I don’t like cats. I grew up in a dog family, I’m a dog person. My aunt had a cat, a calico named Ditto that would crawl all over me whenever I was visiting. So like a cat, I would say, to harass the one person in the room who didn’t want anything to do with her.
I don’t like cats, so when my son came to me, six years ago this month, and said there was a stray cat in our yard, and could we take it in, I said no. My son has always had a soft spot for any animal; we had gerbils, hamsters, mice, a turtle, and a dog that he had rescued from a shopping center parking lot. There was no more room, and certainly not for a cat.
But he insisted that I come outside and see her. She was a small gray and white calico, a and obviously no stray; she was so at ease an affectionate with humans that she must have had a home once. She was also obviously pregnant.
She didn’t want to come inside, but was content to live on our front porch, eating scraps of meat, and later cat food we purchased just for her. My son named her Charlotte and was her companion most days.
On the first day of the new school year, Charlotte birth her kittens in the bushes outside my daughter’s window. My son warned me that stray toms might kill the litter, so that night, we brought the kittens inside and Charlotte reluctantly followed. My daughter’s closet became their new home.
There were five kittens in all; two calico, two tortoiseshell (all female) and one male, a sleek, smoky-gray fellow that my children named Shiloh. We found homes for the girls easily enough. By this time I had already decided we would keep Charlotte. She was litterbox trained, further evidence that she once had a family, and I just couldn’t see myself turning her out, as someone had obviously done once before. We kept Shiloh, too.
Once the kittens were on their own, Charlotte grew restless. She would lurk by the doors, waiting for an opportunity to dash outside. She did get out a few times, once for three days. We finally found her on the roof; having gotten up there somehow, she couldn’t figure out how to get down.
A few months after one of Charlotte’s escapes, Shiloh became ill. He was listless, lost weight. The vet said it was feline leukemia virus, and Charlotte tested positive as well. She must have picked up the virus during one of those outdoor jaunts, and brought it home to her son. He declined rapidly, and died within weeks of diagnosis. For days afterward, Charlotte would roam the house, howling for her son.
But she herself remained asymptomatic, and after a while, it was easy to forget that she had a chronic and fatal illness. With Shiloh gone, she gave more attention to the humans in her family, taking turns sleeping in our beds, nudging our hands if she wanted petting, taking up residence in any inviting lap. She liked to lay on my keyboard while I wrote, and to steal spools of thread from my sewing basket to play with. She also liked to play with the soft “bullets” from my son’s arsenal of Nerf guns. The cap from a gallon jug of milk was also a favorite toy. Any actual toys, designed for the amusements of cats, were entirely uninteresting to her. And when we brought out the red laser light, she gave us a withering look, as if to say “Oh please. Like I’m falling for that.”
She clawed my favorite chair to shreds. She threw up into my shoes. She saved us from a freakishly huge cockroach. At random moments, she would tear through the house, chasing some invisible prey and knocking over anything in her wake. She had no respect for the word “down”.
One time, she got very sick, and we were reminded that this is a cat with a chronic immune disease. The vet said to prepare for the worst, and we did. Said our goodbyes, talked about the rainbow bridge, cried. But the next morning, she had – to everyone’s surprise – bounced back. It was a miracle.
When we moved, I was worried. Cats don’t like change. Charlotte certainly hated the ride from old house to new. She spent the first week hiding under the buffet. But our new home has several windows, and is filled with sunlight, and that drew her out. She quickly found several favorite places, both to bask and to watch the comings and goings outside. She started getting restless again, lurking by the door. My son bought her a harness and leash and tried to take her for a walk. Her response was to collapse in a heap, non-violent resistance-style. We laughed. She stayed inside.
When she got sick again, it was the silliest thing. Fleas. The fleas are especially bad this season, according to our vet. Although we treated it aggressively, the flea infestation left her anemic, and that opened the door to infection. My kids were away on summer vacation, I wanted them to see her again. I wanted her to see them. I asked the vet what we could do to keep her hanging on.
Which is how I, a person who does not like cats, found myself under a dining room table at one a.m. administering anti-inflammatories and supplements to a cat with just enough energy left to try to claw my face off.
There was a brief period when she rallied, and I thought we were going to have another miracle, but one day I woke up, and I could just tell. Her body was hunched over, the look on her face was one of exhaustion. It was Sunday, the vet was closed, and though he is a kind man, and would have opened his doors just for me, there didn’t seem any point. I stayed with her, stroked her, managed to get a faint purr. I called my kids and they said their goodbyes via speakerphone. Maybe it was easier because of that first brush with death. We’d pre-grieved.
In the morning, I wrapped her up in one of my son’s blankets, took her outside and laid her in the grass. She lifted up her head for the first time in hours. I would like to think she was happy for a moment or two. Then I drove her to the vet, and let her go.
I still don’t like cats. I loved Charlotte.