed down and became her own affectionate self again. And that is also where she died not long after, due to acute renal failure. It was nightmare upon nightmare…. these things happen in the life of a cat owner, I guess!
Dixie was with me for another 11 years or so. She developed chronic renal failure and was just getting old. Her bones hurt, we had trouble keeping her weight up, but she remained the strong trooper that she always was. She had her own little throne in the living room, next to my chair, and spent a lot of time together. In the end she slept almost the entire day. When she was almost 20 years old, I had some medical issues myself and Dixie and I binge watched many movies and television shows. I did not know at the time that these weeks would be the last ones I had with her. On a Thursday night, I was already in bed, I heard a blood curdling scream in the living room. I rushed downstairs and found Dixie in the middle of the kitchen, crying loudly, looking around as if she did not know where she was. I quickly surmised that she could no longer see. She had been completely deaf for years now, but her eyes were always good. It absolutely broke my heart. My little senior cat, first deaf, then renal trouble, then painful arthritis due to old age and now this… I knew I could not let her live in silence and in darkness. The next day we decided we had to let her go. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was also the very first time I had to do it. I owed it to her, is how I felt.
We had her cremated and I still have her ashes and some clippings of her coat in a little Cedar box. I cannot imagine that I will ever be close to another cat in the same way. Our rescue Suzi has a unique bond with my husband, much the same way I did with Dixie. And now my time with her is over. It can still make me cry. I still miss her and think of every single day.
My little Dixie, moments before I helped her cross the Rainbow Bridge. Acute retinal detachment (which causes irreversable blindness) is one of the side-effects of chronic renal disease. This is the reason her pupils are so wide: she is already blind.