Saturday, November 3, 2012

The truth about cats and kittens

"If it takes my whole life, I won't break, I won't bend, it will all be worth it, worth it in the end."

We have a new kitten. Losing Puck so suddenly was a shocking, sad and grievous thing. Neil put it well when he said he felt gypped. Puck was only somewhere between 8 and 9 years old and we just assumed we'd have him another good 10 years at least.

The grief was bad, but not as bad as when I lost my cat Gris. We found Gris when he was about a month old, covered with grime, on the medium of Jones Road, a busy 6 lane thoroughfare. We stopped and scooped him up, took him home, and I said those infamous last words, "don't get attached to him, he's not staying." My 11 year old looked at me with tears in her big blue eyes and said, "but I'm already attached to him."

We'd been catless for 8 years at that time, and had an 8 month old puppy (who thought Gris was the best squeak toy ever). We gave Gris a bath under the kitchen faucet tap, to wash off the city street dirt and, well, grease. I thought he was going to be long haired, he was such a little frizz ball. OK, I admit it, I was already attached too, Gris stayed and we never regretted it for one minute.

Gris and the pup, Buffy, bonded and could often be found sleeping together in the recliner. I was never sure if Gris thought he was a dog or Buffy thought she was a cat, but I am sure that Gris knew I was his mother. I loved that beautiful Russian blue cat so much. He slept with me, or more accurately, on me. If I pushed him off to roll over during the night, he just got right back on.

We had that sweet boy for almost 5 years. He was an indoor cat but sometimes on a nice weekend day, I let him go out in the yard. He never strayed and I believe it's a myth that happy well fed well loved cats stray or get lost. He came when I called. And then one nice Sunday afternoon I forgot he was outside and went to the grocery store. I came home and made dinner and cleaned up and it only occurred to me as night fell that Gris hadn't come in. It was January 30, 2005.

He hadn't come home by bedtime, and I tossed and turned and waited for morning, hoping he'd come home. And then hoping all day that I'd come home from work and he'd be home, that he'd gotten stuck in someone's garage and had to wait until they went out again. I could imagine no other scenario that would legitimately have held up my cat. He was wearing a collar and tags with his name and phone number. But he didn't come home.

I was distraught. I called animal control and every vet in the area. I put ads in the local papers. I walked the neighborhood and put out 200 flyers. I made the rounds of all the city shelters, repeatedly. I "replied all" to an email sent out to all high school parents asking if anyone had seen a missing gray cat (and got some sympathy and some surprisingly hostile replies and a reprimand from the school secretary). And I grieved. I spent hours on Pet Loss dot com, where I first heard about the Rainbow Bridge.

It took me months to give up hope and accept that some terrible permanent fate had befallen Gris. I think the most probable answer is that, since he had no fear of dogs, a dog in a neighboring yard killed him, and the owners where too chickenshite to tell me. I have no evidence and all I can hope is that the end was swift and he didn't suffer. Because there are some darker possibilities and if I write about them I will cry, now, 8 years later.

The ray of sun in that miserable winter was Puck. I saw him one of my shelter visits, the shelter with the highest kill statistics in the area, a place where there were cages out front for people to leave unwanted animals 24/7. A beautiful white cat, with one blue eye and one amber, cowering in a cage. I decided if I could handle him, I wanted him. He was scared but he let me hold him and I knew I could work with him. Puck was the one thing that helped me cope with the loss of Gris. If Gris had to die, at least he saved Puck's life. And if Gris came home, we'd just have two cats.

I know many people don't get another pet right away when one goes away. They feel a sense of disrespect toward the loved lost one, as if they were replacing him. I wrestled with this when I lost Gris and again last month when I lost Puck, and here is where I landed. Gris and Puck would not want me to be so sad. If a new kitty could assuage some of my sorrow, they would have wanted me to have one.

I knew we would get another cat eventually so why wait for the sake of waiting. I knew that I would think and obsess and dream about finding a new cat and chase that dream all over creation until I adopted again. And most of all, I wanted my 5 year old cat Loki to have a companion.

I'm not sure Loki sees eye to eye with me on this matter. I know he misses Puck in his own cat way, and I totally underestimated how a kitten might make him more unhappy in the short term. But they're working it out and I'm cautiously optimistic that one day they will be good friends.

After making 5 trips to 2 shelters in as many days, one of my friends suggested Petfinder, and from there it was a fairly short ride to finding our new baby. On a Friday night I sorted through the 400 some male kittens within 100 miles of my zip code. At nearly midnight I sent e-mail to 4 different rescue groups about the kitties that appealed to me. By morning two groups responded that the cat I wanted already had been adopted. The third group said the same thing, but his brother was still available and would be at out local Petco at noon. So Neil and I headed over. By the time the fourth rescue group got back to me, we had our boy picked out.

Meet Zamboni.

He's almost 5 months old, full of curiosity and playfulness, not much of a lap cat, already adoring of Loki (who isn't quite having it yet) and very much his own cat person.

I don't miss Puck a white less, but I'm glad to have given a forever home to one more homeless kitteh.

"'Cause I can only tell you what I know, that I need you in my life,
When the stars have all burned out, you'll still be burning so bright ...
Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind."
The Divine Sarah Mclachan