Back in 1997 when I was horribly depressed and could hardly get out bed in the morning and every day seemed like a foggy nightmare, my therapist suggested I adopt a pet.
I had grown up with cats and dogs and had loved them into their old age, but as a young adult, I lived in an apartment (a really crummy one) that did not allow pets. Besides, I was completely lost in life and unable to deal with the most mundane challenges that may occur on any given day. (For instance, once I misplaced my car keys inside my apartment and, when I couldn’t find them after about 15 seconds of looking, rather than continuing to search for them, I threw myself onto the floor and wailed.) Anyway, I was in sort of rough shape, barely able to make it work in the morning and unmotivated to do much of anthing, so when my therapist suggested a pet, I used the easy excuse and replied that getting a pet was out of the question because of my apartment situation.
She responded, calmly and rationally, “well, would it be possible to move to an apartment that would accept pets?”
About 4 months later, functioning significantly more clearly because of Prozac (thanks, Smith-Klein), hours of therapy (thanks, Judy), a gym membership (thanks, America’s Fitness), and a job change (thanks, University of Kansas), I moved into a new apartment and visited the local Humane Society in Lawrence, Kansas. Kennels containing cats lined the walls of a clean, gray, windowless, but well-lit room. On the front of each cage was a placard listing the cat’s name, gender, birthdate, and any other known information. Each kennel contained food, litter, and a water bowl. I think there were about 40 cats in this one room. Almost every cat looked at me eagerly, interested to see some activity. The woman at the shelter left me alone with these 40 creatures and I met them all personally. Most enjoyed being talked to, and I held some of them. Only a couple were so scared and shy that they cowered in the back of their kennels. I could tell the people at this Humane Society did a great job of keeping their animals well socialized, giving them the best chance of getting adopted into good homes.
I didn’t adopt anyone that day, but when I drove home to my new apartment, my visit to the shelter had made such an impact on me that I decided to adopt two cats instead of just one. This way I’d be doing twice as much good. I specifically remember that this thought—wanting to do something good for someone else—startled and pleased me. I’d been depressed and self-absorbed for so long, that thinking about someone else seemed like a bright new thought, original to humankind. I could provide a loving home for a creature that currently lived in a cage. And I could do twice as much good if I provided a home for two of them. I remembered all the cats from that room, but I remembered two in particular—a pair of 8-month old brothers living in the same cage together, an extroverted gray tabby and a shy orange tabby, named (respectively) Buddha and Spanky.
Reader, I adopted them.
Buddha, who I renamed Stewart, is the cat who “talked” me into adopting them. He seemed convinced from the moment he met me that I was supposed to be his person. I was meant to take him home. And for the last 14 years, having Stewart and Sagan (originally Spanky) as my friends has been the highlight of my life. Yes, other great things have happened to me in those 14 years. I met my husband. I bought a home. I developed a few hobbies. I let go of my old dream of earning a Ph.D., deciding to have a life instead of a career. I traveled to Europe. But Stewart and Sagan have been the constant loves of my life since I met them. They’re my guys. My fellas. My home no matter where I lived.
On May 17 of this year, Stewart died at age 14-1/2, fairly young for a cat who lived a healthy life, ate high quality food, got lots of exercise, had regular veterinary care, etc. But he had kidney disease and it wasn’t his fault. I had him euthanized when he was no longer interested in eating or drinking and had become very skinny. Low-protein, prescription food was only appetizing for so long, then after awhile, even treats were not interesting. Some days he seemed to feel sluggish and just not like himself. Hospitalization to re-hydrate would have been the next step, followed by my having to administer fluids at home every day for the rest of his life. He may have “bounced back” for a few weeks or months, but after all the years that Stewart was so good to me, I didn’t want to make him sit in the vet hospital for days, scared and not understanding why I’d left him there, then having to artificially keep him hydrated once I got him home. His body seemed ready to go. On his last day, he sat in the sun (his lifelong favorite activity) while I brushed him and loved on him. He didn’t feel great, but he let me know he appreciated the attention and care. He died in a vet’s office, but I was there holding him and reassuring him that I’d be there to help him go peacefully and with dignity. We buried him out in our grove under some maple trees. It’s quiet out there, and the birds sing in the trees overhead.
Although I wish like hell he would have died peacefully sleeping in his favorite spot at home, I try not to dwell on the euthanasia and the decision I made for him. He had a marvelous life. Here are some of the things I want to always remember about him, along with some photos of him:
Some of his nicknames were:
Mr. Green Jeans
The Cat Who Changed My Life
The Green-Eyed Guy
He liked the song “Stripes” by Johnny Cash (“I got stripes, stripes upon my shoulders . .. . “). He enjoyed listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.” He did not like to get his feet dirty or wet, so sometimes Hubby called him “Miss Priss.” He liked to wake us up in bed by jumping onto the bed and simulaneously announcing himself with a little exclamation that sounded sort of like “hi” or “hi hi.” His favorite major league baseball player was the Minnesota Twins’ Shannon Stewart, even though Stewart hadn’t played for the Twins for several years.
When we tore up our living room carpet and had hardwood (in terrible condition) for a few weeks while we decided what to do next, Stewart was not happy with the hardwood. Too cold and hard! He liked things soft and cozy. Here he is looking unimpressed with the hard floor:
When we lived in our first apartment in Lawrence, Stewart and Sagan both loved wandering through the hallways of the apartment building. The extrovert of the pair, Stewart soon became acquainted with all the residents of the building. Stewart would greet people in the hallway and they would always brighten up and exclaim things like, “Hi, Stewart! Oh, you look so handsome today! And look at those pretty green eyes!” He was the most popular resident of the building, by a long shot.
Stewart was named after Jimmy Stewart, whom he referred to as “The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived.”
He did not like catnip. It seemed like he didn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of others by getting high. He was naturally happy enough.
He hated being cold. He loved the sun, and hanging out with his brother. Here they are on the stairs, in the middle of a Minnesota January, taking in the warmth coming through the window:
Although he craved warmth and comfort, he wasn’t exactly a lap cat. He liked to sit on a pillow on someone’s lap, but not directly on the lap. I never understood this, but it held true for his entire life. On the other hand, he loved the direct contact of being held in my arms. Sometimes if music was playing in our house, I’d hold him in my arms and gently hold his front left paw in my right hand, and we would dance together to the music. He indulged me in this activity even though he probably thought it was really really stupid.
He had orange fur right behind each of his ears, which I always thought was one of his most beautiful physical characteristics.
He never ate too much or got fat, but every now and then he ate very quickly and then threw up all over the floor. He seemed to do this on purpose. I didn’t mind in any real way.
As you can probably tell, my mind is full of memories of my wonderful friend Stewart. Just a blog entry doesn’t do him any justice, or express my gratitude for having had the chance to love him and be loved by him. I miss him. Loving him enriched my life.