My mom and stepdad have a habit of taking in stray cats. The older one of the two they have I found as a kitten in our back yard about fifteen years ago. The younger wandered away from his owner, who didn't feed him enough--I think he's eight or nine now. A third cat, in between the other two, died this morning. Her name was Sweetie.
I must have been in about the eighth grade when we got Sweetie. My stepdad was working at a local restaurant and noticed that a family of feral cats was living underneath the building. He liked the black and grey bullseye pattern that one of them had on its sides, so he caught it and brought it home.
It became apparent pretty rapidly that our new cat had some problems. She was runty and cross-eyed and extremely stupid. It was kind of exasperating at first, because she kept forgetting who we were. Every time you wanted to pet her you'd have to ease up to her very gently or she would run away. My mom was always best at that. "It's OK, sweetie," she'd say, using the same words and reassuring tone that she would with a frightened child. The name stuck, although it took her several years to adjust to being around people.
My mom related the story of her last moments in an email this morning:
I have some sad news to relate. This morning around 4:45 we were awakened by loud cat meowing, which isn't that unusual...often Bill will wake us early to be fed, and in fact we usually keep our door closed to avoid that morning surprise. We are greeted with waiting cats when we open the door every morning. Anyway, last night we left the door open because we kept the attic fan on all night, and I guess it was a good thing because otherwise we might have missed her last minutes.
When we finally turned the light on and checked, it turned out to be Sweetie, and she was on her side, crying loudly and panting. We got down on the floor with her and could tell that she was really frightened, which I guess is why she came into the room with us. She always came to us when she was scared.
A couple of times she managed to get to her feet and stumbled toward the kitchen...we think she was trying to get downstairs so she could get under the couch, which is where she spent most of her time. She made it as far as the doorway of the kitchen where she laid down and never got up again. Her breathing became shallower and shallower until she gave one last stretch and then passed away.
It hit me harder than I would have expected. I think that part of it is that, while I've been expecting them to lose one of their pets pretty soon, I thought it would be the older one, Leon, that would go first. I just got back from a visit to my parents' place and Leon was looking pretty old and crotchety. He's had a fair number of health problems over the past couple of years, and he's gotten all bony and arthritic. I even took a little time to say goodbye to him on this trip. Sweetie, though, was her normal self: dumb as a brick, but fat and happy. I guess I figured I'd have a few more chances to see her.
Maybe another part of it is how descriptive my mom was. I keep seeing the scene in my mind and thinking about how scared Sweetie must have been--even more so because she was so dumb. Maybe that's anthropomorphizing a bit too much. I'm sad about it anyway.
It's a little strange, when I stop to think about it, to be so emotionally involved with an animal. I wouldn't have thought I'd ever have to hold back tears thinking about that cat, but I do. I am. I can hear the strange little chirping noises she'd make and see the sort of vacant, sometimes loving, sometimes wary look in her eyes. I'm going to miss her.