Must Love Cats

I didn’t know it, but my entire life was leading up to this moment, but first, a little back story.

My life was relatively normal, just your run of the mill middle class family. My dad worked for the US government, and we spent four years living in Europe. I didn’t appreciate those years until later, when I would return to live with my own family. This time I would live in Italy with my husband and our daughter, courtesy of the US Air Force. 

We were fortunate that we spent our three years living in an Italian village. We spent our first year getting used to the Italian way of life, with my daughter in Italian Scuola, and the family spending time traveling. 

With our little house came our own little colony of cats. At one point over the next three years, we would be feeding nine cats altogether, including the three we had brought to Italy with us. We had names for them, and they each had their own personalities. I was ready to jump in and take care of these guys, but my husband was more reserved. It didn’t take long before he was on board, and we were making them ours, which meant spaying and neutering.

Six veterinarian visits later, and everyone was all set. There would be no more kittens to find homes for because, at this point, we had already rehomed approximately four kittens. It was unfortunate that there were, in our area, people who didn’t love cats as much as my family did. 

We lost three male cats throughout our time at the house. We lost one to a disease that he probably got before he was neutered. Another one became ensnared in a trap that he ripped his little body out of; by the time he got to me, the muscles in his arms had been shredded. You could see his muscles and tendons where the trap had ripped him open. It was my job to get a sedative from our amazing vet and get it into the cat. Once he was sedated, I brought him to our vet, who humanely euthanized the little boy. It was an eye-opening experience, and it broke my heart. I hope he felt he was loved.

The third little guy just disappeared, and we never saw him again. In my heart, I know what happened to him, but I hope that he lived to a ripe old age and was loved.

When we moved away after three years in Italy, I had found homes for as many cats as I could. We left the original two females where we found them, minus their uteruses. Above all the experiences we had while living abroad, this is the one I keep with me.

Cats have shaped my life. Except for the three and a half years of college, I have always had at least one cat. Growing up, we had two cats and a dog. After owning a dog, I have determined that I’m not a dog person; too high maintenance. I love other people’s dogs, but I choose not to own one.

We lost my beloved Andy while we lived in Italy. He was the first one that was mine, all mine, as well as my first grown-up responsibility. I picked him up off the road while I was in college, where he was hit by a car. He lived with me another 14 years before his heart just gave out.

He had endured so much in his little life. If you’re ever given the choice of a male cat or a female, my personal opinion is, take the male. They love unconditionally, they are exceptionally tolerant, and they have more patience than most people. Andy lived and loved us through two dogs, two sisters added to his harem, a toddler, the six Italian cats, and five moves, including one that was International.

It was in Santorini where I experienced the wild cats of Greece for the first time. They inhabited the alleys and doorways. The famous blue rooves were a static backdrop for the beauty of the cats. In Istanbul, I visited with cats outside the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. They aren’t afraid, and they will keep you in your place. In Paris, they are ornamental in the doorways of the fromageries and boulangeries.

Of the three cats that returned with us from Italy, Bailey is the only one we still have. She is 18 years old and every day with her is special and sacred. I know my time with her is short and even thinking about her last days brings me to tears, and I ugly cry. She has endured six moves, including an international move and quite possibly another one this coming summer. My heart is heavy as I spend my days watching and monitoring her to make sure she’s okay.

Who is the third cat, you may ask? That’s Callie. She was the runt of the litter. My, soon to be husband picked her up from a coworker back in 1998. She was a farm cat, and they considered her the ugliest of the bunch, but to me, she was beauty personified. Her fur was a beautiful mottled black, white, and orange. Yes, she was a calico, and she never failed to let us know that she was the queen of the house.

From the beginning, Callie let us know she was special. She kept everyone else in line, and that included our first-born daughter. The morning we brought our daughter home, Callie informed us that she did not like this noisy intruder. Our job as new parents was to ensure that Callie’s poor eardrums weren’t disturbed by the wailing of a new body in the house. 

Callie was tough. As she aged, her hips gave out on her, and her legs would pop out of their sockets. In the beginning, we could gently press them back into place, but as arthritis and age caught up with her, the joints just wouldn’t go back in place.

She was approaching 16 years old, the year we returned to the United States from Italy. The cats had spent their journey in the belly of a plane where it’s loud and dark and cold. 

We had a family member pick us up from the airport when we landed in Baltimore, Maryland, and he was ready with a little box and wet cat food to spoil the kitties. We unloaded them into the hotel room and let them get settled. Soon they were happily eating their dinner and finding places to settle for the night. 

We all headed to bed that night so we could be up bright and early the next morning for an early flight. 

Our lay-over for the day was in Atlanta. We carried Callie in her travel kennel as part of our carry-on luggage. She was small enough that she wasn’t too uncomfortable in her temporary living quarters. 

Having a child and being seven-and-a-half months pregnant means that we would be among the first to board the plane. We had gotten everything in its place and were sitting in our chairs talking as others loaded up as well. Callie seemed to be doing okay despite being a bit more vocal about her cramped quarters. I held her on my lap for a little while, trying to calm her down.

After I’d placed her back on the floor and under the seat in front of me, we suddenly smell something awful… and I do mean a paint peeling rotten egg kind of smell. We thought it was our daughter as she had mentioned something about a hardboiled egg smell.

The flight attendant was passing by and inquired as to what that smell was- I quickly told the attendant, “It’s her!!!” excitedly pointing at my daughter. We were in stitches, all of us laughing and covering our noses and just waiting for it to pass. Only it didn’t pass, but it did change into another smell. A cat pooping in her kennel kind of smell. Oh, sweet merciful heavens, it was Callie. 

We decided that Jeromy would have the task of taking her, in her kennel, back to the bathroom to clean her up. You know, those teeny tiny 2 1/2 foot square bathrooms? 

He came back from the bathroom and regaled us with the following story. It turns out there was a mound of cat diarrhea in the kennel. Remember back to those delicious cans of wet cat food that were a treat for those poor cats?

Well, Callie somehow ended up wearing some of it. While Jeromy was tackling the cleaning, he tried to put her on the toilet with no lid. Well, she falls in, and then when he put her on the floor- she slips on the poop covering her paws. Next, he tried to put the kennel up on the teeny tiny 5” sink, and it proceeds to fall on the floor. 

Callie has poop on her tail, and while swishing it, she ends up wiping it on the walls as she “stumbles” past. Next, he picks her up, and she clings to him with her claws, further transferring the poop to his jeans and shirt. He’s trying to clean off the floor and walls and is having to stuff all the paper towels in the bathroom trashcan- the teeny tiny one that’s in proportion to the rest of the bathroom. 

He exits the bathroom to come back to his seat. At this point, the plane is rapidly filling up with other passengers, which means he has to lift Callie and her carrier over the heads of everyone he walks by- as everyone tries to find their seats. 

Immediately upon sitting down, he recounts his tale of daring adventure, and you can see it on his face-he is not happy. Try as I might, I can’t contain myself, and soon I start laughing, but it only gets worse as he keeps talking. Oh, merciful heavens, I can’t breathe, I’m laughing so hard. At this point, all three of us can’t contain the laughter anymore. 

Before the airplane taxis out of the terminal, the airline workers come and “gave us the talk” about how messy the bathroom was. They indicate that they will bring us something to continue cleaning the bathroom, but they never did. 

Callie spent the remainder of the plane ride buried under the seat in front of me with a sweatshirt draped over her kennel to try and contain the smell. 

Immediately upon landing in San Antonio, I take Callie and her carrier into the nearest restroom to assess the situation and clean her off some more. She walks around a little bit and settles into the corner after I cleaned her some more. She waited patiently as I did what I could with her kennel.

For me, it’s the quintessential travel story. The one all other travel stories try to live up to but fail even to come close to. Upon moving a year later, Callie is firmly placed in a different kennel where she has the freedom to move around the car. That’s right; no more plane rides for her. 

Three years later, will find us with that tough decision no pet owner ever wants to make. At 19 years, Callie’s arthritis has taken over her little body, and she’s suffering renal failure. She still attacks Bailey and lets us know she’s queen, but her coat that was once glossy and soft is now a shadow of its former self. My baby girl, who topped off at 12 pounds, is down to a mere eight. I look in her eyes, but the spark I always used to see has dulled swiftly. I see she is tired, and every day is a struggle. Still, I wonder if she can make it a little longer, but the veterinarian assures me her quality of life is dwindling, and she’s not going to recover.

The month was November, and I spent the day on the back porch with her knowing it would be her last day on this earth. Bailey seemed to know something was different, so she came out and laid with us. 

No one prepares you for the loss of a pet. You can think you’re ready and that it will be better for the animal but when that moment arrives you will second guess yourself. Even after your beloved is ashes in a box beside your bed, you’ll wonder if you did the right thing.

Life is strange, isn’t it? We tell ourselves we’ll never go through this again, but the first time we find a stray cat, we immediately bring her home, call her Daisy, and lavish our love on her. 

I firmly believe I will see Andy and Bailey and Callie again one day. Not on this side of my life but in the next. I believe that somewhere they’re waiting for Bailey, as they’ll be waiting for me when it’s my time.

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