Our local animal shelter is precariously placed between our nearest Target and the car wash. Because I like my car clean, and because there’s always a reason to go to Target, I have learned that I must take alternate routes to get to both places to avoid the shelter. If I don’t, we would end up with a menagerie. I’ve seen a chickens and goats there! I’ve told myself that I just want to go in and pet the cats and dogs, but I can’t keep that promise to myself.
This September, I randomly stopped in, on a day I’d lied to myself about petting cats. They had so many kittens that, frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t fill the whole car. Instead, I adopted Willow, a cat that they’d not bothered naming, and that the entire staff came out to thank me personally for taking. I’m pretty sure that it was his last day, and they were grateful someone saved him. Not only was his adoption fee free, when I tried to make a donation (which I always do when I adopt a “free” animal), I felt like they wanted to refuse it.
He wasn’t in a cage; he was a free-roamer, with about fifteen other cats, who are considered social enough to be allowed to wander the cat room. Willow decided he was going home with me the minute I entered the cat room. He followed me from cage to cage, meowing until I picked him up, and then promptly fell asleep in my arms, purring. If I put him down, he cried at my ankles and started the whole process all over again.
I’m certain he was trying to explain that despite his offensive odor, and hideous appearance, he would make a great friend, and to please take him home. He was far too thin, to the point that you couldn’t just feel his bones, you could feel every bone, and I’m pretty sure his organs. His long fur was matted and dirty. And, you could smell his cheesy, leaky ears from the parking lot.
At least his presence in my personal bubble kept the lonely women away. Did you know that the cat room at your local shelter is a beacon for single women? I guess this should’ve been a no-brainer, but I didn’t realize just how common it is for women to just swing by and pet cats. Say, on the way home from the gym, on their lunch break, or just because they were sad. Very, very sad. I can’t criticize too much, because that’s exactly what I did that day; but there was a twinge of something “else” about everyone else there, especially since they all came and went without a cat, which made it weird.
Anyway, note to single men looking for a gal: cat room.
As we all know, there’s no such thing as a free cat (or dog!). Willow went to the vet, in his short time with us, more times than Homer has needed to go, in the past five years. He got extra food, special litter, and prescription medication that had to be applied daily. He was brushed, combed, and even got a special haircut. He was adored beyond measure.
The other cats were displeased with Willow’s alley cat ways, and his strange ability to convince them that they should be relegated to only the back bedrooms. They were as confused as the rest of us about his powers of persuasion, considering he was a Lilliputian. Collin was Collin about him, and found him less interesting than the Wii, but more interesting than the carpeting.
Bryon, of course, was indifferent to the fact that another animal joined the menagerie, despite his protestations that we didn’t need another cat.
Willow refused to give up on Bryon though. Like all adorable and pathetic creatures, he used this lack of power to weaken Bryon, who was eventually defenseless against fuzziness. Bryon grew to admit, at least, an affection for the little scamp, too.
Like all animals, we are charmed by what they do that’s frustrating, as much as what they do that is adorable. Willow, perhaps because he weighed only what his fur and bones weighed, was always seeking warmth. He slept not on your lap, but on your face, or wrapped around your neck, like a scarf. He sought to sleep, at night, curled against your face, or curled under your chin, sucking up the warmth from your breath.
As adorable as that sounds, remember that smell I mentioned? Turns out that his ears were filled with benign, inoperable tumors. They stank, and continued to stink. They collected all manner of airborne bacteria. No matter how clean we kept them, and no matter how good we were with the medication, he was still stinky. Really, stinky.
So, his refusal to be moved, his digging is claws into the pillow or into my hair was truly a lesson in love. He taught us, and especially me, that loving something challenging reaps rewards we aren’t expecting. Willow stank, and I held him close anyway. I knew he was old, and probably wouldn’t last long, and no matter how much I tried to keep myself from falling all the way in love with him, he wound his way deep into my heart, anyway.
At every visit to the vet, we’d ask, “is he uncomfortable,” and “is he in pain.” And, every time, the vet would assure us that he wasn’t. I know what it’s like to be in so much pain that I’d wish for death. I know what it’s like to be sick. I watched that silly cat be old, but not sick. I watched him be close to the end and not particularly healthy, but not particularly unwell either. It was a strange little relationship we had.
Within his short time with us, he had a few slips into illness that we thought were his end. We’d take him to the vet, and we braced for the worst. But, that silly cat would just have had a flare up of his ear infections, get some antibiotics and some fluids and come home a Skeletor version of a kitten. He was strong, and suddenly frisky. For Willow, that meant harassing the other cats, briefly. Homer and Loki always seemed especially displeased to see the cat carrier return from the vet, occupied.
A few days after Christmas, Willow looked sick again. This time though, he didn’t look sick like he looked sick before. He was hiding under the Christmas tree; but, when he was coming out, his back end was dragging, or falling beneath him. He had a bad bowel movement, and dragged his back end through it, and then didn’t clean himself. The poor kitty needed a bath. If you’ve ever bathed a cat, you know they object; he didn’t. Nor did he object when I blow dried him to stop his little skeleton body from shivering. I held him for hours afterward, wrapped in a blanket, while he randomly quaked in what I can only assume was pain.
I knew it was time, but instead of being braced, as I was all the other times he’d gotten sick, this time, when I called the vet, I held out hope. By the time we got to the vet the next day, he couldn’t stand when the vet unwrapped him from the blanket he was wrapped in. His back end was completely unstable. My heart broke.
Three months, and Smelly Cat broke my heart.
They let me hold him in his Wonder Woman blanket while they did it. He was so sick, with such dead weight, that his little body didn’t even get heavier when he went. I held him for a long time, and just kept petting him, crying. We all did. When we left, we made sure to put him in a nice position, curled in a nice, napping position, instead looking like a cat corpse. I asked Bryon if he thought the techs noticed things like that, and he assured me that they probably did. I was afraid that, because of how awful he looked, health-wise, they’d think he was unloved; I wanted them to know he was.
I can’t believe how much I miss that silly little cat. Even more, Bryon misses him too.
Of course, Loki and Homer have had a freedom party. They have ganged up, since he’s been gone, and formed the BFF-Team. Formerly, they were the epitome of sibling rivalry. There’s been endless snuggling, and other such cat adorableness. Purring in abundance has made me feel guilty about how miserable they were with Willow’s existence. It’s weird to be sad for him to be gone, and happy that he’s gone, at the same time. Well, I’m at least happy for the other cats.
I know this whole post makes me sound like a wacko cat lady; and frankly, that’s what I am. I’m not so sure that I care, really. A big part of my life, is spent at my house now that I’m home, so my animals are important to me. Taking care of an old sickly one, resonated with me for obvious reasons. I’m so grateful for having known him, and for being the one who got to be the strong one, instead of the weakly one, in our relationship. He taught me a lot about unconditional love, just by being his stinky, snuggly self.
Homer seems especially pleased. I can't seem to get that cat off my lap. Homer is my best friend, which may seem weird. But, he's been with me since 2003, and is just as old as Willow was. I worry every day about that boy, but I think he'll live forever, just because I can't make it without him.