Picture this: late summer, 2010. A few months before, I’d graduated from university and at that point was working in retail. I was single, had no idea where my life was going, and had two cats to take care of. One of which would always beat up on the other.
Then my brother called me up one August afternoon. A cat had wandered into his yard, which he then proceeded to bring inside and feed. And boy, was she hungry, he’d said. So hungry she ate and ate and threw up and then ate some more. Okay, I said to him, what does this have to do with me?
Well, it’s a kitten, he said. And she’s really cute and very friendly. Maybe you can take her?
I already had two cats.
But he had three, my brother argued. He and his girlfriend couldn’t handle another.
But… I wasn’t planning on adding to my cat count. How would they get along? My cats were already snarky with each other. Adding another might not be a good idea.
Just come see her, he said.
Damn my brother’s silver tongue.
So I went to see her. She was sleeping on the couch. A little black and white cat, tuxedo patterned. I didn’t know how old she was. Maybe close to a year, judging by her size, but I didn’t know these things. And she was cute. And friendly. Just like my brother had said. She came near me and I pet her. And then I took her home.
I can’t remember if I put her in a box or just let her loose in my hatchback Accent. Nor do I remember if I took her home then and there. But I do remember the moment I introduced her to my other kitties.
She went straight for the food, ignoring my hissing Himalayan and practically shoving a much larger part Maine Coon out of the way. The little tuxedo cat had already asserted herself as the alpha.
I named her Mitzi.
Was Mitzi a stray? A feral? I wondered where she came from. Who could give up such a prize kitty? Because that’s what I concluded: that someone had dumped her near my brother’s, close to a farm, probably hoping she’d find a home there. My parents forced me to give up a cat once, at the farm near my brother’s. My mother knew the couple that ran it. Buzz jumped out of my arms and I never saw her again. In a way, I used to think how cool it would be if Mitzi was descended from Buzz. Like Buzz’s spirit was coming home.
That was a nice dream. The reality was, she was too friendly to be feral or stray. Someone probably didn’t want her. Their loss was my gain.
Mitzi quickly showed how thankful she was to have a new home. She pushed her head against anyone who came to visit, insisted on being caressed. She purred loudly and made friends with my male cat. My male cat stopped attacking my Himalayan, a godsend for her.
Not all was smooth sailing, though. I took her to the vet. They estimated her to be around four years old and said she was pretty healthy except for a bout of worms. She vomited a big, long, white one on my bathroom floor after taking the de-worming medicine. It was so gross, I begged my mom to come and clean it. Mom did. Thank you, mom.
Mitzi hadn’t been spayed and so she went in heat. Her yowls were so loud I thought surely the neighbours could hear. She knew it annoyed me and would go down into the basement to moan. I didn’t let her outside, fearful she would get pregnant. Also, there was a huge grey cat lurking around, catching her scent. He looked like a warrior, with a scruffy coat and scarred ears. And he was huge. I didn’t want him to hurt my Mitzi-Pooh.
But Mitzi had other ideas. She wanted to go outside so much that she made a hole in my patio screen. One stormy night she didn’t come home at all. Like the mother of a teenage daughter, I worried all night, wincing at every crash of thunder and flash of lightning. She would get wet, I fretted. She would come home preggers!
Mitzi didn’t, though. She came home, of course. Sauntering up the porch the next morning like she hadn’t put me through a hellish night of worrying. But she wasn’t pregnant. I brought her in to get fixed soon after, unable to bear the yowling and the worry over what I’d do with a litter of kittens. So she got operated on. Only, when she came home, she still went into heat. Something was wrong, I knew it. Turned out the vet had forgotten to remove (or missed) a piece of ovaries. She had to go under the knife again. For free this time, only that didn’t matter to me. I felt bad for her, having to go through that one more time. It all worked out in the end and Mitzi continued to be her happy self.
Flash forward to early 2015. This is where things get dark.
Since before Christmas 2014, I’d noticed that Mitzi seemed a little skinnier than usual. I thought nothing much about it, though, seeing as she was her usual spritely self. But a few months later, toward the end of March 2015, she started to become withdrawn. She spent more and more time sleeping in the basement. Again, I didn’t think much of it. Cats are notorious nappers, after all. I noticed, however, that I wasn’t refilling the cat food bowl as much as I used to. Okay, I thought, who is on a diet?
It was Mitzi. She still ate, not as much as she used to, but again, I thought nothing much of it. Then for one entire weekend, she didn’t come upstairs at all. I called for her a bunch of times until she finally came upstairs to see me. She didn’t look right and barely made it up. And though she responded to me with meows and affection, I decided I better make an appointment with the vet.
My mother brought her for me, as I had to work. The vet immediately took her to the city for tests. She was dehydrated, too. So they put her on fluids. The next couple of days are a blur. I can’t remember what happened in what order. I just remember getting a phone call from the vet.
I always seem to get bad news over the phone.
Mitzi’s kidneys were failing. They could try to treat her but the vet said eventually, I should prepare myself for Mitzi wouldn’t survive this. I might have to make a decision. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to decide life or death for someone I love. So I said I’d try the treatment, give her a chance. She deserved a chance.
She spent the weekend in the hospital, having her fluids replenished and I don’t know what else. It all happened so fast. I picked her up, a different vet showed me how to give her subcutaneous fluids and said it was up to me how long I wanted to keep doing this because in the end it was only prolonging the inevitable.
I brought Mitzi home. She seemed happy but when she left the carrying cage, she could barely walk. She looked so weak and she returned to the basement, to sleep on her favorite chair. I cried and I cried, not knowing what to do. I talked to to my mother. I talked to my friend who had unfortunately been through this before with her dogs. I wished someone would make the decision for me.
Finally, I decided I couldn’t let Mitzi live like that. She would never be the same again and I had to accept that.
I spent an afternoon with her. I pet her, said goodbye to her. Told her I loved her. Even cuddled with her a bit. This is part of what I said to her, jotted down on my phone:
I love the way you jump on top of the chair when I dance to my music. Almost like you want to join in.
I love how you shower affection on every visitor, no holding back.
I love how you sit at the end of my feet when I eat breakfast.
I love how you sit dangerously on the ledge over the basement stairs and just watch me when I’m in the kitchen.
I love how you look up at everyone and make them feel special.
I love how you whack Hector and take no shit from anybody.
I love your perfect cat silhouette and your beautiful green eyes.
I love your button tail and I even love your dandruff.
I love the way you purr.
I love your little paws.
I love you, Mitzi.
You’re a survivor, a warrior.
I’ll never forget how you got away from those dogs.
How you used to play with Max.
You loved everyone.
A piece of my heart will always be empty without you.
I hope you find peace wherever the next part of the journey takes you.
I hope we’ll meet again some day.
I’m glad I got to say this to you, no matter how hard it was.
Goodbye, Mitzi, my jumpsuit kitty, my dandruff kitty, my Mitzi-Pooh.
You’re leaving me too soon, old lady in disguise.
I will always love you.
Forever and ever.
And then I brought her to the vet. I went in with her. I couldn’t let her be alone. I was there for her last moments on earth. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do yet.
It’s been a year today. I miss her. I’ve lost cats before, even loved ones. But somehow this time was different. It took a while to get my grief under control. Some people don’t understand how losing a pet can affect someone. Pets love you unconditionally, they don’t judge you, they depend on you and when you feel like you’ve failed them, it hurts. It sucks when people tell you to just get over it because it’s just a cat.
For the people that do understand, thank you for being there. Thank you for letting me talk about Mitzi. She wasn’t just a cat to me. She was a companion and her loss has left a hole in my heart that after a year is only starting to mend.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to post this. Hearing those words in my head, it’s just a cat, or, get over it already, were making me think twice. But you know what, I don’t care what people think. I know there are a million worse things going on in the world. It doesn’t mean the small, personal things matter any less. And writing about her has been therapeutic.
This is for you, Mitzi. You weren’t in my life for very long, but the time that you were is precious and I’ll never forget you. Rest in peace, you little rascal.
P.S. Here are some links to some great articles on losing a pet.