For the last several months, I’ve been caught up talking to the animals, caring for them, cooing at them, coaxing them, loving them, and now grieving one of them. My cat Sweetie and I experienced our last months and days together. She passed away on Friday, February 11, 2011, still looking as gorgeous as ever, despite being so sick. The animal hospital could not get a biopsy confirmation, but the vets believed she had cancer, and an invasive one. She was scheduled for spleen surgery but she didn’t make it to the scheduled date. The spleen burst and she was dying quickly. I held Sweetie in my arms at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston on Friday, in a family room with a comfortable couch, as the emergency room doctor gave her a sedative from which she would not awake. “It’s the last nice thing you can do for her,” Dr. Kaplan said. I agreed.
Although Sweetie died too young (maybe she was 12), my mother and I feel blessed to have had such a beautiful, gentle, and loving cat with us for more than a decade. Maine Coons are known as “Gentle Giants,” and Sweetie was certainly that. During her younger and heftier days, she weighed in at 20 pounds. So imagine a 20 pound hunk of fluff lying sprawled on your chest, staring in your face with stunning green eyes, and purring with delight. Have you ever been that lucky?
Dr. Jean Duddy, from Angell Animal Medical Center, who cured Sweetie’s thyroid and brought her back to us mentally and emotionally for another month until she died, wrote me a kind email after Sweetie’s passing. I quote Jean here:
“I do feel like Sweetie didn’t want to put you and her thru the surgery, etc. Maybe she knew something for sure that we didn’t. In some respects I think they take the decision out of our control. I believe they love us that much.”
“You both are lucky for having cared for each other that much. This may sound corny but I really feel bad for people who never love that completely.”
Jean Duddy is a veterinary doctor, a specialist in internal medicine and endocrinology at Angell, and yet she took the time to write such a personal email after the death of one of her patients. If you live anywhere in the greater Boston area, and your pet needs the best care possible, go to Angell.
While I am in between cats, I am taking care of a bunny named Bunny and a fish named Cindy. These animals/fish originally lived with Suzanne but after her last visit she left them with me, in part, I think, because she sensed I would need them as Sweetie declined. Suzanne is kind and intuitive about people and creatures.
Cindy the Fish is easy enough: feed her twice a day, clean out her bowl twice a week and watch her swim around under the light on my bureau. Very calming, soothing, and fish are smarter than you think. She recognizes me. She (he?) freaks out for 24 hours every time I replace the water in the fish bowl as I upset his/her ecosystem once again. But she/he puts up with me. I guess Cindy the Fish doesn’t have a choice.
Bunny is much more high maintenance. I tend to refer to him as “The Pain in the Ass,” but I say it affectionately. I am learning he is a very social animal who needs attention. You can pet him like a cat and his eyes close in contentment. You can pet him for much longer than you can pet a cat. I think if I never tired of petting Bunny, such activity might go on for hours at a time. When he first arrived in my house and I let him out of his cage, he would hop to a corner and just stay there petrified, while I changed the litter tray. Now, he hops all over the kitchen, all over my feet and up to me for attention when he is on the kitchen floor. Sometimes he tugs at the bottom of my jeans, or my socks, with his bunny teeth, to get my attention. I recently bought him a new and larger hutch, so he would have more space to live in when I couldn’t allow him to be free.
When Sweetie was still here, he’d hop up to her and try to make friends. He would sniff her butt and tail and invade her space. I expected her to get pissed. I thought she would kill him during one episode after I’d bought the bunny a small cat litter box because rabbits can be litter trained: Sweetie, always curious about anything boxy, felt it necessary to lie down in the container as if it were a bed. Thankfully, the box was at that moment clean and empty. Bunny, who had been peeing and crapping in the box lately (more as a hobby than as a regular practice) looked somewhat horrified to see a gigantic cat in repose there. He hopped up to her and got right up in Sweetie’s face with his never ending nose twitch. I said, “Shit, this is it. She’s gonna kill him this time.” But Sweetie, being Sweetie, sat up, turned her body to put her face to Bunnie’s own, sniffed his wiggly nose, his soft bunny torso, and then she left the box to sit on a rug and observe this crazy little hopping creature. She was kind to him, too.
Before Sweetie passed, I would sit with Bunny on the kitchen floor, for quite a long amount of time each day, petting him, talking to him, letting him exercise by hopping all over the kitchen floor, and tracking his moves with a broom and sweeper to pick up all of those endless bunny pellets. Sometimes Sweetie would join us and sometimes she’d be upstairs. I ordered Bunny a larger and more permanent rabbit hutch, since Bunny was falling through the original bunny cage that Suzanne had transported him in.
Sweetie didn’t live to see me put the hutch together this weekend or watch Bunny freak out for the first hour in his new home. I had to pet him pretty endlessly during that hour to calm him. I know Sweetie would have wanted to watch the show and I know, too, she would have walked up to the hutch and given Bunny a nose kiss to comfort him. When Bunny was still afraid of me, it was Sweetie who calmed him. According to information I’ve found on the web, bunnies and house cats do get along.
Over these months, I’ve lost a lot of reading and writing time, finding it hard to focus as I cared for a dying animal and a baby animal and a fish. My grief over Sweetie started long before she died, when she became ill in the fall. My angst over learning how to care for a bunny was nearly simultaneous. I feel as if I’ve been on sabbatical from writing as I immersed myself in this zoo and made sure all the creatures were as comfortable as possible.
In his new hutch, Bunny is at eye level with me as I sit at our little kitchen table that I’ve turned to face a window. I’ve brought down my tiny netbook PC which fits perfectly on the tabletop. As I write, I can turn my head and Bunny and I can look at one another and keep each other company. I think my sabbatical from writing is coming to an end, now that Sweetie is gone to The Rainbow Bridge and Bunny has a new home right beside my writing table.