Friday, August 29, 2014

Rest in Peace Clara

Watching the neighborhood activity in Boulder Creek California with Theo.

Years ago I sat in the veterinarian waiting room, two mewling cats—sisters Clara and Holly—anxious in cardboards carriers waiting for their annual exam when a woman entered from the parking lot with a cat swaddled in a towel. Thinking about how I’d had to catch my rambunctious ones and wrestle them into their carriers, I was momentarily amazed by how cooperative her cat was, until I saw the rest of her family, wan faced, trailing behind her.

Last night I was that woman; last night we were that family—come to ease the death of our beloved friend.

Winter was hard for Clara. In addition to her twice-daily blood pressure medication, she went on twice daily painkillers. We padded the heated floor mat under my husband’s desk, which became her bed, dressed her in a toddler sweatshirt, cut the front end low on the litter box, placed an automotive drip pad under that, left a night light on. My husband and I weren’t sure she was going to make it until the end of March for our youngest daughter Chrissy to come home during college Spring break and say goodbye to her cat.

Waking up after a nap on the hot battery backup.

Drinking from a pet fountain once she refused to drink standing water from a bowl.

But the weather grew warmer and Clara rallied. She still jumped from floor to tabletop, enticed by smells of breakfast sausage or ground beef, skidding on her furry feet. She wouldn’t use the cat door to the enclosed cat run, but slipped out the sliding door onto our rooftop deck whenever we opened the screen, and sprawled in sunspots until they disappeared behind trees. Moving to our new house in May, she lounged in the morning sun in the dining room and the adjoining deck, and slept in her heated cat bed under the bathroom sink on gloomy days and at night.

Stretching out in a sunspot

Until very recently, when I was typing on my laptop computer, she plopped down in said lap, and I rested my hands atop her, erasing much of the gibberish she typed with head or paw. Years ago, when I used a desktop computer, she claimed the narrow space between monitor and desk edge, flicking her tail in satisfaction, sending me scrambling for falling papers and reading glasses. 

In the last few years of her life she was drawn to loud noises, perhaps because she was losing her hearing, and the rumble led her to my husband and me. She rubbed her face against the table saw, stepped in front of the vacuum, insistent we said, on supervising us, meowing at closed doors when we were behind them.
Supervising the studio remodel 

But unlike our other cats, she never came when called. When she was young and coyotes roamed our neighborhood, we’d walk up and down the street calling her late on summer nights, flashlights shining down driveways and under bushes, returning home thinking the worst, only to find her happily ensconced in a pile of stuffed animals, yawning nonchalantly as we scooped her into our arms, breathing relief.

Clara was six weeks old when we got her. A clever mother brought an entire litter of kittens to a preschool dance class two weeks before Christmas. For one dollar Clara was ours, a Christmas gift to make up for the fact that our family trip to Disneyworld was cancelled when our oldest daughter, in second grade, was suffering from as yet undiagnosed back pain. Confined to couch and bed, Clara was supposed to cheer Jennifer up. She did, but within minutes it was clear that we needed one cat per child, so I called the dance teacher who gave me the number for the kitten mother, found out there were two cats left, took the whole family the next day and Jennifer picked out her own cat, “Topper,” who she renamed “Holly” and Clara became Chrissy’s.

The kittens once fit into one tiny bedroom of a Victorian dollhouse, and grew to become prolific backyard hunters, leading to rescues of moles and mice from under my children’s beds. Holly lived until she was fourteen. Clara was nineteen, the longest-lived pet we’ve ever had. And still, her long life seems too short.

Clara slept wherever she wanted.

Her slow decline over the past year became all too rapid this week. The occasional days of legs sliding out from under her, of collapsing in place became the new normal.  Puddles appeared outside the litter box—which had been replaced with a cafeteria tray—then appeared off the puppy training pads placed outside the litter box. Yesterday she couldn’t stand or walk. Yesterday she wet herself without moving. Yesterday her loud morning demand for wet cat food was less than a whisper. Yesterday she did not sleep, but stared unseeing, motionless in my lap, then Chrissy’s.

Curled up in a heated cat bed.

Our dog suffered for months, but an artificial appetite and thirst from steroids masked his dying from me, and I agonized night and day over him. My prayer has been to know the next time, when the suffering had become enough—for my pet and for me. Yesterday morning Clara refused to open her mouth for medicine wrapped in a chicken flavored pill pocket. She made it clear: no more. She began to take leave, and we began our vigil.

New to town, we don’t know the veterinary staff, but they were kind and gentle as we stood around Clara, stroking her shrunken body, sending our love in her last minutes of life and after she left us.

I woke this morning, the first in nineteen years without her, and set the kettle to boil, my heart filled with gratitude and grief, tears and relief.  The vibrant fluff ball who scampered into our family lives now only in memory.

Memories I cherish.

The day she left us.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Cathy, my heart goes out to you, dear lady. Our five furballs send their fondest cat-hugs to you, too! Oh man. 19 years. It sounds like she had a full, long life, and that she was loved to the max. I'm so sorry for your loss, but so glad you got to call her your cat, too. Ten hugs to you, Cathy. :) XO