Today’s guest post comes from Jo Ellen and is a heart breaking story of love and cats!:
IN REMEMBRANCE OF MITRY
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Gandhi.
A dusty gold-tone frame contains 4 pictures that rested face down on the same shelf for years. But they weren’t forgotten. Too hard to bear the waterfall of guilt they elicited. For years, it was more than I could bear.
How excruciating does life have to be before you know it’s time to let go?
It’s been 15 years since he passed away and yet I still don’t know if taking Mitry to the vet for the final time was best for me or for Mitry.
When he screamed at the pain as the vet stuck the IV into his leg, he was fighting to stay alive. Couldn’t the vet give him something for pain first?
Couldn’t I see that Mitry wanted more time with me? Was I so insensitive to the best cat in the world that I still didn’t understand how greatly Gandhi’s word reflected Mitry’s life?
How did I meet the best cat in the world? A bet.
I wanted a kitten. My 3rd husband didn’t want pets. So I bet him that English was a Germanic language, not Romanic. If I won, I could get a cat.
I have to admit, it wasn’t a fair bet. You don’t spend 3 decades listening to a sister with a Master’s in linguistics without picking up a few tidbits of knowledge along the way.
I travelled to the local Humane Society hoping to find the perfect feline, disappointed that no little orange kittens were available for adoption. The windowless meeting room for humans and possible pets contained 4 white walls and a chair. I can’t remember the number of cats parading through it.
Then, just as I was about to give up, there was “Spot.”
An attendant walked in, put a white cat with black spots on the floor, told me his unimaginative name, and closed the door. Mitry sat where he’d been plopped, inspecting me. I’d experienced playful cats, shy cats, and cats more interested in treats, but none who stopped to consider why he’d been imprisoned in a room with some strange human.
Few are the moments in life when the action you choose is the right one. But that day, in that room, I gently slapped my thighs as if to say, “Come on up.”
Most cats would yawn, curl up and sleep, look for a toy or expect a treat. I have to admit that had to be more interesting than the lump of depressed human flesh slouching down into a chair. Mitry jumped on my lap, his purr so loud and so strong there was no question…
This was the kitty I’d waited my entire life to meet!
But…but 1 1/2 years old?
“He was a crusty alley cat, hard to catch,” the attendant said. “You’re the first person he likes.”
That last piece of information clinched the deal.
After taking him home from the shelter, his laid-back attitude became contagious. He’d purr on my lap, turning an anxious moment into a relaxing therapy session as I stroked his fur.
I split from husband number 3, moving to a new job in a city 2 hours away. My teenage children and I accompanied Mitry when he took him to meet his new doctor. He uncovered a condition I was told would have been apparent to any veterinarian.
In other words, the animal shelter chose not to tell me.
Mitry had a birth defect of the heart, and the vet said it was destined to take his life within the next 3 years. A tidal wave over my head wouldn’t have been as devastating, and my children cried as hard as I did at the news. It was 1991, Mitry wasn’t yet 3 years old at the time and…and I was going to lose him so soon?
The vet said Mitry had to stay indoors. I was not to allow him in the sun or let him get too excited. An escape artist who loved to sunbathe, there was no point in trying to baby a cat who refused to be confined.
A year after finding our new vet, we purchased a house on a cul-de-sac that resembled the round bulb at the end of a mercury thermometer. Mitry had lived in 3 different houses with me by that point and he never failed to find his way back.
I was his home, not the structure we lived in.
Every neighborhood has an alpha cat, and the one running this neighborhood was going to show the new cat on the block that he was king. The bully of the cul-de-sac started at the fat end of the bulb, screeching at or threatening any cat daring to inhabit the same sidewalk. Mitry, unimpressed, sat in front of our home, watching the bully make his way around. The neighbor’s cats ran away, but Mitry continued to lay claim to his sidewalk.
I thought, Should I pick up my cat and retreat into the house? I was still debating this when bully cat raced toward Mitry. You’d think a heated fight was about to take place, ending with a rather expensive vet bill.
But Mitry simply swatted the bully’s face with one paw…I kid you not–ONE paw.
A swat to the nose, a swat to the eyes…Mitry never moved from his position. The bully screeched, running away from Mitry as fast as possible. The best cat in the world looked back at me (just as in the next picture) as if to say, “You okay, child?”
I was convinced that if any cat was destined to die of old age, it was Mitry.
About a year after this incident, Mitry disappeared for 2 days. The neighbor in the back of our home found him panting in his garage and asked my kids if they knew anyone missing a white cat with black spots.
No one knew how many hours Mitry had been in that garage, how he managed to drag himself into it, or why he was shot in the rear with a BB gun. We were more interested in rushing him to the vet, who X-rayed the area.
“The bullet can’t be removed, but the body will form a protective barrier around it,” The vet said. “There’s nothing we can do but wait.”
By that time, I’d met the man who would become my 4th husband. Mitry didn’t mind having a man move in with us who liked cats. We were the talk of the neighborhood, the woman with a husband in another city and a boyfriend 17 years younger at home.
The buzz of talk wasn’t relegated to the neighbors. Two years after moving to the city for a new job, it was painfully apparent that I needed to look for other employment. I’d made the best score in the state for a job they wanted to give to the woman who had made the 2nd best score. That, and my rather “exotic” lifestyle, began a quest to find any reason at all to get rid of me.
We moved to Texas with my boyfriend, and my 2 children (12 and 14 at the time). We lived in the same city with my sister, choosing an apartment complex a mile away that we could afford. The neighbors complained about Mitry laying just outside to sunbathe, and one woman threatened to have him taken to the pound. The reason was simple. People walking their dogs didn’t like it when their mutts got a swat across the face while trying to disturb Mitry while he slept.
But a life in Texas was not meant to be. My mother passed away in 1993, leaving 4 dogs, an old cat, and a will that left everything to my sister and me. I announced to my family after the last box was unloaded, “The next time I move it’ll be to Forest Lawn!”
It’s the house I still live in today.
Mitry had been part of the family for 5 years by the time we moved to his last home, and the man who has been our vet for over 23 years confirmed Mitry’s heart condition.
Where apartment life threatened his well-being, country life seemed the perfect place for him. Mitry loved the acres of land, and found joy in chasing butterflies around the yard. He’d leap up at a yellow wing just out of reach, or cavort around the yard in an attempt to catch a cricket. Then he’d lay in the sun back-to-back with a dog or another cat.
The one casualty of our move was a marriage never destined to last. Once, when husband #4 tried to hit me, Mitry jumped on him, howling like a Native American going into battle. Never in my entire life had I witnessed a cat attacking one human to defend another. And never would I witness such devotion from a cat again.
Mitry was with me through the end of my 4th marriage and through my first 3 years with my 5th husband, a man who loves our 4-footed companions as much as I do. In many ways, my husband understood Mitry better.
In 2001, when Mitry turned 13, he started having problems breathing. The prognosis? Congestive heart failure. Our vet suggested I do the humane thing and euthanize. But…he’d been playing, purring, never complaining once.
How could I take the life of a cat who’d fought so hard to continue living?
Weeks of administering oxygen to relieve his labored breathing, the cries of pain finally convinced me to take one last trip to the vet with him. The moment the vet put the needle in his arm, Mitry’s instinct was to bite me. His teeth touched my hand, but even then he had the presence of mind not to harm the human he loved.
I wanted to give him the dignity to die peacefully in my arms, but he fought the fluids depriving him of life as the human he trusted firmly held him in place…for it was too late to stop his impending descent into sleep.
Before that day I wondered why women wailed at a funeral, and considered it the act of an histrionic vying for attention. I took Mitry’s body home, held him in my arms, and a grief swept over my body so intense it grew into a life of its own.
Wailing is such an inadequate word to describe the sensation of a fist hitting your larynx as a demolition ball hits your torso. It is not a cry for attention any more than screaming when your legs are crushed by a steam roller.
To this day, the pictures of Mitry never fail to elicit a waterfall of guilt followed by a gusher of tears. Were the choices I made at the end of his life the right ones?
All I know for certain is this: When I adopted Mitry it was, without a doubt, the best choice of my life.
I can only hope it was the best choice for him, too.