I didn’t want to adopt the first pet that came into our household 17 years ago. My daughter Alexandra was two at the time; my son Marshall, four. As a working mother running a household, I was already overcommitted.
On a deeper level, I didn’t want to get attached to a pet and someday have to say good-bye. I spent my life as a cat owner, and each time one of my kitty babies passed, I was beside myself. Instead of getting easier, the sorrow was never diluted. Single and living alone, when my last cat died in the early eighties, I was so heartbroken that I swore off cats forever. Then in 1997, with my then husband and children by my side, I broke my pledge. When we met Cliff, a Maine Coon, he had an aloof character. Lots of street smarts. After all, he was raised and later discovered in an abandoned car in my Godmother’s yard. Her son Ted had adopted him and his sister Judy and took them to his house. Ted owned other cats and asked me if I would open our household to him.
“He’s a good cat. He has all his shots,” Ted said, trying to persuade me since the rest of the family was already sold on Cliff. “It would be nice if you could take Judy too,” he added.
Cliff’s eyes glowed and gazed into us like we were the only four people in the universe.
“Okay,” I finally agreed as the room filled with cheers and happy tears, but, I announced, “we’ll only take Cliff. We can’t take two cats.”
“You won’t regret it!” we heard Ted’s exclamation behind us as we left his home with Cliff.
The first week at home when Cliff burrowed himself behind the washing machine, I thought perhaps the choice had been wrong.
By the end of the week, while I was working in the kitchen, Marshall came up to me with Cliff in his arms.
“How did you ever get him out?” I asked stunned.
“He just came out for me,” my young son proclaimed.
From then on, Marsh had a special bond with Cliff and never once did we regret adopting Cliff into our household that would over the years transform into somewhat of an animal menagerie. In fact, it was Marshall who discovered that Cliff was a Main Coon Cat. A Mainer to a tee, he loved the cold. He loved to hunt. We called him the cool cat. No matter what new animal inhabitants were joining our home front, he never flinched. When Blossom, whom we adopted a few years after Cliff, had kittens and, crazed mamma bear that she was, attacked me while I held Cliff in my arms, he looked at me as if saying sarcastically, ‘Ah, these new mothers and their hormones.’
Cool, never losing his aloofness, he knew about loyalty and love and once when I was surrounded by a pack of mean raccoons outside my backdoor, he stood his ground and chased them away. In essence, he risked his own life for his family.
Cliff had a sense of humor too and loved to be a showman and trickster and rolled over for us whenever we asked him; treats, of course, in our hands. Speaking of treats, he loved to eat just about anything, which included spaghetti that he would slurp up slowly and delectably, always asking for more.
Most memorable was the incident that made him a neighborhood star. My daughter and I had brought Cliff into her class for her kindergarten show-and-tell assignment. Seconds after I took him out of his carrier, he escaped outside through an open window. Despite numerous mad-search parties throughout the neighborhood, Cliff had disappeared. That is, until seven days later, when he showed up at five o’clock in the morning at our door, which was three miles away from the school! He was unstoppable and spread his cheer with every paw print forward.
Last year we marveled when Cliff turned 16. We planned for him to live until 20, maybe even 21. Though he grew tired of performing his tricks, he still loved to devour anything that came across his vision, never losing his a special affection for spaghetti.
Last month, disconcerting it was when he started losing interest in food; suddenly hiding out in the corner of my closet. When we took him to the vet, he was not eating or drinking, throwing up bile and burrowing in my son’s bedroom. Needless to say, tears overflow in our household, which, three months ago, saw the passing of our darling poodle Crouton.
Marsh fluctuates between being heroic(“Crouton will take him home”) to being in total denial (“I think he’ll live another year.”). A time like this is a call for faith. It is made easier as our family bonds tighter, realizing just how vulnerable we are and recognizing our powerlessness.
The days have been touch and go, and when my BF wondered why we did not put him down when I thought it “was time,” I think the text I shot him says it all: “…if he goes into pain, we will put him down. Not a moment sooner. Cliff is so happy to spend a little more time in the house he loved. Remembering all the voices from the people in the past who loved him. He hears Crouty barking at him and enjoys every moment as deeply and fully as he enjoyed every other moment of his glorious life.”
So, powerless, heartbroken with paw prints imprinted forever on my heart, we are in the shadow of another good-bye. And I’ll take no refund of pain and sorrow because in return I’d rather have our legacy of joyous Cliff memories that have enriched our lives so fully we can never ask for more.
Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!