Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial to a little trooper.

This Memorial Day, I could sit down and write about the two picnics I am going to and all the old friends we are going to see. But my mind has been on another old friend who is no longer with me.

I told a few people that my cat, Hailey, who was nearly 19 years old, died recently, just before we moved into this, our new house. She didn’t die exactly, I chose not to have her revived. This was an awful, awful choice to make.

I discovered one day that her toenails were curling under into the pads of her feet. Upon taking her to the vet, I was told that she needed to be sedated and have them pulled out of the pads and clipped back, and bandaged, and also that she had severe periodontal disease. She would need at least three teeth removed at hundreds of dollars each. Also, because she was no longer grooming and shouldn’t be forced to, being suddenly toothless, she needed to be shaved to have her mats removed from her undercoat.

She was my trooper. Two days after moving into my first apartment, I got her as a paranoid little kitten who was scared of everything, even me. She lived under the bed for the first three weeks I owned her and only came out at night. She did that at every home I moved into for the next 18 years. But other than that, she was my buddy, my partner, through boyfriends, apartments, college majors, 6 or 7 cross country moves, a marriage and children.

She was prissy, and pretty, she was afraid to walk on soft things like couches for about 10 years and then changed her mind. She loved cheese and could smell tuna through three closed doors. She once caught a black mouse and looked like Adolf Hitler when she held it in her white mouth. She battled a snake that found its way into my bathroom, but was afraid of her own shadow. She wasn’t a cuddler but loved me dearly. She bumped her head into you when she wanted something. Her fur was white and she had a raccoon tail, the map of North and South America on one side, and a broken heart on the other.

On her last trip across America, we almost lost each other in Las Vegas. At 18, she bolted out of my room unseen, as I came in the door, talking on the cell phone, bragging about how lucky I was (at the slots). Within 10 minutes I could tell she was gone, and after looking in every nook and cranny I went outside to meet a man who told me he had seen a white long haired cat slinking against the wall past an industrial warehouse next door. I walked the streets of industrial backroads Las Vegas until midnight and was up the next morning begging to look through people’s garages. The next day I was supposed to head on to my family in California, but I couldn’t leave her there, in the heat of Las Vegas summer at 18.

After hearing my story, a nearby innkeeper offered me a free room so I could keep looking and I did. In nearly constant tears. After I packed up from the first motel, she had turned around and actually headed back to the room. I think she got back in because the maids had the doors open all afternoon while cleaning. I begged them, in sign language and broken Spanish to let me look in all the open rooms, and there she was, under the bed, back in my first room!

She never had the greatest quality of life after Noah was born as she was very leery of him. He was rough with her as a toddler. Just as she started getting used to him, the twins came along and she became nocturnal. She slept under the bed all day, and came out after they were all put to bed. But because our days started so early, I only saw her for 10-30 minutes a day as she was emerging and I was going to bed. A quick pet and then goodbye. She was back in hiding by morning.

And then the vet was on the phone telling me that no, she needed to pull about 6 teeth, the molars would be about 200 dollars or something more than the little ones. And at least one of the toenails had grown into her bone and she would have to have the toenail completely removed, and it would cost more, and be more painful and it would involve forcing her to take medicine drops. While shaved naked. And I would have to force these drops ito her during those few minutes we still spent together, when she was out from under the bed before I went to sleep, before she spent the evening alone in the dark.

It was the money and the cruelty factor. They were all standing around her, ready to move on if I so wished. Or we could just stop. But I had to decide right now, on the phone. While they waited in their masks and scrubs, scalpels and dental wrenches in hand.

I said no. Let her go.

The last time she was awake, I was across town. I didn’t get to hold her while they put her down, like I imagined it because she was required to spend the night to get the antibiotics and fluid before surgery. And I couldn’t come to be with her because I was home with the twins, and Michael had the car with the car seats that one time. The last time she was awake, she had spent the night in a cage with strangers around, in a sterile scary place. After all she gave me, this is how I had her leave the world.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

My old friend Karin knew just the place to take her. I didn’t want to cremate her or put her in one of those creepy pet cemeteries. I wanted to put her back in the earth. Karin took me, with the box that held Hailey, and a shovel, some flowers and some incense, to a winding road that led down to the Pacific Ocean. We ducked into a little forest cove, just past where she had buried her long time buddy, Ziffle.

I dug until I got a good deal of my anger and guilt out, and then she dug when I was too tired. And I took her out of that box that once stored cat food, and I placed her down in the earth. We covered her. No, I was the one who covered her. I placed a big rock on top because Karin had lost track of where exactly Ziffle was after a few years. She had brought a book of poetry and read some after lighting some incense. We put some flowers there, and I told Hailey I was sorry a few hundred more times.

Karin and I walked down to the beach. Unlike most area beaches, this one was secluded and surrounded by immense cliffs. A great V-shaped canyon view of the mountains and ocean just beyond for Hailey to look out over. What we thought might actually be a bald eagle flew over. One had been spotted in the area a few days prior. We watched the waves and talked about our old friends, our pets. And then we walked back up the hill.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This Memorial Day weekend, Karin invited me on a walk, back to that same beach. I checked in on Hailey. Her grave is undisturbed and natural looking on the side of a creekbed. But I am thinking about her constantly again.

I haven’t written here in four days, and this might be too long for many people to read, but this isn’t for you. This is for Hailey. This is my Memorial to my "fallen comrade".

I loved you Hailey. Thanks for the years. I am sorry the end was not what we had imagined for you. The last couple days, the last couple years. Thanks for sticking it out with me, though.
You were a trooper.


Anonymous said...

I miss her, too. -M

Snowbird said...

So do I. Remember, she spent some time with me too. What a beautiful place she is in now--overlooking the ocean, watching the birds fly by, hearing the waves crash, and totally out of pain. Maybe Hailey and Shilo are finally friends.

Gumby said...

very sweet and sad. I had to put my buddy Newton down the week before Thanksgiving last year. It was the hardest decision I ever made. I had him for 14 years, and I still miss him.

derek said...

Good thing I read this here at home. If I'd been at my desk at work with the tears flowing like this, I would've had to fake a bathroom emergency or something.

Karen, FWIW I truly believe that Hailey knew, and still knows, how much you love her. I'm not even a cat person, but I like any other loving and dedicated pet owner can identify with what you have been going through.

You did the right thing. It wasn't your fault. You gave Hailey a wonderful home - several, actually ;-) - for 19 years. You did right by her all the way.

I shall now post this, sign out, stop sniffling, and then play some poker or watch an action movie or something before my testicles are repossessed.