Almost 20 years ago, a little blue tortoiseshell cat crept up our driveway. She was just a kitten, but she was on the prowl — for a place to call home.
My oldest son saw her first. When my wife showed up, he was sitting on the back porch with the cat and a bowl of milk. My wife pretended to not want to take the cat in. By the next morning, the cat was inside, she had a name (Madeline) and she had installed herself as the queen and absolute ruler of our house.
Well, until last week.
You probably know what’s coming.
Last year, her exalted highness lost a lot of weight. Once the scourge of local mice and chipmunks, she allowed them to do little dances right in front of her face without showing any response.
But then she stabilized and she actually looked pretty good in her new, slimmer version — kind of like an aging movie star who loses weight for one last performance.
Alas, after a few months she started to decline again. She was down to skin and bones. She mostly just sat around. Always willing to eat almost anything, she got really picky. We bought various brands of gourmet cat food created by French chefs but she just turned up here nose at them. Eventually, we discovered she really just wanted people food, probably because all along she figured she was a human, so that’s what we gave her. She deserved whatever she wanted after almost 20 years with us.
So the night came when my wife and I looked at each other and agreed we had to have her, in the terminology we all use to make it sound not so bad, “put to sleep.” Yes, a few tears were shed.
Our vet was booked with animals he was trying to save, so we took her to the animal shelter, where we met a young man who made things a lot easier. He obviously loved animals and even liked people and he took good care of Madeline. Still, a few more tears were shed.
At this point, those of you who are not pet owners might be saying something like, “She was only a cat. Thousands of cats in this world die every day. Humans are suffering and dying. It’s not that big a deal.”
Well, yes it is. I don’t subscribe to the theory that we only have so many units of love or compassion — you know, we have a limit of 10 units and if we give five to the cat we only have a few left for everyone else. I think our capacity expands as we come in contact with more people (and more animals).
Besides, our cat was a better friend than most humans. She probably was the only creature in the world who was always happy to see me. She always waited at the door and talked to us when we came home. She sat at the door to the bedroom and stood guard while we went to bed, then showed up and slept at the bottom of the bed. And I’ve never seen a human who could purr like she could.
When we brought her home to bury her in the back 40, our son was there waiting for us. Many years ago, when he was little, we had another cat who died and we did the same thing. That time around, he told us to wait and ran into the house and brought out a little flag to put on the grave. My wife brought a little flag to Madeline’s burial as a reminder. Maybe it did us good to think of those two feline veterans meeting somewhere in cat heaven and becoming friends as they shared stories about the family they loved.
My son even shared a few stories about Madeline and, yes, we shed a few tears. Even though you know something is inevitable, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
Half of you want to ask us if we are getting a new cat. Well, no … not yet, anyway. We didn’t even expect to get this one, and she stayed for 20 years. Maybe later.
The other half of you are trying to find my phone number to offer us a cat or a dog or a gerbil or some other animal you want to get rid of. Don’t do it. The answer is no.
For now, it’s enough to think that a little bit of sadness is a small price to pay for having such a faithful companion for so long. Queen of cats, we’ll miss you. Thanks for adopting us so many years ago.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.