Today my first “baby” was on my mind. Chester came into my life when I was in sixth grade. He followed my brother home one day and set up camp in our backyard. We already had two (indoor) cats, but for some reason I was drawn to this feisty little kitten and he to me, even though I was not the first person in our family he met.
I prepared him a bowl of our cats’ dry food, lovingly added water so it would be easier for his tiny tummy to digest, and watched as he chowed down. Our bond was cemented. I confiscated the Kitty Condo (some carpet covered tower meant for cats to play and sleep in) that our girls had rejected and carried it out to the backyard to be his temporary bed while I tried to talk my parents into letting me bring him inside.
However, the brother and sister who lived down the street and had originally found him (abandoned beside a busy road), came into our yard while we were away and stole him back. A daring rescue mission ensued led by my siblings and their neighborhood friends (I’m not sure why I was not directly involved.) Regardless, “Cuddles” was saved from his tormentors (they had kept him locked in a play house and fed him dog food– somehow he also ended up covered in flooring glue) and given his rightful name, Chester.
Amazingly, I convinced my parents to let him stay, provided that I paid for his shots and neutering. (Even at twelve years old I has entrepreneur tendencies– I had money saved up and I did pay for the necessary expenses to bring him into our home.) Of course the girls, Smokey and Grace, let Chester know who was boss (Grace), but he soon settled in comfortably to our family. He patiently tolerated the kitty “clubhouses” we created and insisted he and his “sisters” sleep in, as well as being picked up and carried around the house on a regular basis.
I was only separated from Chester for 3 years while I lived away from my parents in senior year of high school and my first two years of college. After sophomore year, I moved out to Texas to be reunited with my family and my little buddy. We never lived apart again. Chester was with me through some of the hardest times in my life, and he always met me at the door with an ear-splitting meow. “Where have you beeeennn?? I’ve been waiting for you all daaayyyy!!” No one in my life has ever been so happy to see me every single time I came home.
In his seventeenth year, life began to treat Chester cruelly. An infected scratch on his ear literally bent it out of shape. Cataracts (uncommon in cats– just his luck), robbed him of his sight. His digestive track weakened and made it difficult for him to eat except for specially prepared soup (amazing how life comes full circle, as when he was a kitten, it was a labor of love to make his meals.) His back legs began to stiffen (arthritis we think) so he had trouble walking and often stumbled. Blind and half crippled, he rarely left his heated bed in our laundry room, or as Matt, Lilu, and I called it, “Chester’s Room.” Perhaps saddest of all, he lost his ability to purr– I missed his sweet purrs so much. But I still had him– no matter what his condition, I still had my baby and it still made his day to “see” me.
I prayed that he would make eighteen years, selfishly I know. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable he must have been or how scary it would be to lose your vision. Animals, however, are stoic. He never seemed terribly bothered– he just accepted his lot and changed his routine as necessary. As much as I didn’t want to accept it, I knew that he didn’t have much longer. I felt in my heart that he would tell me when it was time. And he did.
One day after a particularly rough couple weeks (we did have some warning at least), I found him stretched out in a laundry basket I had filled with a pillow and towels (in case he wanted somewhere new and comfy to rest), next to his uneaten food from the night before. When I came over and laid my hand on him, he barely moved, but he purred so loudly and didn’t stop as long as I was around. On his last day I finally got to hear that sweet sound– I consider it his parting gift to me. My parting gift to him was allowing him to leave peacefully with his “mommy” by his side. The vets assured me that letting nature take its course would have been excruciating (a non-functioning colon and bladder would certainly not end well). It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make– but I knew it was the last thing that I could do to take care of him, and that gave me some comfort.
It’s been just over a year since I said goodbye to my lifelong friend. My girls keep me busy, so I don’t often have time to dwell on the past (or rather, I don’t let myself and busyness is a good excuse). However, on quiet nights like tonight, I can’t help myself. Our pets truly become a part of our family, and losing them is harder than you would ever expect.
I definitely want Lilu and Annabelle to grow up with animal friends too. Caring for pets teaches so much about love and responsibility, and pets give all of themselves in return. It seems that rescues are especially grateful– they seem to know that you have chosen them for a better life. I’m not ready yet– I just can’t imagine having another cat (or dog) just for the sake of having one, and it might not be the best time anyway with a small baby. When the time is right, I would love to take the girls to go pick an animal to bring into our family– or maybe our new friend will choose us when we least expect it. I was blessed to have such a wonderful animal family, and I want my girls to have the same.