When the subject of pets comes up in conversation, there’s a question that is typically bandied around.
Are you a cat person, or a dog person? Strangers and new acquaintances always ask, and I’m always left a bit baffled for an answer.
Why can’t I be both?
How is this relevant to the story of Tabby, you ask?
See, his story all started with a dog. A dog named Brownie. She was a sweet little German Shepard mix that we found wandering the neighborhood; I think was thirteen at the time. Long story short, it turned out that she belonged to the neighbor two or three houses down, but it took them a week to find her. And we’d been walking her outside at least once a day.
So after some discussion, they let me keep her.
Well, sadly, there were complications with that set-up. Not quite two years later, in the early spring of 2000, Brownie had, we were informed by the neighbor right next to us, hopped the fence and bit the neighbor’s boy while he was mowing the lawn.
I never really believed that story, because Brownie was terrified of lawn mowers. She hid from them, but the neighbor’s insisted that was what had happened, and that if we weren’t going to have her euthanized, they were going to shoot her.
Looking back, I wish we’d stood up to them a bit more, and now I don’t understand why they just didn’t call the cops if they thought the dog really was a danger. Unless they were just being nasty.
So I had to say goodbye to Brownie, and just a few weeks later my younger brother had a cardiac arrest on Mother’s Day.
My brother survived, thank God, but that was a rough summer, and it was then that Tabby entered my life.
A stray cat in the neighborhood had a litter of kittens, and when Tabby wandered along, we think he was about 6 weeks old, so not quite old enough to be away from mama yet, but he couldn’t seem to find his way back.
Us kids were out playing the backyard, and we heard a very insistent, tiny Mew! Mew! coming from the (other) neighbor’s yard. I think those neighbor’s had just moved away, so the lot was vacant, and I hopped the fence to see if I could find the tiny creature. I did, and it was taking shelter behind the board that was supposed to be blocking the access into the crawl space under the house.
It was a little ball of spitfire, and I couldn’t get near it. Not unless I wanted my hands to be all torn up.
So I left a little plate of wet cat food near the entrance to the crawl space, and disappeared for an hour or two.
I don’t recall if I begged mom if I could keep the cat. I recall there was an understanding that we didn’t need (ie: there probably wasn’t room in the budget for) another cat, but that we would make sure the kitten was safe.
When I returned to check on it, there was no sign of the kitten, but the plate of food was licked spotless. I wandered around the neighbor’s house a bit, heard tiny cries again, and tracked the kitten to the front flowerbed. It still wouldn’t let anyone near it, though, so we eventually had to call it quits for the night, and we all went inside and, eventually, to bed.
I don’t know if you know anything about Oklahoma, but we get some crazy storms here, and they pop up almost out of nowhere at times.
There was a crazy storm that night.
I remember worrying about the kitten. Praying that it was okay, that it was somewhere dry and safe and not drowning.
Well, it turned out he was somewhere dry and not drowning, but not exactly safe. He’d taken shelter under the hood of the SD’s (see glossary) truck, and fortunately SD heard the kitten meowing before he turned on the engine.
So when I woke up that morning, it was to find the new kitten barricaded in the entryway, and mom warning us that we had to wear the heavy winter gloves (you know, the kind that are stuffed, and you can barely move your fingers?) if we wanted to get near him.
He lived in the entryway for a few days, with a pie pan as a litter box and a crate to hide in. I remember at one point he decided he wanted to hide behind the crate, though, and squished himself underneath the door stop (one of those springy ones you screw into the baseboard) to accomplish that goal. He was that tiny.
Eventually, though, he got used to us.
And for whatever reason it is that puts cats and people together, he and I both knew from the very beginning that it was going to be us for the long haul.
However, I won’t deny that for a while I wanted him to be a girl (sometimes it’s hard to tell which one a kitten is when they’re young – and Tabby was never ahem that endowed before he was neutered.), and that’s kind of where his name came from. Because he was going to be Tabitha.
But he was a he, not a she, and Tabitha was a bit of a mouthful to shout when he was in trouble anyway, so it just got shortened to Tabby, and it stuck.
He was a little monster at times, but I loved him so much. He was my bright spot in the really hard few years that still lay ahead for my family, and for myself.
When he was a kitten, he would occasionally lick my teeth to get me to wake-up. It was so gross.
For a while, he loved hair scrunchies. Or, rather… killing hair scrunchies. See the photographic evidence below.
And in his (much) younger days, he loved to gulp chase his tail around the top rung of the ladder. Talk about a fright. I sadly do not have photographic evidence of that, so here he is first discovering the ladder.
There are two other things Tabby loved – food, and water.
He’s loved canned food since we first gave it to him as a kitten, and he was very demanding about getting it as soon as he thought it was time for breakfast in the morning. That’s… one of the hard things now. Waking up, and him not being there on my night stand, staring me down with that look that says, “Mom. Food. Now.”
Tabby thought deli turkey was the most amazing thing, though. He could be sound asleep at the other end of the house, and if you opened a packaged of deli turkey, he would be there in two seconds flat. Not only there, present, in the kitchen, but he would be standing stretched upright, one paw on your thigh, and the other reaching for your elbow, just begging for turkey.
And when I say he loved water, I mean he would occasionally (though only briefly) jump in the shower with me. He really loved for someone to turn the shower head on to just a drip, and he’d play with the water droplets, and drink them up. He also preferred to drink out of the running faucet, rather than a dish.
Tabby also loved going outside.
He had this obnoxious habit of lining up behind the dogs when it was time to let them out, and it was usually only when you realized that we didn’t have three dogs – and after he’d darted out – that you knew what had happened. Again.
He was always so excited to be outside. He loved all the smells, he loved to roll in the dirt (yes, just like a dog), and he loved to watch birds. He loved to hear birds, and would go nuts trying to catch them – even if they were only on the tv.
There was one time, when he was still fairly young, that he got outside and up the telephone pole before we realized it. I’ve actually called the fire department to come get my cat down, though mom made sure I called the non-emergency line.
Tabby has been there for so much of my life – especially the years where I was lost and confused about who I wanted to be, and when I finally started figuring that out.
He’s been in my life for my own struggle with the same heart condition that nearly took my brother’s life, and which God graciously healed me of (my latest echocardiogram from this October was completely normal), and when I had to make my own decision about whether the faith I’d grown up with was my family’s, or my own.
He was there when I would wake up at 5 and 6 am in high school because, since I was homeschooled, I had the liberty of retaking algebra when I wasn’t satisfied with my cough B- and wanted to raise my grade to an A-.
Tabby kept me company during the four years my best friend was away at college, and for two years while she was at veterinary school.
He sat by my side during the massive ice storm we had six years ago, just weeks before my wedding, as I finished projects and prayed that the power would come back on in time at the church. Because I really didn’t know how to find a new venue in less than a month.
And then… as happy as I was to marry my husband, I had to leave Tabby behind for five and half years.
I went to visit him, not as often as I liked, because that was around the time SD (see glossary) and I really started to fall out, but as often as I could. I was also working full-time for three of those years, and so between my husband, my job, and some school, there was very little time left over.
If I could go back, I would say screw it and bring Tabby with us, even if it meant pinching pennies tighter.
Because I didn’t realize how much I’d missed him until we were finally in our house, and I finally had him back.
Which was in August of 2012.
We had a really good year. He and Winnie (eventually) got along well. Mom told me that he wasn’t much of a snuggler, but he quickly proved that wrong with me. He may not have been much of a snuggler with her, but he seemed to want to be on and/or close to me as much as possible.
He wasn’t sure what to make of the chickens when he finally caught sight of them in the backyard.
He would barely bat an eye at Winnie’s toys strewn all over the floor, but as soon as you got a length of string out, the string had to die.
He also liked playing with Winnie. There were a few nights where Brandon and I would roll over in bed, groaning, because the cats were chasing each other through the house. By chasing, I mean bouncing back and forth. Really bouncing. It was heartwarming.
Tabby was diagnosed with chronic renal failure (CRF) in August of 2013. (Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease is an excellent resource, if you are wanting more information.)
We had three really good months. Three months where he was stable and energetic and happy, and it he seemed to be feeling so much better that I wondered how long he’d been feeling under the weather and I hadn’t noticed.
We watched a squirrel plant a pecan grove in the front yard.
He had very promising blood work near the end of October. It seemed that he was going to be one of those cats who responded well to the treatment and management of CRF.
He got to catch a couple of mice. Though he didn’t kill them. None of the cats are killing mice right now, and it’s driving me nuts.
We just spent time together.
But it’s never enough time, even when you’re going out of your way as much as you can to create time. But it was hard, if not downright impossible, at times. I had my NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison duties. Family commitments. Anything and everything else that could pop up, did. Sometimes I said no. Sometimes I couldn’t.
He crashed again, the weekend before Thanksgiving, and spent two days back in the vet hospital on an IV. He was able to come home the night before Thanksgiving, after his blood work was once again showing an improvement, and he was eating, drinking, and pooping like a cat should.
But he wasn’t as energetic as before, and I could tell he was getting tired. In addition to the CRF, he also had some arthritis, and the weather was getting cold. Really cold. It was definitely bothering him.
Sadly, ten days after I brought him home, I looked in his eyes as I gave him subcutaneous fluids (to supplement his hydration, since keeping a cat hydrated is the hardest part of managing CRF), and knew that it was time.
He was so tired. He’d had fluids nearly every day for those ten days, and it wasn’t helping anymore. I knew I could have asked him to keep on fighting, and he would have tried, oh he would have tried, but his body was literally giving out on him.
And I couldn’t ask him to do that. Not so I could have him around for maybe another day or two. Because that’s what it would have been at the most.
You see, I’ve had pets my entire life. There is literally only a few months where I did not have a pet – the first few months after Brandon and I were married – and I was miserable. I just… can’t not have at least one animal around, and that was when Winnie came into our lives, but that’s another story.
I’m just not whole without them.
And since I’ve had pets my whole life, I’ve also said goodbye to a fair number of them.
Paz, my mom’s cat from before any of us kids were around. Lollipop. Friskie. Peter the Frog. Brownie. Pete and Little Lady, the cockatiels. Blackie, the first dog we ever owned. Troy, SD’s epileptic Labrador. Spanky the rabbit. Tippiny, my grandma’s sweet little cat. Mikat. Itty Bitty.
I’d said goodbye to pets at least thirteen times before this. Not including the fish.
Most of them because of old age. A couple because of chronic issues. But they all get the same look in their eyes when it’s time.
When they’re just too weary to keep fighting, and they just need rest.
So I let Tabby go.
And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But he’s not suffering anymore. And I can finally grieve.
Because for the last two weeks of his life, it felt like time was running out – and it was. And I was constantly stuck in a state of fear, not knowing if he was going to still be breathing the next morning when I woke up, or if he was going to fall off his bed and hurt himself in the night because he was just too weak.
He’s not weak anymore. He’s not sick.
And I’m free to cry, and to remember, and to finally start replacing the sick cat he had become in my mind with the true Tabby he’d always been – the one who’d stayed beside me for years, despite the separation.
What I miss the most about Tabby:
The way he would gallop through the house when I would call him, and he would greet me with a little trill and a head-butt when he found me.
The way he would wind around my feet early in the morning, meowing until his food was on the saucer in front of him.
Holding him in my arms while he rubbed his head against my chin.
The way he always knew when I wasn’t feeling well, and would lay on top of me, ‘kneading’ with all four paws.
Writing together. When I would sit at the desk or the table, he would sit upright on my lap, head up between my arms as I typed. Or, if I was on the sofa or in an armchair, he would stretch out alongside my legs. We would sit like that for hours. He’s the only cat I’ve had that would let me type, without constantly interrupting for pettings. He was just happy to sit there with me.
The way he would chase my toes under the bed sheets.
The way he would hide in the bed sheets when I made the bed.
His silhouette against the curtain when he’d sit in the window.
How warm his fur would feel after he sat in the sunshine.
The way he would force his head into my hand when he wanted it scratched.