I am writing this after coming home from our last visit to the vet's office. Sugar, our beloved cat, is no longer with us.
For those of our friends who knew her, or wanted to know her (which I figure is most of our friends), and for my own consolation, I would like to present you with a biography of a special cat.
Sugar, as I've said before, was my mother's last pet. She and my stepfather, Jerry, had only owned dogs. But they were open to the idea of a cat for a pet, and as they became older and sicker themselves, they figured it would become harder to deal with walking a dog several times a day, but relatively easy to care for a cat.
The first cat they adopted, Tiger, was a beautiful little gray tabby. Unfortunately, he died a short time after they got him, of feline leukemia.
Then they adopted Sugar, from a woman in Pottstown (where they lived) who operated a cat rescue service called Furball Farms Feline Rescue. I don't know much about Sugar's background, but it's my understanding from what Mom told me then (and what little esrblog
found out from the woman, many years later), that Sugar's mother was a rescued cat and Sugar was born at the rescue facility. It was the woman at the rescue facility who named her "Sugar", and she told esrblog
over the phone, many years later, that "if I named her Sugar I must have noticed, even then, that she had a sweet disposition."
At the time Sugar was adopted, Mom was battling cancer. She had very little strength, so she spent her days lying on the sofa, watching TV, while little Sugar lay on her stomach, being petted. Jerry did most of the chores, including feeding and tending to Sugar. Since those were the days when I had more money than time, I bought Sugar one of those enormous pieces of cat furniture--a three-story cylindrical tower on which to climb and hide and which can double as a scratching post. (The tower looks a lot like this
except that it's blue.) Since she preferred having a separate scratching post, I eventually bought her one of those, too.
Then came the day when I got a call at the office, from the visiting nurse association with which Mom and Jerry had made arrangements to look in on them, given their mutual ill health. The nurse told me that she had found Jerry dead on the bathroom floor and she had no idea where Mom was. That was at the very end of July in 1994.
Horrified, I made my way to Pottstown with esrblog
, where I eventually learned that Jerry had taken Mom back to the hospital the night before; she had been having trouble breathing because large amounts of fluid were accumulating in her lungs. We broke the news to her, and in her condition, that was a terrible thing to have to do. We all cried, and she told me "Take care of Sugar."
Since there was now no one at the house in Pottstown where my parents lived, and I did not want to stay there overnight, we gathered Sugar and her belongings--her food, bowls and litter box, her tower and scratching post, some toys--and drove back to Malvern. Unfortunately, that drive was far from peaceful. A series of tornadoes was ripping through the county, pretty close to our path home, creating a tumult of thunder, lightning, and rain. Sugar cried and cried for the entire 45-minute drive.
By the time we got back to Malvern, the rain had settled down to a light drizzle and all three of us were exhausted. We brought in Sugar and her belongings, settled the belongings in suitable locations around our home, and showed her where her food, water, and litter box were.
Then we trudged upstairs and went to our waterbed to collapse. Because it was a full-flotation waterbed and we were a bit leery of having a cat's claws near the mattress, we shut and latched our bedroom door.
It wasn't long before we heard a tiny scratching noise at the bottom of the door and a soft "Meow?"esrblog
and I consulted. I reasoned that we could always keep a layer of thick covers on the bed, and if a puncture happened, well, a waterbed mattress can be replaced. But how many times do you get a chance to win the heart of a cat? He agreed.
So I opened the door, and Sugar bounded in, leapt up on the bed, and promptly started to explore the window behind the bed.
And that was the beginning of our relationship. After that night, Sugar treated us as her people, and we reciprocated in kind. We learned that Sugar had many traits that made her a wonderful companion for us, namely:
* She enjoyed human company, even the company of children, though she especially enjoyed the company of men. Since many of our visitor were esrblog
's computer-programmer-geek friends, this worked out exceedingly well for all parties.
* She was unusually tolerant, for a cat, of breaks in routine. Since we like to travel to science-fiction conventions, and would be gone for an entire weekend every other month or so, it was wonderful to have our companion waiting for us with cries of greeting instead of busy wrecking some item of furniture in revenge for our absence. She didn't enjoy our absences, though. Often we'd find her looking out the front window, waiting for us. In more recent years, she would lie under the coffee table near the front door, reproaching us with loud cries as we entered, until we petted her back into equanimity.
* She disliked scratching leather, which means that our expensive sectional sofa saw little damage from her claws (though the fabric-covered sofa bed in the basement got brutalized).
* She was not fond of leaping from heights, and thus did not attempt to reach the tops of tall pieces of furniture. Instead, she was extremely good at climbing. In her early days with us, I saw her bound from the ground to within 5 feet of the top of a telephone pole in seconds after a squirrel (while she was on a leash!). More importantly, she climbed back down the pole nonchalantly with nearly as much ease as she had ascended it.
* Although Sugar was always willing to walk on desks or tables, she rarely shoved any object over the edge, and she seldom stepped on computer keyboards (a relief to esrblog
On the other hand, she never got over her dislike of the car, and she would not tolerate having her claws trimmed (so the vet had to do it, with an assistant to hold all four of her legs).
As she matured, Sugar became even more outgoing. She became vocal, adding loud calls, tribbling noises and trills to her sound repertoire. She learned to enter a room as if she owned it, nodding or meowing a polite greeting as she met our visitors. Sometimes, she would make a noise that sounded uncannily like the word "hello!" She learned to enjoy lying in our laps while being petted, and she even learned to tolerate being picked up and held (so long as she ended up getting petted).
During her youth and middle years, I took Sugar outside as much as I could (usually but not always on a leash), and saw a different side of her. Outdoors with the wind in her fur, she was a cool hunter, listening, smelling, watching her targets. I saw her watch the neighbors' tom for 15 minutes at a stretch, creeping closer almost imperceptibly until she finally committed to the chase. She seldom missed a chance to assert herself against dogs, either.
Three years ago this September, we came home from a gaming convention to find Sugar miserable and ill; I wrote about that illness here
. She already had diminished kidney function then, but this illness was different; a severe infection in both kidneys. Surprisingly, once a correct diagnosis was made and the proper treatment administered, she bounced back to her usual self, friendly, loving, and curious but not too curious for the good of our house and furnishings. :-) We began giving her subcutaneous fluids shortly thereafter, but other than that our life together continued pretty much as normal. Things stayed normal even when we started bringing her to the vet for the fluid treatments.
Shortly after the beginning of this year, Sugar began losing weight more noticably; we could feel her bones under the still beautiful, thick coat. After February (the time of her putative birthday, according to the vet's records), she began eating markedly less than normal, and by late March, my darling cat, whose mature average weight was between 9 and 11 pounds, was down to 6.7 pounds. She began spending less time with us--though she continued her long-standing habit of spending at least part of the night with us on the waterbed. That's when we knew her days were numbered.
Last night, we lifted Sugar onto our bed--the same waterbed she had first leapt onto, nearly 20 years ago--so we could spend some time in our mutual favorite place for one last night. When I got up to go to work this morning, she was in the basement, lying in the bottom level of the cat tower I'd bought for her long ago, looking tired, ailing, and miserable.
This evening, I was prepared to have to pull her out of her tower but she surprised me; she came to the foot of the basement stairs and called for me. I brought her upstairs and petted her for some time before we took her for that final vet visit.
There's more I could say about Sugar, but I'll stop rambling on now. If you met her, you know why I loved her so much, and if you haven't, I don't have the words to properly explain to you why she was so special. All that I ask is that tonight you spend some time with a pet or, failing that, a human friend or loved one. Do something nice for them, and think, just for a bit, about how much they mean to you and how you will feel when they are gone.