I’ve never looked lightly upon owning a pet. I suppose the exception would be when I was in the tail end of elementary school and the early years of Junior High and I would bring home any placid unsuspecting amphibian that crossed my path. Frogs, turtles, snakes all made their way into various shoeboxes and eventually made their way back out. I never considered them pets, though. They were brief visitors who gave me a glimpse into their lives, but there was never any long-term relationship. In adult parlance, you could say we dated but it didn’t stick.
Spot is the first pet I remember. We were living in a trailer at the time. I loved that trailer. My room was at the end and my bed was right next to a bay window with yellow gauze curtains. We had a wall hanging of Thomas Jefferson’s bust and a quote of his below. I don’t remember how old I was or what it said, but I remember the word “several” was in it, because when I read it out loud my dad was shocked and pleased that I knew the word.
Spot was a cat. She was a black cat with a white spot on her neck, so I named her Spot. I knew it was a dog’s name. She’d been born in our shed outside that trailer to a stray. There were other kittens in the litter, but Spot was the one who survived. When we moved into our first house, a bi-level on RR29, she came with us.
At some point mom and dad brought home Leo. He was an adorable Shih Tzu that we never “properly” groomed. He was supposed to have long hair, but we had burrs in the yard and he loved running in the snow. No matter what season it was long hair just didn’t work, so we worked with what did. Middle of winter and three feet on the ground and that tiny little guy would bound out into the deep like he was swimming in a neighbor’s pool. Then he’d bound back in on his own set of springs and have balls of snow stuck to his belly like barnacles on a boat.
I can still picture his (stereotypical) button nose, his (stereotypical) big brown eyes, and the way he would (stereotypically) run to greet me at the door.
Leo wasn’t just a pet. He was part of the family. Spot, probably the most stereotypical cat I’ve known, was, I thought, also part of the family. Always independent, on our fourth move she left and never came back.
That was my first lesson in loss. Now I’m about to learn another.
Nina is another black cat. This lady is all black, with a quirky upturned ear and a stunted tail. She is just about the most loving being I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
Nearly eleven years ago I moved to Chicago all by myself. My parents were in Wheaton; my son was in Carpentersville; I signed a lease in River North. I wanted to be closer to my son than I had been in Indianapolis, and I wanted to build a life for myself. This did not include an animal. As I’ve said, I take owning a pet pretty seriously.
There are responsibilities to “owning” another living, breathing being. You must provide care, food, nurturing, well-being. You don’t bring that being into your life if you can’t provide physical and emotional support. At least that’s what I think.
When I was asked and nearly begged to take Nina, then named Nora, I said no. I didn’t think I could. But when it became apparent to me that I was her only option I said yes. I was her rescue.
That cat, named Nina by my son, has proven to me that no good deed goes unrewarded. In the last nearly eleven years every time I’ve left and come home, there she is at the door saying hello. She’s made sure I’m up in the morning (MOM!!! It’s 7AM and you haven’t FED ME YET) and she’s slept next to me every night. She doesn’t jump on furniture that’s not on the allowed list. She doesn’t drink from my bedside glass of water. She never begs for food she shouldn’t have. She rests her head on my arm when it’s time to sleep, and ever since Jim has been in my life she’s insisted on sleeping between us.
Tonight is going to be the last time she sleeps between us. This time, I can’t rescue her.
I feel like I’ve failed her. Jim has told me that her life has been so much better because of me. While that’s of some comfort, knowing that I’m going to be the one to “end her pain” is oh, so incredibly painful.
I see her fighting. She won’t leave my bed, so I’ve brought her canned food to her. She eats a bit at a time, and I can see her struggling, see her fighting. The vet told us how tenacious cats are; that they will hide any pain and suffering and you’ll have no idea that there’s anything wrong until it’s too late.
Now it is.
As we near the end of tonight and the beginning of tomorrow I don’t want to believe it’s too late. The optimist in me keeps thinking that hey! some miracle will occur and the gigantic mass that’s surrounding her kidney will just suddenly disappear. This has all been too sudden and how in the world can she go when there’s still so much love?
And I know, I know, this is my cat. I know that people deal with this every day with their mothers fathers sons daughters sisters brothers boyfriends girlfriends etc etc etc.
I, fortunately, have not had to deal with that. What I do have to deal with is Nina. She trusts me to take care of her, to do what’s best for her, to make sure everything is OK.
It isn’t. Not now. Not for awhile.
Tomorrow we say goodbye. It feels so incredibly wrong, because she’s still fighting. She’s trying to eat. She laps a bit of water and is able to jump back up onto the bed. But we can’t spoon feed her and she hasn’t been in her litter box and at some point the drugs we’ve given her to ease her pain will wear off.
This is where the responsibility of “owning” another being weighs on me. What if I could understand her? Would she want to keep going until the pain became unbearable, or would she want us to end it now?
I don’t know and I have no way of knowing. All I can do is what I think is best, and then I wonder who the hell am I to think I know what’s best?
I don’t. I can’t. Instead I listen to the advice of her vet and hope that she knows.
Did I make her life better? Yes. This I do know. Barring some miracle there are just a few hours of that life left, so I’m going to go make the most of it while I can.
Nina, you have been so much more than a “pet”. Thank you for the unconditional love and that motorboat of a purr whenever I was within hearing distance. You’re my Nina, my pretty girl, and you always will be.