Saying Goodbye

Eighteen years ago this month, I hopped in the car and drove up to Augusta to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society. They had a cat there that no one, apparently, wanted to adopt. Which, in turn, made me want to adopt him, hence the ride up north.

As it turned out, however, someone did want to adopt him, and drove off with their new cat about an hour before I got up there. They tried to talk me into coming to see a new batch of kittens that had come in, but I resisted, having had my heart set on the cat that had been adopted. Eventually I gave in because, well, kittens.

When I walked into the room with the them, they were rolling all over each other and play fighting. One of kittens looked up and saw me, sprinted over and proceeded to climb my leg like a tree. When I pried her off my hip, she was purring loudly.

Her name was Azrael. I had to have her put to sleep last week.

When she came home with me that June, I was living alone up the coast from here in Maine, far from friends and family. Az was my companion in those early years. She was my local friend. She rode in with me to the office every day, and rode home with me at night. She curled up in my lap if it was available, and next to it if it wasn’t. She would drape herself over me at night, or crawl under the blanket and go to sleep behind my knees. And her most favorite thing in the world was to be carried. She’d sit in the crook of my elbow, paws on top of my hand and just quietly sit as I wandered around randomly carrying a cat and trying to do things like laundry one handed.

My relationship with her, however, was a lot different from other people’s relationships with her. In my experience there is a type of cat that is basically a one person cat. I grew up with one. Azrael was another.

She liked Kate, which didn’t help much since she’s allergic. One of my happiest memories, meanwhile, was when she gave the newborn Eleanor a tentative lick the first time they met – and she was a very patient cat with a very affectionate toddler. She also got along just fine with my best friend Andrew.

But that was pretty much the list. She hated pretty much everyone else – even people who were kind enough to make sure she had food and water while I was traveling. Best case, they wouldn’t even see her. Worst case, there would be hissing. And if you didn’t pay attention to that and got too close, she would cut you. Happily. The last veterinarian we went to tried to get me to take a fancy plastic cat carrier for free because they were so scared of me taking her out of it. I assured them she’d be fine for me, and she was.

Azrael may have been a tiny cat, but she was fierce. Even those of my friends that didn’t like her – which is to say most of them – would allow her that much, I think.

If she wasn’t particularly friendly, however, she was adaptable. She lived in everything from a one room cottage to a loft to a basement to, when we had that finished, the RedMonk office briefly. She took it all in stride. She was on a plane more than my daughter’s been to date. She didn’t like it, but as long as I was able to stick my hand in the cat carrier so she could know that I was there, she’d settle.

I worked with a guy once whose cat crapped on his clothes as a means of expressing its displeasure when he traveled. Az never did anything at all to protest; she was just overjoyed to see me when I got back.

Throughout all of the changes in my life over the last two decades, Azrael – most commonly referred to in the house as “Pook” – was there for me. Moves. Marriage. A daughter. My deteriorating and then recovering health. My Dad’s death. Throughout all of the ups and downs, I could sit down each night, she’d curl up next to me and I’d feel loved.

Pets have many wonderful benefits, but I’m not sure there’s any that are more important than that.

Last week, I noticed a couple of things that were off. Her food bowl was fuller than it should have been and she felt lighter. And she was making a noise as if she was grinding her teeth, which had never happened before. I took her in assuming it was a dental issue. They called and told me it was a growth, very likely squamous cell cancer. In the span of about thirty seconds I went from wondering how long she’d be in for dental work to desperately trying to get around the fact I was going to have to say goodbye.

Because that was clearly what had to happen. Surgery on the mouth of an eighteen year old cat would be trading at best a few months for me to come to terms for an agonizing, painful struggle for her, which of course is no trade at all. It would mean selfishly putting her through hell so that I didn’t have to feel sad until later.

We might not always be able to be kind to people in these situations, but we can at least do that for our animals.

A half hour later, I was at the vet’s sobbing as they brought her in. True to her nature, they’d had to administer the sedative before they brought her in because she tried to cut a few of them up. Even in her weakened state, she was still fierce.

I thanked her for always being there for me and for making me happy. I told her that she’d been loved. And then they gave her the second drug, and she was gone.

You won’t find many other people who liked her, let alone loved her. You, reading this right now, probably wouldn’t have. But I did. So very much.

Goodbye Pook. You were a great cat.

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