When I was 22, I got a pair of cats. I walked into a shelter, and saw Shadow, laying on a chest. He was a beautiful thin adolescent cat grown into his ears. I picked him up and he relaxed against me. I loved him: his silky black fur, his white fur tuxedo markings: the tiny black spot on his tongue. I knew he would not be adopted – he wasn’t an adorable kitten any more. But he was mine.
In addition to Shadow I adopted Pipsqueak, the smallest gray kitten I had ever seen. I could feel every bone in his tiny starved body. When I fed the two of them, Pipsqueak would inhale his food and then stick his tiny nose into Shadow’s bowl. Shadow would look at him with confusion, then stroll off.
|Shadow is black, Pip is gray!|
The two of them were best friends. They both grew into large cats: Shadow was 13 pounds at his largest, while Pipsqueak embraced irony as he blossomed to 24 pounds. Shadow was my lap cat. Always in my lap, always meowing for attention. He was also my skittish cat. He didn’t like anyone much. If he stayed in the same room with you, that was a high mark of approval. He was a reliable barometer of friends and dates for me. Even if he allowed you to pet him, he stayed as far away as he could. My husband and I always joked that Shadow really just wanted a disembodied arm – a nice hand and arm to stroke his fur without any scary human attached to it.
Shadow was my explorer cat. In my first apartment, he used the continuous rail between my balcony and my neighbor’s balcony to explore both! He learned how to open folding doors, which meant all my closets had bookends and rocks in front of them. One time he got in my trash to pull out the rotten potatoes and play soccer with them. In the mornings, he would jump to the top of my bureau and go to the saucer where I kept jewelry. He would pick up the pieces of jewelry individually and drop them to the floor, very deliberately.
Shadow was also my problem cat. Two years old, and he developed urinary crystals and infections. I spent my entire life savings account (yes, all of it, but 24 year olds don’t always have the best judgment) on surgery to save his life. It paid off though. Shadow continued to thrive through three moves, marriage, and a new kitten. He got constant UTIs, but he loved the antibiotic and took medicine easily. He was even polite in letting me know of the infection: he would find a magazine or book and urinate on it so I could see the blood. He never urinated on my floors – always on something laying on the floor.
When Shadow was 17 years old, he became incontinent. He had been having problems for a while, and with a toddler, we had to adapt quickly to cleaning up constant accidents. But then, in the summer, he lost all control. It was untenable. I took him to the vet, only to discover that he had fluid on his heart, shrunken kidneys and an enlarged liver. His quality of life was over.
It was not a good time. We were in the middle of a deck renovation that turned out to be much more work than we expected or planned for. We were also planning my daughter’s third birthday party. To add insult to injury, we were in the process of leaving our church home. But I knew it was time to let Shadow go home.
The appointment was on a Friday. My husband volunteered to stay home to dig the grave. He couldn’t bear to go with me to the vet – a friend was coming instead. My heart broke all week. I petted Shadow every chance I got. I set up a giant litter box surrounded by a picnic blanket to provide some sort of hygiene to the situation. On Thursday, he stopped eating the canned tuna I had been feeding him. I wrapped him in a towel and held him in my arms as he slowly released everything from his body. I didn’t know if he would last until Friday morning, but he did.
My friend met me at the vet. We walked into the office and I took him out of the carrier. The vet explained everything to me – she agreed with my decision and was so kind. I held him when they gave him the first shot, which would remove the pain. His tiny body went into mini seizures and then was still.
I put him on the towel, his tiny body limp. I squatted on the floor so I was at eye level. I locked my eyes onto his: green pools of age. He and I stared at each other. His pupils dilated larger and larger until they were pools of black. He was gone.
Is Shadow in Heaven? I don’t know, or really care. He was a good cat. He stayed with me through many lonely nights, through many heartbreaks. He brought me joy through his exploits. And at the end, I was able to end his pain and be the last thing he saw. God is a good God, a God who loves. Wherever Shadow is, it is a good place. Probably a place where he is surrounded by disembodied arms, just the way he would've wanted it.
|Shadow, the week before he died.|