Tonight, I am seeing out the year with my beloved cat, Dude. This will be our last time doing this together, for I know that he will be leaving me soon after the new year.
Eleven years ago, while watching television late one night, I heard a cat crying outside my door. The cries were so loud and piteous that I went out to investigate. There, out in the corridor outside my apartment, cowering against my neighbour’s shoe cupboard, was a terrified little white-and-grey kitten. He was shivering in fear and yowling at the top of his lungs.
It took me a while to lure him out of hiding with some food. Finally, hunger won over, and he crept out to eat the saucer of food that I had placed near me. The moment he finished eating, I caught him up into my arms and petted him, comforting him as much as I could. Then I walked outside into the carpark with him to see if his mother could be anywhere nearby looking for her lost baby.
We wandered around in the dark for quite some time, but there was no sign of his mother and it was already well past midnight. Unable to bring myself to let him loose to fend for himself, I brought him home. And Dude has been extra special to me ever since.
From a scrawny, terrified little kitten, he grew up to be a big, handsome tom. But perhaps because we bonded that first night, he always stuck close to me. If I sat on the couch, he’d hop up next to me. If I lay in bed, he’d climb onto my stomach. He was content as long as I was close.
But he never outgrew his timidity. Among all my cats, he was the shyest and the most easily frightened. My husband and I used to laugh and say that he was the original scaredy cat.
Then five years ago, a routine dental cleaning led to an infection which, in turn, led to the flaring of a condition called feline stomatitis – a very painful auto-immune disease of the mouth.
For five long years, our little scaredy cat has lived in pain, every single day. He has suffered through multiple tooth extractions (in a bid to inhibit further bacterial infections), partial blindness (as a result of being under anaesthesia for too long while having his teeth extracted), injections, oral gels, tablets, subcutaneous fluids … whatever the vets thought was worth trying in order to control the disorder and manage his pain.
Then his body began to waste away, and his condition deteriorated quickly. We thought the end was near about a month ago. But he let me know he wanted to wait for my son Jordan to come home for Christmas. So when Jordan came home two weeks ago, we made sure Dude received lots of cuddles, and that he got to enjoy all the Christmas fare he wanted.
Earlier tonight, when I held his now-tiny and oh-so-frail body against me, he purred and let me know that he would see in the new year. February will be his 12th birthday, but I know he won’t be here by then. He may not even be here when Jordan goes back to Oxford in two weeks.
But he will always be in our hearts. Especially mine.
For my little scaredy cat turned out to be a warrior.
He has shown me the meaning of true strength. Throughout five years of constant pain, he has continued to live, love and play. In spite of his illness, he has continued to walk out into the garden, to the litterbox, to the water bowl, and even downstairs to the kitchen, on his own. And although he’s now too weak to join in, he still watches with interest as our other cats play.
He has shown me the power of love. He has held on to spend one last Christmas, one last New Year, with us. When we invited friends over for a festive potluck just before Christmas, he overcame his shyness and made his way downstairs – again, on his own – to join the revelry. When I cradled him in my arms so everyone could say hi to him, I watched as he looked alertly at each and every familiar face there, and I knew he was saying goodbye to these friends of ours in his own way.
He has shown me that even when life deals you a bad hand, how you choose to work with what you have been dealt with, is what’s important.
Even now, when he needs help going up and down the stairs, when he sometimes can’t make it to the litterbox in time, or when he is so exhausted after having a drink of water that he just rests his head on the rim of the bowl and falls asleep, when I am sometimes afraid to carry him in case I accidentally hurt him, he responds with a purr or a soft meow when I stroke or talk to him.
I know he is listening. And he knows I am, too.
When he does cross over, it will be because Dude has decided that he has loved and been loved to the max, and has lived his life in the best way he knew how, and that it is enough.
So he and I wish you a happy new year.
May you make wise choices, give and be surrounded by total love, and gain inner strength with each step that you take in 2020. Most of all, may you – if you are a scaredy cat – discover the warrior in you.