|Mom gave me this framed cartoon back in 2001.|
My weakness is that I want to save them all.
Which made that visit to Washington Animal Rescue League such a challenge. This was back in 2000, when WARL still let you roam a room where different cats were in individual cages, their names and a brief personality description on front.
But I could only take one, and so I had a choice to make. I struggled. Until I decided that I'd just pick the cat least likely to be adopted otherwise. That was one "Socks" - a black adult female, 18 months old, who glowered and hissed from the back of her cage.
Socks' description was less than enticing - "not appropriate for families with children," "not appropriate for homes with other pets." There were other words too - I don't remember the exact phrasing, but it was essentially a diplomatic statement that those looking for lap kitties and close companions should choose elsewhere.
So I chose Socks. I had just started my first "real job" as a first year associate at a large law firm, and I really couldn't offer attention. What I could provide was shelter, food, water, and vet care, and that was apparently all Socks wanted.
So, I signed some forms and took Socks home in a borrowed carrier. On the way, I decided to rename her "Aramina" - a tribute to my beloved childhood cat Arabella, who had also been very standoffish.
(I later found out that "Aramina" is also the name of a Filipino starlet, a town in Brazil, a town in Nigeria, and a Barbie doll. Who knew?)
When I got home, I opened up the front door of the carrier. The newly monikered Aramina made no attempt to exit, even when coaxed by food and water. I gave her an hour or so, leaving the room, but when I returned, she hadn't moved.
This was a problem, as the carrier had to be returned. And I didn't want to kick off our relationship by forcibly dragging her from the one place she felt safe.
After a few moments, I realized that the top of the carrier could be removed if I undid some screws. So I took the carrier apart, prompting a black streak to exit stage right.
And that was the last I saw of Aramina for some time. I knew she was there - the water and food bowls needed regular attention, and she had discovered the litter box on her own. But other than the biological evidence, there was no sign of a cat. Which was fine - I would have liked to have seen her once in a while, but I was also working pretty hard, and I hadn't expected anything more than a pet food bill and a litter box commitment.
It was amusing - I would travel for work, and ask a friend to check the food/water/box while I was gone. Invariably I'd get a call:
"I'm a bit worried - I haven't seen her once? I think she's still there because the food's getting eaten, but I thought you should know...."
I'd laugh and reassure them that that was just Aramina, and everything was fine.
I can't quite remember when it happened, but at some point I started seeing a black object in the hallway, which would scamper off if I turned my head in her direction. Then more baby steps. She'd return my gaze. She'd sit in the same room as me. She'd watch as I topped off her food.
Then one day, she hopped on my couch. It was awesome. The cat I thought I'd never see had come so far. Me and the shy little black kitty, sitting on opposite ends of the same couch.
She outdid herself again, soon after, tentatively crawling up on my lap. After a shocked minute of silence, I held my finger out and she rubbed her head on it, and we were best friends.
|Selfie - bedside reading mode enabled.|
And so we went on, best of friends. I couldn't believe my luck. So many emotionally rough moments in those first years - all the stresses of law firm life, 9/11, the sniper attacks. And when I'd get teary in those horrible terrible times, she'd jump in my lap and purr with all her might while rubbing my face until I settled.
She'd still vanish for strangers. Every time someone came over, be it repairman, friend, romantic visitor, and/or catsitter, they'd ask the same question.
"Are you sure there's a cat here?"
"Yes. She's just a bit shy around strangers."
In early 2003, I took her in for a routine vet exam, and the vet noticed a murmur. That led to an ultrasound appointment, and a diagnosis of an enlarged heart and tachycardia - hypertrophic cardiomyopathy ("HCM"). I asked the vet what the prognosis was - he evaded the question and told me we'd try betablockers to see if they made a difference.
And then I went home and looked up HCM on line. And didn't like what I saw in terms of prognosis. It was horrible - about two months earlier my horse Tony had been euthanized after he broke his leg in the field - I couldn't handle this again, so soon.
I wasn't ready. I was only in my 20s, and she was still so young.
But all I could do was faithfully pill her - a half pill in the morning and a quarter pill at night. And so I did. And when we came back for our follow-up ultrasound, her heart was much reduced in size and the heart rate notably slower. The vet and I both beamed.
And so time passed. Each year was borrowed time, treasured dearly.
|Brian and Mina, sacked out together.|
When we went to bed, she'd cheerily clamber back and forth between the two of us before settling down for the night - either between us as a furry chaperone, or on my head like a fuzzy chapeau, purring with the utmost certainty that nothing else in the world mattered but her family and a warm bed.
In late 2012, I noticed that she was acting oddly. Hiding under furniture and walking like she was hung over. It was Sunday, so I ran her over to the emergency vet clinic, where she was hospitalized for days with a diagnosis that finally resolved as chronic kidney disease. It was scary and horrible - her values kept falling and she refused to eat.
I wasn't ready for this. It was too soon. I was only in my 30s, and she was still so young.
But all I could do was tearfully ask if I was allowed to visit her in the ICU before she passed. Apparently, there was no restriction on owners in the ICU (I was confused) and so I came immediately. And when I showed up, she raised her head weakly, then lumbered over to rub my face, before turning to start nibbling at her food dish, to the great excitement of the vet on duty.
|Mina in the ICU|
Her values started improving immediately, and a day later she was released to my care, along with instructions to give her a 1/4 tab of Pepsid twice a day, as well as subcutaneous injections of fluids to keep her adequately hydrated.
I was a bit nervous about giving her shots, especially by myself with no one to restrain her, but there was nothing else to do but try. And amazingly enough, it quickly became easy and routine. Just draw the fluids, scruff her, inject her, and toss her a treat while disposing of the needle in the sharps box.
It was a game to her sometimes though - she knew when it was that time, and she'd trot off with her tail high like a flag, making me chase her from room to room until I'd finally trap her. That was only when I was healthy, though. If I was injured and hobbling, or very stiff and sore from a race, she'd walk up to me when it was time for medication or shot, and let me pick her up, no fuss.
And so we continued on, pills in the morning and at night, shots every other day, borrowed time so very precious. I'd get upset at something, and she'd purr until I settled. She'd puke up stomach acid (not unusual for a kidney disease cat) or a hairball and I'd clean it.
And then the Monday before Christmas, I noticed a bit of blood in her stomach acid. It was bright red (less concerning than dark), and I figured it was likely from a cut in her mouth. But still worth calling the vet about. The vet asked that I drop her off so they could check her out.
An x-ray and an ultrasound later, the news was grim. She had significantly inflamed intestines and a tumor on her liver. In a 16 year old cat, the most likely diagnosis was cancer, with palliative care the kindest choice.
And I wasn't ready. I was only in my 40s, and she was still so young.
But all I could do was choose palliative care, order the pills, and go on. And for the first days she thrived. We had no prognosis for her, since we had no confirmed diagnosis. But I grew hopeful as she acted younger and younger, more energetic, happier.
|This is what you would have seen |
if you were a webcam on
Friday afternoon, 2 pm.
I wasn't ready.
And I would never be ready, no matter how old I was.
In the end, we're all imposters when it comes to handling loss. And that's a good thing, I guess.
But it hurts like hell.
I wish there was some way I could have kept just a tiny bit of her forever. I wish I was good with a camera. I wish I could paint. I wish I was better with words.
I wish that "happily ever after" wasn't followed by "the end."
After all these years, I still can't believe how lucky I was.
|Aramina - ?, 1999 to January 2, 2015|