Monday, July 28, 2014

Mourning Mitzi

She was a foundling... a little grey striped tabby kitten with no whiskers, dragged out of a storm drain by firefighters I called at the behest of a neighbor who'd heard her crying.

After a sincere but futile attempt to leave her at a no-kill shelter in another town, I walked out of the AWA with tears running down my face at the thought I'd just condemned her to death.

Seventeen years later, I did make that decision. She'd developed severe kidney disease and suddenly, on Friday morning, July 4, I realized she had lost her sight. Sunday night, in an unusual reversal of her habits of the past few months, she found my bed, clawed her way up the spread and laid down, her little white paws crossed delicately in front of her white chest.

I laid down next to her and we talked. It was full circle, that chat, because it began in my car as I drove her to the shelter in 1997. She put her paw out between the slats in the carrier and talked to me, in her most plaintive meow. When a few days later I went back to adopt her, I did most of the talking.

I promised her I would give her a happy, safe and warm home. I promised her she would never suffer if it were in my power to prevent it. I promised her that, some day way down the road, when her life was not happy, when she had lost the sparkling personality I loved, I would help her find peace.

So, when we laid on my bed Sunday night, July 6, I reminded her of our first conversation. She couldn't blink her eyes because of the blindness, but once in a while, she would reach out a paw and touch my arm or my face and use what little voice she still commanded to respond to what I was saying.

The next morning, I called our vet to arrange to take Mitzi in. Not for a thyroid or sub-Q treatment, but for her final visit. The doctor knew how upset I was and gently promised to send Mitzi off without suffering. I held her head, both hands on her face, as the tranquilizer quickly took effect and she slipped into unconsciousness. Mine was the last voice she heard. Howard and I stayed with her for a while before we left the room so the final injection could be given. When we went back in, she was gone... her little face still, her eyes open, but no life shining from them.

I knew it would be hard. I'd fretted over it repeatedly during those 17 happy years. How could I possibly say goodbye to Mitzi when the time came? The decision was easy, as it turned out. I simply watched her for two days as she struggled to find her way around the house she'd lived in for eight years. I knew she wasn't eating much and she rarely ventured out from under the chair where I'd placed an afghan my mother made for me over 50 years ago, so Mitzi would always have a soft and warm place to rest. How could I have asked her to endure that life any longer?

But what I haven't counted on is the lingering grief. Mitzi is everywhere in our little house. When I come home from anywhere, I open the kitchen door and call out "Mommy's home!" before remembering that she isn't going to come running to greet me. Sitting in my favorite TV-watching chair, I feel her presence on the arm next to mine or her paw on my head from the back of the chair.

But nights are the worst. For 17 years, Mitzi came to bed with me. Usually she waited untilt he lights went out before jumping silently up at the foot of the bed and then making her way to my side, her paw seeking out my face before she stretched out, purring, and went to sleep. Now, without her, I lie in bed and remember and it makes me unbearably sad.

Someone who doesn't cherish their pets or who doesn't believe pets have souls and can give and receive love unconditionally will probably smirk and dismiss my loss with the "C'mon, it was only a cat!" comment I have often heard.

Others, knowing the bond that develops between pet and human, have expressed condolences and sent expressions of sympathy on Facebook and through the mail, both e and snail. I feel like I should be getting over this, at least getting to the point where I can remember Mitzi without tears.

I'm not there yet. Don't know when I will get there. I've lost many, many pets over the years, but none has touched my heart like my little Mitzi. Perhaps that's why this is taking such a long time. She captured my heart when I first saw her and she tightened her hold on it gradually, over the span of 17 years, until it belonged to her. Perhaps our connection and all the happy memories she gave me were meant to ease the sadness and allow me to think of her and smile. That sounds good to me. Now it's just a matter of putting it into practice.

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