The Cat Eulogies

Vanna (1999-2016)

When we lost Scamper last spring, we were already in the process of losing Vanna, too. Vanna had been diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma two years earlier, and, after thriving for longer than expected under the excellent care of her veterinarian, she was beginning to lose ground.

Vanna had been my mother’s cat, which undoubtedly contributed to the depth of my attachment. She was a living link to an unrecoverable past.

What’s more, she flourished in Virginia. In Tennessee, among Mother’s four cats, Vanna had been the neurotic one. The reclusive, skittish one, rarely glimpsed by visitors.

In Virginia, she became the dominant personality in our household.

When the cancer finally overwhelmed her, almost exactly a month after we said goodbye to Scamper, I stumbled into another depression.

Our lively household of three cats had been reduced, in a month’s time, to a quiet household of one. I couldn’t write about Vanna’s death. Could barely talk about it.

Within a year we were losing Sabrina, too.

Sabrina (2001-2017)

Sabrina was the sweetest, gentlest cat I’ve ever owned. Perhaps the sweetest and gentlest cat I’ve ever met.

She and Scamper had been rescued, at only a few weeks of age, from a construction site.

She suffered a serious injury at about twelve weeks old, losing one of her eyes and undergoing multiple surgeries to salvage the vision in her other eye. She lived the rest of her life with a slowly advancing cataract, but didn’t seem bothered by her limited vision.

She played and romped through adolescence, survived an episode of liver failure in early middle-age, and settled into her senior years with the same calm serenity she had shown from kittenhood.

I had hoped, of course, that we might have a few more years with her, after losing Scamper and Vanna in such close succession. But in November Sabrina began showing signs of discomfort while defecating, our first hint of the rectal tumor that, while repeatedly testing benign on biopsy, was likely malignant at its core.

By March she was too uncomfortable to continue. So I made yet another last trip to our wonderful vet and said yet another goodbye.

How many goodbyes, now? Four, since starting this blog. Indigo. Scamper. Vanna and Sabrina. Before them, Spice.

Spice (?-2008)

Spice’s years as a feral cat ended in 1994, the moment I saw her huddled in the back of a cage with a vast, scabbed wound covering her neck and shoulders. She nosed forward to sniff my hand, speaking in unmistakable cat-language. My name is Spice, and I’ve been waiting for you.

Spice was my constant companion for fifteen years. We shared a dorm, an apartment, a duplex (with my future husband), and, in her final years, a house in the suburbs.

She taught Sabrina and Scamper how to be cats, and they kept her young longer than time should have allowed.

Losing her closed a door on my twenties and thirties. I would never be twenty or thirty again, and I would never have another cat like Spice.

All those that came before

Before Spice? The list is long, stretching through memory into the hazy nostalgia of childhood. Mischief and Jackson. Diana. Gizmo and Annie. Morgan and Shere Khan. Sadie and Daisy. Sheena and Poppy. (This list is far from complete, and includes none of the dogs. I’ll save dogs for a later post.)

Many of our cats were named for characters in books and movies. Some came to us already named, relinquished by owners who could no longer keep them, owners who were happy to let an eager young vet assistant adopt the cats they were losing to eviction, a family illness, or one of life’s other jarring turns.

Some of the cats materialized out of thin air, simply showing up in the yard. Others were dumped on the driveway, plucked from parking lots, and chased down in ditches by a trio of sisters who found it biologically impossible to just keep driving. Mother simply sighed and made room for them all, a tide of cats drifting in and out of our lives, in and out of the house each morning and night.

They were never all in the house at the same time, thankfully. Most preferred the yard, sheds, and pasture, most of the time.

 

Cats have been one of the few constants in my life. They’ve shared all of my memories, every place I’ve ever called home, and almost every job I’ve ever had. I don’t know how to be without cats. In the end, loving cats is part of how I love myself. So…

Meet Duchess and Marie

Cat Team 7 is a local rescue group who work primarily with cats living at Naval Station Norfolk. The majority of their mission involves a Trap-Neuter-Relocate program, but they sometimes have adoptable kittens.

Duchess and Marie (two of a group named for the Aristocats) were trapped in a warehouse in early June, along with two male kittens about the same age. I saw their photo on social media, contacted Cat Team 7, and the rest is happy history.

They were quite shy, in their first weeks here.

Duchess (or Dutch, because sometimes she’s more Killjoy than Aristocat)

Marie (just Marie, because it fits)

It didn’t take them long to settle in. They have plenty of windows, soft beds, toys, and treats.

They are closely bonded, more dependent on each other than Sabrina and Scamper were. They’re rarely apart.

(Except when Marie plays fetch. Dutch, who has no interest in fetching, stalks the action until she can tempt Marie into a thunderous, romping game of chase.)

And me? I’m sharing my life with cats again. That’s enough for now.

 


Recommended reading about topics that are more urgent and more important than my cat memories:


Finally, here are three of my favorite recently-read books. Have you read them? What did you think?

Poetry: Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? by Shonda Buchanan

Fiction: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Non-fiction: NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (I haven’t finished this one yet, but it’s already one of the best books I’ve ever read)

Scamper, 2001-2016

BOTH CATS DEN

In 2001 we moved from a small duplex to a house with a garage and yard. We had one cat and one dog, and soon added a pair of orphaned kittens.

BOTH CATS

One of the kittens (on the left in the above photos) was sweet and gentle, and the name “Sabrina” seemed just right for her. The other kitten was fierce and playful and somewhat neurotic, and she defied naming. Nothing quite fit. She became “Scamper” on her medical chart, because I had to put something on her chart, but at home she changed names as often as she changed moods. She was The Scamperer. Thing 2. Her Neediness. The Bad Cat. The Wee Baby Kitty. Supercat.

SCAMPER 1

She was The Bird Watcher. (When it was too cold for open doors and windows, birds on television were better than no birds at all.)

CAT TV 3

Cats May 15

Cat March 26

In her middle years, she grew overweight and lazy. None of her kitten names fit anymore, if they ever had. She was still Scamper when she went to the vet, but at home she was Herself.

Scamper 2014

Cats Aug 24

In many ways, she was the essence of what I love about cats — neuroses and all.

Scamper 2008

In her later years she liked blankets and patches of sunlight and, every so often, an afternoon nap on the couch with me.

Scamper Jan 2011

Health problems came with age. There were medicines and special diets, all of which helped for a time, but as 2015 progressed her condition declined steadily. She lost weight faster than medicine, food, and love could counter. The calendar turned and she lost more weight. Then, in early February, she stopped eating altogether.

So I made one last trip to the vet with our cat of many names. I stayed with her through the euthanasia process, which was gentle and peaceful, and drove home to a house that is achingly incomplete. There’s an empty spot near her favorite upstairs window, one that can never be filled.

Cat Nov 9

Note: Most of the photos in this post were taken by my husband.

A Few Steps Closer to Spring

Weeds March 16

I usually count the first open-windows day as the first day of spring, but this year I confused the issue by cheating. One day last week, desperate for fresh air, I opened the windows and wore a coat in the house for a few hours. Which means I can’t count yesterday as the first.

Cat March 10

February is always a tough month for me. Its cold, sun-starved days routinely trigger new bouts of depression and anxiety. March, on the other hand, is usually a month of recovery.

Yard March 16

Yard March 16

And if this year’s recovery has been slower to start and harder to sustain than previous years, it has at least begun.

Hyacinth March 16

Hyacinth March 16

Honeysuckle March 16

Honeysuckle March 16

The weather forecast promises a return of winter before the week is finished, but the lengthening days will not allow it to stay.

Hydrangea March 16

Soon the yard will be overrun and winter will fall away into memory, as it does every year.

Brown Thrasher March 16

Robin March 17

Rabbit March 17

Recovering from a Wintry Week

Window April 22

*Cue Announcer* 

We now return to our regularly scheduled season, already in progress…

Live Oak April 13

Dragonfly April 14

Green

Wax Myrtle April 22

Squirrel

Rabbit April 22

Petunia April 21

Flowers April 2

Honeysuckle April 22

Maple April 21

Bee in Tulip April 22

Review: My Beloved Brontosaurus

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)

First, I have to confess that this is not really a review. It’s mostly a chance for me to visit one of my favorite topics. I have been fascinated by dinosaurs for a very, very long time. As I read My Beloved Brontosaurus, my fingers began to itch for the feel of my old plastic toys, the ones that roared through my childhood and paced across my shelves. They are (and were at the time) scientifically inaccurate. However, they were (and still are) great fun.

Dinosaurs April 4

Unlike my battered collection of mismatched toys, My Beloved Brontosaurus is equal parts good science and good fun. Much of it is a journey through paleontology’s growing pains, exploring name changes, skeletal puzzles, and feather mysteries. Chapter by chapter, the book details how Brontosaurus became Apatosaurus, how the upright posture that once defined a dinosaur was discovered in non-dinosaurs from the same time period, and how evidence hints that many dinosaurs had feathers or protofeathers (sometimes referred to as dinofuzz.)

My Beloved Brontosaurus is the most fun I’ve had with dinosaurs in years. Not only is the science interesting, the book strikes resonant chords in each chapter with elements of memoir, personal essay, and travel writing. As I turned the last page, I was filled with a deep yearning to pack a bag and head off on a multi-state museum tour. A few minutes later, coming to my senses and realizing that travel is not my favorite way to spend time, I headed off to the attic in search of a dusty box full of memories.

Dinosaurs April 4

(I don’t know how the woolly mammoth [definitely not a dinosaur] made it into this batch of plastic dinosaurs. Nor the sail-backed Dimetrodon. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I found a blog post, yesterday, explaining how Dimetrodon is #notadinosaur”.)

Dinosaurs April 4

Since I started this post with a confession, it seems appropriate to end with one. I don’t remember some of these dinosaurs. They mysteriously appeared in my collection when Mother mailed off several boxes of old toys as she attempted to de-clutter her house. I can’t say with certainty which of the dinosaurs were mine and which ones became mine as Mother packed the boxes, but I’m happy to claim them all now.

Dinosaurs April 4

(As an aside, it’s somehow logical to me that cats might have had something to do with most of history’s extinction crises.)

Dinosaurs April 4