(August 4, 2003)
Card copyright Medical Arts Press
I've owned cats for twenty-one years — that is, I've owned the same cats for
No, that's not really true; you never own cats. Cats let you live with them,
and feed them, and, at times of their choosing, you are allowed to express
your love for them.
The cats are the true owners — they own your heart.
I have had my two cats, Paris and Remington, for twenty-one years. Paris
came first. She was the first cat I chose to share my life with, and she was
the first cat that I had to choose to end her life.
This past Sunday, I said farewell forever to my precious Paris.
Looking back: Choosing a kitten - or how she chose me!
I was performing in a play 21 years ago, during which a cast member was
going to one and all trying to convince people to take a kitten. He had two
female cats who both produced litters within two weeks of each other, large
litters. He had 18 kittens to try to place with good homes.
This fellow actor tried to convince me to take a kitten. But, no! You see,
growing up I had been a "dog person." I'd never lived with cats, except for
a brief time when a roommate brought a cat home unannounced. When that
roommate moved out she left the poor feline behind, telling me to just take
the cat to a shelter. (I have never understood people who think that pets
are a disposable commodity.) In the years since then, I had befriended many
a true cat fancier (unlike my past, unlamented roommate). Seeing cats
through their eyes, it seemed like the furry guys might be nice to come home
After the play ended, I found myself often thinking about those homeless
kittens. So, I gave my fellow actor a call, saying I might be interested in
a kitt — he interrupted me mid-sentence, saying he'd be right over! I didn't
have a chance to say a word more, he was off the phone and out the door.
A few minutes later, there on my doorstep was my friend with a large dog
kennel from which emanated high-pitched mewls. He pushed past me, talking
non-stop and explaining how he had brought me a kitty sampler. He placed the
kennel in the middle of my living room floor, flung open the wire door, and
the kitten sampler tumbled out onto my carpet.
The very first kitten out was a black-and-white cat, what I call a "saddle
shoe cat," and others sometimes call a "Tuxedo cat" or just plain
"black-and-white." She was the most adventuresome of the bunch — first out
and first across the floor. She was the first to tentatively examine my
piano bench, and after mastering climbing onto the strut across the base,
started a game of "King of the Hill" from the piano bench and winning with
She captured my heart immediately. There were lots of kittens in the
sampler, of all colors and all personalities. My significant other of the
time was pushing for the Siamese kitten. He said this was the obvious choice
since the cat matched my decor (looking back, how could I not have known
this boyfriend of mine was a closested homosexual? His fashion sense was
just too excellent).
But I was unswayed by design considerations, the saddle shoe kitten was the
one I could not take my eyes off. She was fearless! She seemed instantly at
ease in these new surroundings. I knew from the first that she would be
mine. And from the start, I was hers.
Choosing a name for the Kitten
I knew next to nothing about cats, not even how to tell the sex of a kitten.
Not knowing if my new feline border was a male or a female made selecting a
name problematic. This furry roommate of mine had a black body, with four
white paws, and a perfectly white belly. Her most fascinating feature was
her face, which was mostly black with a white muzzle. In the midst of this
white muzzle that circled the nose and mouth, right above the lips, was a
perfect black oblong that looked just like a moustache.
I thought the moustache made the cat look decidedly French, so I called my
new roommate Paris. As it turned out, my little Paris was a girl. The only
moustached female in the neighborhood.
Within two weeks, I had called my friend back and asked if the Siamese
kitten was still available. Paris and I got along wonderfully from the start
and we spent wonderful time playing in the evening after work. But she
seemed just a little too glad to see me when I came home each night. I could
tell she was lonely during the day, and could use a companion. So, I got my
second kitten not for myself, but for Paris.
The Siamese was the perfect candidate, not just because they were first
cousins, but definitely not because the cat matched my decor. The Siamese
kitten was the opposite of Paris. Where Paris was fearless, the Siamese was
the proverbial "scaredy cat." This cat had never ventured forth from kitty
sampler kennel. The Siamese had to be pushed out and then scampered
immediately into my bedroom and under the bed, where it took three of us to
chase him out when it was time for him to go.
Paris was my first cat, and I wanted to make sure that she remained the
dominant cat in the house. With the fearful Siamese, I didn't think
dominance would be an issue ... I was right.
Remington is the name I chose for the Siamese, not after the typewriter or
the shaver, but for my favorite TV character of the time: Remington Steele.
Like the fictional character, my Remington is gorgeous, he knows he's
gorgeous, and he talks too much.
Living with Cats
I would need volumes to describe the joys of the twenty-one years with Paris
and Remington. Paris grew up to be a small, sleek adult half the size of
Remington. But I don't think Remington ever realized that Paris was bigger
than he; she remained the dominant cat in the household for all their lives.
I had intended that these cats would be strictly indoor cats. But Remington
had other ideas. On nice days, I would leave the cats out on the screened
porch while I was at work. They both enjoyed the warmth out there and
watching the birds and the lizards. Remington would always meow piteously
when I went outside and didn't let him follow.
I thought that when I got the two kittens fixed at the age of six months
that Remington would stop clamoring to go outside. But the operation failed
to quell his wander lust. His meowing matured into that ear-splitting howl
unique to Siamese cats -- oh and how he would howl!
After nine months of it I could take it no more and flung the back door open
saying, "Fine, you want outside, go outside!" My scaredy-cat, who was
terrified by piano benches and indoor furniture, loved the outdoors and
playing the great hunter.
From that day on, Paris and Remington were indoor/outdoor cats. Remington
loved it and would stay outside for hours on end. They stayed inside the
house while I was at work, so got to enjoy early evening romps or extended
weekend explorations through the wilds of the green space behind my house.
Paris would go outside for short breaks, but would always come home soon to
be inside her own domain. I think one reason Remington loved the outdoors
was because in that environment, he was the dominant cat. But I think that
was more by Paris' choice than by nature. Of the two cats, Paris was the
better hunter (which I hated, she was an excellent "birder" and I had to get
rid of my bird feeder, since I did not want to entice birds into my yard now
that I had my two predators occasionally outside).
My two cats divided up the animal world. Remington, as he did inside the
house, seemed to prefer all things low to the ground — he specialized in
hunting burrowing creatures, including mice and rats, and would try for
rabbits, but never succeeded in catching one. Actually, he never seemed to
succeed in catching anything adult. He would proudly bring back his kills
and drop them on the back doormat. An endless parade of baby kills: baby
mice, baby rats, and once even a baby armadillo. Paris, as she did inside,
always went for the high ground. She loved to soar with the birds and loved
to climb the highest tree (or inside, scale the tallest drapes, ACCKK!)
But both Remington and Paris would come in at night and sleep with me. They
have both been a part of my life for twenty-one years, and it's hard to
believe that one of them is gone.
When I moved into my new house three years ago, I put up a bird feeder in
the back yard. Paris' birding days were long over, and Remington was only
the great hunter when he took his cat naps. They missed having a screened
porch, but they did enjoy sitting on the concrete slab outside my dining
room. The slab was only five feet from the bird feeder and, like a lifelong
couple at an old folks home, they would spend hours just sitting on the slab
watching the birds come and go. The birds eventually learned that they had
nothing to fear from these two, and the ground-feeding birds would often
feed just a few feet from the senior cats.
I'd watch them watching the birds, thinking the only thing they needed was a
pair of cat-size rocking chairs. They looked as if they were swapping old
memories, retelling their stories of "remember when I'd could leap up that
high and pick a bird right out of the sky." They rarely wandered outside,
except when I did yard work. I'd leave the back door open for them to come
and go. But they always opted to follow me around like puppies, stopping
when I stopped, moving when I moved -- and always somewhat relieved when I
would come in out of the hot sun and return them to their air conditioning.
In her later years, Paris developed diabetes. Twice daily I injected her
with insulin -- so much easier than trying to give a cat a pill! She never
fought me about the injections. She'd just wait in the morning and the
evening for me to prepare the food bowls. As soon as I would put them down,
she'd start in on her food and I gave her the injection while she ate. She
never batted an eyelid, just kept chowing down. And she was delighted with
my vet's orders -- feed her more wet food! Paris always went nuts over
canned food and tender vittles. Now she got to enjoy them twice a day.
The Beginning of the End
Then one Saturday morning, Paris didn't come out for breakfast. I went
looking for her, but when she wanted to hide, she was exceedingly good at
it. At that time I was working nights and weekends. I still had not seen
Paris by the time I had to leave for work, nor could I find her on my
She had now missed two insulin injections and I was getting concerned. I was
assigned to be reader that evening at the Saturday church service, and my
thoughts were much on Paris as I read from the old and new testaments. And I
prayed that I would find her on my return home that night.
And found her I did, she was stretched out in one of her hiding places in
the garage, lying in a pool of her own urine, with her eyes wide open. At
first I thought she was already gone -- I had to hold my hand under her
nostrils to even detect the faint breath.
I wrapped her in a towel and rushed to the emergency vet. In the car, she
moved convulsively, I can't say whether she knew I was there, but at least I
knew she could move.
I had never before been to the emergency vet. They were very good to me and
to Paris, but I did hate to leave her in the hands of strangers. They called
a bit later, having the results of the initial tests. Her sugar was up, but
not out of bounds, so the problem wasn't the diabetes. She still had not
regained true consciousness and was having minor convulsions. They could not
tell immediately what was wrong, but would run tests and would have the
results in the morning.
The vet said that for a twenty-one year old cat, she was in remarkably good
health, according to the blood work. All the results were negative.
She rallied during the night, regaining consciousness and sitting up. She
even took fresh water and food and demanded some serious petting from the
But at 8:00 am the next morning she went into convulsions and again went
into a coma-like state.
The doctors said everything they tested her for came out negative. They
believed that she had a brain tumor, and said that there would be nothing to
be done for a tumor in a cat of her age.
She never regained consciousness again, and I had to say good-bye to my
dear, dear furry friend of 21 years.
I've never been one to dwell on the death of pets. My own sister died at the
age of 32, leaving behind two infant children. So whenever I saw people
having hysterics over an animal, I would compare to the loss of a young
mother and think it ridiculous the histrionics over an animal.
Yet I was so sad to make the decision to end Paris' life, even though I knew
there was no hope. I arranged to pay the bill before going in the backroom
--- I didn't want to have to deal with finances afterward.
Euthanizing your pet - Isn't that such a cold word?
The staff was so considerate and caring. They brought her unconscious body
in to a private room, which they had darkened except for a small light on
the table where they placed her. They left me alone to say my good-byes.
How to say goodbye? I didn't pick her up to hold her. She never liked being
picked up. She would spend hour after hour in my lap, but she had to leap up
there herself. She would not tolerate being picked up. So I just put my arms
around her as she lay there. Her eyes were open, and she had some convulsive
movements to her jaws.
A doctor would say that she had no conscious knowledge of my being there.
But I knew she could hear me say good-bye. I just stroked her, and
whispered, "You were my first. Of all the kittens I could have had, I chose
you. And you were the best. And I will miss you so much."
I buried her in the back yard, close the birdfeeder. Somewhere, she's
chasing birds again.