“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
I’ve never been good at eulogizing. The words I write and say fail. How can you possibly sum up a life in a sentence? How can you convey the depth of love you have – the multiple layers of complex feelings and emotions woven around this single point in your life – limited by a vocabulary that is never quite big enough? I’ve never been a writer. I can’t paint a beautiful picture with words. I’m merely an anecdotist. My apologies, Sage as I look at my list of words and stories trying not to let you down one more time.
This post is for my kitten and for me.
15 years ago I was sitting on the back porch of my parent’s house with a dog crate in front of me. My not-yet-ex and I sat in front of it waiting to see these two Manx kittens my stepmother had rescued from her tree. A tiny “rumpy”, Hodi, who didn’t have a name quite yet, sprang out and fluffed up as big as she could to hiss at Thelma, my parent’s German Shepherd. Thelma had the audacity to take a sniff of this tiny precocious ball and Hodi needed her to understand that she’d made a huge mistake. Fueled by Hodi’s bravado, Sage (a “stumpy”) confidently pattered out behind her. “Do you want the kittens?” was the question that lingered in the air. I didn’t. I had my cat Jones and I was content. However, I didn’t have the final word. No, that was my not-yet-ex’s call who enthusiastically replied, “we’ll take them!”
She didn’t have a name for a while. My not-yet-ex had declared we could each name one kitten. As I saw it, I had. His name was Jones. That didn’t get me off the hook. I had to name mine. He had already named his Horangi (this eventually was shortened “Hodi” – pronounced Hoe-dee, thanks to Kati, which made things easier on her and everyone else). I turned over the naming to a friend since I wasn’t particularly attached and she offered up “Sage” and so Sage it was.
Sage was tiny – skin stretched over jutting bones, with short sleek hair – a contrast to her larger, fluffier sister. She was hard to pat at first – all you could feel were the vertebrae along her spine and tiny little kitten ribs, but she desperately wanted to be loved. Early on I realized everyone gravitated to Hodi – she was big eyed and fluffy whereas no one really touched Sage. Sage became my project to make sure she was properly socialized – a little project that eventually got out of hand as I turned her into an attention seeking love monster. Once she realized hands were maybe the best thing ever (right next to freshly opened cans of tuna) and all of these people seemed to come with a pair of them, she made it her goal to make sure that happened If they weren’t touching, she’d start talking to them about how they should probably bend over a bit more and get to the touching. She would also let it be known that if bending presented any special trouble, she would be ok with perching on their laps. Very accommodating. Until recently she would greet everyone at the door waiting for those lovely arms to lower themselves and bestow some patty goodness. She was the one who would stomp on us at night or curl up in Jay’s lap when he’d sit at his computer.
In the early years my cat Jones didn’t take to her. In fact, truth be told, there were never “later years” that he did. His one and only love had been for a ferret named Apple Juice and Sage was neither a ferret nor did she sound like a fruity drink. Within in a couple of weeks the novelty of Sage had worn off for Jones. He was 5 and well beyond kitten antics. He decided that as the oldest he should address the problem, since clearly I wasn’t going to handle it, so he walked over her and plopped himself down on her body. Jones weighed about 23 lbs. (a big guy) and easily had 19-20 lbs. on this tiny kitten. I couldn’t see a single bit of Sage peeking out from under him and Jonesy just stared ahead like nothing was going on. Jonesy’s only attempt to rid himself of this obnoxious bony upstart and I unceremoniously ruined the moment by making him move. He was incredulous in the way that only a cat can be properly incredulous.
When my divorce happened, I had three pets. Jonesy had passed away and I had a fairly new puppy named Dakota. My ex was in no position to keep these cats he had insisted we get and most apartments were not going to allow three pets. Since I had a more adoptable lab puppy, I had to give up my dog for his cats. I wasn’t going to take a chance on these two being euthanized, since they were into their awkward teen phase – well past “cute”. That decision sometimes made things hard. They were “his” cats and “my” cat and one of “my” dogs were dead due to his idiocy with animals (one reason he’s an ex) while my other dog had to be given away. (Another story for another time.) I’d remind myself it wasn’t their fault and that they needed me to protect them – to give them the best life they could have. I used to ask people, “do you want two free kittens” as a way to add levity to my feelings. It was never a real offer and they were never going anywhere. I began working on appreciating them for their different personalities – their idiosyncrasies – their goofiness, which takes me to:
What I loved about Sage over these 15 years:
She never stopped being a kitten. While her sister is content to pick out the best pet bed, Sage always wanted to bat something around.
She loved feathers and mousies and this ball that went round in circles in its track. She loved the laser pointer and she loved batting my earrings off the nightstand.
She loved nuzzling into my hair and pressing her nose against my scalp especially if it was wet.
She always appeared on the edge of the tub whenever I was taking a shower or a bath and only fell in once, but proved she could fly once her haunches hit the water.
She loved to nuzzle my blush brush, burying her face between its bristles.
She loved being touched to the point that she’d allow us to put her in cat hats for her thanks to those hands we seemed to have. A few of her cat hat photos were even selected to appear on a Cats in Hats website (which seems to have disappeared) and she also won “Fashionista” for one of those photos at our office’s charity fundraiser for the ASPCA.
She had this one little pink toe and the game was always to declare “pink toe” and then stroke her paw, which made her flinch, but again there was touching so she didn’t want to run away.
She deeply loved Jay, her pet human, whom she always wanted to be near and would let him cradle her like a baby.
Both she and Hodi were indoor cats, going out occasionally on the balcony when we lived in our apartment. I met my neighbor, Jessica, because of Sage when she jumped the wall that divided our balconies and a couple of hours later Jessica appeared holding her. She’d scared Jessica, because Jessica had walked by her bedroom and seen Sage asleep on her bed. Sage looked just like Jessica’s cat who’d passed away and Jessica had to call her boyfriend over to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.
When she stopped being able to clear the fence, she finally got to spend more time outside here. (We had done a test run early on, but behind one of the fences was a pit bull who had a bark collar on. He was silent and I felt instant death waited for her if she went to that yard. Incidentally, that was her favorite yard. Of course.) When she got to spend all the time she wanted outside, she’d hang out in the shade under the picnic table or bury her face in a tuft of grass. She was always the last pet to come in if it rained. I imagine she just enjoyed the feel of the water as it gently fell on her fur.
As a Manx we tried to encourage her to grow a tail. She let us know early on she couldn’t be bothered. She was absolutely fine with her sassy little nubbin. Then we tried to convince her it was time to find a job and she scoffed as both Hodi and Sam have done. Cats these days.
Where Hodi had her special issues and Sam has had her bouts with Horner’s Syndrome, torn CCL’s (yes, plural) and physical therapy, I always knew Sage would outlive all of them She was the healthiest. Sure, we had to give her subcutaneous fluids a few years ago once we discovered she wouldn’t drink standing water and needed water constantly flowing to stay hydrated. Yay Drinkwell! And even when she started dropping weight last summer and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, I knew her condition was manageable – just part of her aging process – still in the best shape of the pets.. Sure. the vet noted raised kidney enzymes, but that was largely due to her age.
Then I came home in June and found her laying in a puddle of urine. She hadn’t moved all day. I rushed her to the emergency vet where they placed her on an IV. The test results showed e-coli in her urine. A round of nausea invoking meds was started to clear that up and it didn’t clear up, so a new round of meds started at a higher dosage where I had to force feed her to help with the nausea and it didn’t clear up, then a newer round of a different/riskier medication that could impact her kidneys started; we had to clear that infection out. When the vet said the latest meds could be hard on her because of her pre-existing kidney problems I focused on the “could”. I knew Sage was the most resilient of my pets and “could” meant the 1% of the pharmaceutical test study where the animals had a bad reaction. Sage was in the 99%. I knew that. Unfortunately, she was the 1%. Monday, after a vet visit on Saturday, we had to make a choice since she wasn’t improving. I broke down. I failed her. Today they ship her body to the crematorium. A clay cast has been made of her paw print and then some time next week I’ll pick her up from the vet for the last time.
If I could make a thousand paper cranes and get one wish it would be for her to understand that I always loved her. That she was both a good and beautiful kitten.