I wasn’t allowed to have cats when I was child. My mother didn’t like or trust them, having grown-up around cats when she was young whose primary function was to serve as “mousers” – and not as pets, she was always a little scared of them. I once brought home a kitten, from a fair, hoping that she would be moved by its soft, grey, “kitteny” cuteness – but found myself having to return it to the family I got it from a couple of days later. But once I moved out on my own, I have always had at least two or three feline family members of my household. I don’t know about the whole “dog-people” -vs. – “cat-people” thing, but I guess though I grew up with dogs my preference is for cats. I appreciate their independence, their affection (when they choose to share it) and their overall orientation to life. Cats are cool and I simply like having them around.
For the last ten years we have had three feline members of our family: Taku and Soma, two littermate brothers that we adopted as kittens from a local animal shelter and Gracie a neighborhood “stray” who we took in about four months after getting “the boys”. From the start, these three were not like any of the other cats who have been part of our family over the years. I think this stems from the fact that they had “feral” rather than “domestic” origins. The biggest difference that was very apparent was that they were all pretty darned skittish. While our previous cats seemed to like our human company, these three all displayed what can only be described as “terror” and mistrust when it came to casually interacting with the human family members. Though, they each had their idiosyncratic preferences for when, where and how they would interact with us, the general rule was, that it always had to be on their terms – certain rooms, certain times, certain people, certain interactions were tolerated – but there was little to no – “casual” opportunities for affection and interaction. For the first couple of years we had them, I was primarily aware of their presence because someone was eating the cat food and using the litter box – but not because I ever had the chance to actually “enjoy” them.
That doesn’t mean that they didn’t hang around us at all – all three cats would sleep with my sons every night – often switching between rooms throughout the night, I assume to make sure that everyone had a chance to snuggle. Gracie would join you on the family room couch if you were watching a movie and gladly stand in front of your face so you could not see the screen. Taku would race in front of you if you were walking up the front steps, hop on my son’s bed and purr wildly while you pet him and Soma, would sit next to me in the kitchen while I paid bills at the table, allowing me to pet his head or more importantly to crunch up small wads of paper for him to chase around on the floor. There were a number ways you could interact – but they were all very specific, and were interspersed with plenty of frantic fleeing from the room if you happened to walk through, as if your very presence was inherently threatening. They were three goof-balls and not at all like our previous pets – who were constantly present, endlessly affectionate and relatively mellow.
Anyway, the dynamics all changed a couple of years ago, thanks to a couple of coincident factors; one – my boyfriend, the self-described, “God of Cats” became a more regular presence in our home, and two – Gracie lost her hearing (which eliminated all of those startling sounds that had previously frightened her). The result – was that slowly, but surely the God of Cats and Gracie became the best of friends. Taku and Soma, observing Gracie’s interaction without catastrophic incident, eventually followed suit and came round themselves to regular interaction with the humans of the household and over time – we became one big happy family. It only took about eight years to get to something that resembled the ideal that was in mind when we brought these three felines into our home, but who’s counting?
But Gracie’s loss of hearing and apparent connection to a bottomless desire for affection was only a small part of the physical and personality changes that she was going through. Though calmer and definitely happier in her quiet little world, she was also aging rapidly and suffering from a number of health problems, which were slowly but steadily taking their toll. One by-product of her hearing loss – was that her “meow” went from normal range to something that sounded more like a super-sonic goat and she had a lot, and I do mean A LOT – to say. It could be tough first thing in the morning, and she could be pretty darned persistent, but it was also pretty darned funny. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have imagined the sounds that she made if I hadn’t been there to witness it firsthand. That girl had needs, and if she wasn’t fast asleep she would make sure that you knew about them – as she wanted either to be fed or purring in your lap almost all the time. Taku, not much for independent thinking, decided that if it was working for Gracie, then he should give it a try too – and though he neither fit on your lap as easily (since she was very underweight due to a number of health issues and he is quite overweight from stealing her food as often as he could) he took almost all of his cues from her. “Gracie is meowing, I should Meow. Gracie is hopping on the chair; I should hop on the chair. Gracie wants to sleep on this pillow; I should sleep on this pillow, etc.”
Gracie went from being one of the shyest cats I know – to one of the most affectionate. And by her example – Taku and Soma learned that they could get affection and attention at almost any time of day, in any room, from anybody. It was a great thing.
Last week, we made the difficult decision to have Gracie euthanized. Sweet and seemingly happy as she was, she was also very ill and in the last couple of years had lost a tremendous amount of weight and muscle mass. It’s hard to tell, because cats are pretty stoic creatures, but it sure looked like it was difficult and probably painful for her just to lie down and stand up toward the end. But she never stopped being sweet and affectionate. We will miss the old girl, her loud talking, her constant companionship and her sweet loving face. I am so glad that her last couple of years seemed to make her so happy, despite her health issues. I hope that Taku and Soma remember what she taught them and continue to be more interactive and affectionate than they had been before. Time will tell.
But whether they do or not, I guess taking this time to reflect on the last ten years with these three just feels important to me. Our pets whether they are cats, dogs, bunnies or whatever, really do become a big part of our lives, a part of our families. Their personalities shape our day-to-day experience and it is amazing how much love they can bring us. In this case, I learned too, that the capacity for change and transformation is present in all sorts of creatures – finding opportunity within obstacles. Thanks, Gracie.