A few years ago we lost YinYang, a little tuxedo kitty. I wrote a heart-felt eulogy that was printed on March 11, 2011 in the Naples Daily News, but not archived on my staff page.
That single column generated the most email ever. I've had several recent requests for it, so I am posting it here.
If you are going through the loss of your friend, know that the pain never goes away. The tears are still there as I read this piece, 18 months later.
This is what makes us human.
So often I hear people telling me that they have a ‘brown thumb’. It is not only silly but emblematic of the chasm separating the plant world and the non-gardener, who has no sense really of the milieu of living plants.
Last week we buried Ying Yang, a little tuxedo kitty that came to us when just 3 days old after his mommy passed. In his four years, he knew the human hand solely as a source of food and stroking. Hand-raised and constantly fondled, he was regal and self-assured, claiming the alpha cat role as if born to it, ruling our little pride of six, now five, feral cats.
Suzie and I are so hurt that tomorrow may come, or not. I don’t care. My heart surges with pain. It’s not fair. Prime of life. Special kitty. All of that. None of that. We just loved him like we love each other, that’s all. The world implacably laughs at fairness.
One day we will smile looking at his picture, remembering him. Not today. Not tomorrow. When? I don’t know. Never.
Did you ever hear someone refer to a dog and claim ‘he thinks he’s people’? It’s an innocently natural projection, endearingly intended. But they are not like people. In the struggle to understand them, comparison to people does nothing to move the ball forward. They are simple, proud creatures, worthy of our respect on their own merit, not as miniature people. They live splendid, independent, proud lives. And get over referring to them as ‘pets’. They are not. They are companions. Anything else is demeaning.
They are so willing, aren’t they, to be part of our world? Recent research with wild wolves, for example,
shows that even in the wild these animals are able to follow a human gaze. They figure out what you are watching. They follow the motion of your eyes. The idea here is that dogs possessed, even tens of thousands of years ago, a natural predilection for our world. But they are not of our world. Cats, even less so. They are what they are.
The notion that dogs have 'owners' and cats have 'staff' has a very telling ring to it. Cats demand that we meet them half way. This is why they are thought to be aloof. They are not. They are judgmental but concede second chances. Cats demand respect and reward those who grant it.
Do not think that these creatures cannot communicate. The vocabulary is huge. There is huge richness in learning the language.
Do we not want to know our companions, in full measure? They readily communicate every single mood and desire: body language, vocal tone come to mind, though often insufficiently translated. Eye dilation and squinting. Hair. Distance. Manner of repose: a sleeping cat may show trust or constant alert.
There is also behavior with other animals. Food preferences. Leading us to wherever they want to go, as an open door, or simply wanting to be stroked while eating.
And there is the sublime combination of all these clues that make them so glorious. Learn this vocabulary and the Dog Whisperer will not seem so magical. Your companion will have a hugely richer life, and so will you, forging a bond.
It is this respect that is so missing in our own interactions with our companions. Looking at them and their needs through human-colored glasses diminishes them as individuals. It is demeaning to us both and not useful.
In some ways, so too the ‘brown thumb’. Plant material is another wonder of our world, not easily explained. For this nonbeliever, the closest I can come to my regard for every living thing is this: just another one of god’s creatures. Another individual, living life in an independent way. If you cannot grow a plant then for pity sake figure it out. Learn what it needs.
The nightmare for YY started at 5:30 Monday afternoon when I found him in the bathroom with paralysis in both rear legs and in intense pain. I called Dr. Lin at St. Francis Animal Hospital. Damien is a strong, inner-directed woman in exactly the correct vocation, with sensibilities that mirror mine. She is also a treasured friend. Life can be sweet.
The diagnosis? Saddle thrombosis: a blood clot in the intersection of two arteries, one from each rear leg, where they come together above the legs. Denied blood, the legs stop working.
Dr. Lin knew that YY would not survive. She also knew that Suzie and I needed sometime to digest the information. We are hopelessly in love with our companions.
Damien sent us home with analgesic and told to wait 72 hours. Now I know that these three days were not in hope of recovery but for us to say goodbye.
This morning, Thursday of last week as I write this, Dr. Lin did what must be the single worst job faced by a veterinarian. She did it with grace and poise and skill. We said our goodbyes as we held him and counted his last breaths.
One. Two. Three.
Dr. Lin: "He is gone". She is crying, too. I can't look up. I am shaking.
My heart rages with hurt. With time, I will be able to reflect.