|Little Miss Holly|
As a general rule, cats tend to live longer than dogs.
At least that has been my personal experience. While my dogs seldom live past thirteen, I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with four cats who graced me with upwards of nineteen years of life. None of them started with me younger, smaller, and more helpless than Holly.
Named for the Canadian Jazz singer Holly Cole, Little Miss Holly came into my life as a starving handful of naked feral kitten whose mother had been killed and who herself was on the verge of death. Feedings every two hours transformed that tiny handful of cat into a tiny armful of cat - at her biggest Little Miss never topped seven or eight pounds. She tended to be around six.
Holly was born in Northern Washington at a time when I was living in Vancouver, Canada. I had made a long weekend trip into the States with some friends whose parents owned a lake house...and ended up smuggling Holly back into Canada (shhhh) because there was no way she would survive a vet inoculation at that point. We honestly didn't think she'd live through the weekend, and every day when she made it through another day we were a little surprised and encouraged.
When she was about eight months old, and between four and five pounds I took her in to be spayed - the idea of this delicate little cat accidentally getting out and getting pregnant freaked me out. The anesthesia nearly took her life. I was allowed to take her home in a semi-coma, cold to the touch but still breathing because the vet couldn't do anything else for her and I wanted her to die with me if it was her time. Fortunately, it wasn't. Once again this little trooper fought back from the brink and hung onto life.
Since then Holly has helped me rehabilitate and train a steady parade of dogs. She would do her part to teach them manners by scolding them if I had to talk to the dog in a sharp voice - she was also my enforcer. When I was working with Jenny and Jenny wasn't listening Holly would give her a sharp meow, run over and smack Jenny on the nose with a soft little paw as a reminder that I was the boss. Holly also used to scold my Rottweiler and my Boxer for similar poor behavior. The bigger the dog, the more likely Holly was to scold them if she didn't think they were listening closely enough. Her attitude was, size is no excuse for bad behavior.
Her hard start in life did not leave my kitten without her scars. For years she would race around the house, staring at the walls like she heard voices coming from them. She also had a habit of sitting next to me but staring behind my head like there was something always just about to get me...it could be a little unnerving late at night and I had two roommates in a row who insisted the houses we were in must be haunted. I think it was Little Miss' brain that was haunted but I didn't mind.
I had one roommate in Vancouver who was an opera singer. In the morning when she did her warm up vocals Holly would come running from wherever she was and get right in my roommate's face, close to her mouth and meow as my roommate sang. Holly became very practiced at warm up vocals. A person singing always brought her running to contribute her meows and the little kitty chatter she had, almost like she was seeing a bird.Something about vocalization always excited her.
Holly settled down in her middle age, gained a whole two pounds and didn't seem to be bothered by voices any more. She almost passed for a 'regular' cat and would allow strangers to see her. Somewhere around the age of sixteen though, she began to regress, hiding from more people. This past year, at seventeen, she started hiding from my family when they visited, even my sister who was once my roommate and Holly's friend.
In the past six months, some of Holly's feral behavior started to return. We've made a lot of little adjustments since then...I didn't realize how many until this past month when the reality of another stay in the hospital arose for me. As I was thinking about all the directions necessary for someone else to look after Holly -- and then realized she wouldn't even show herself to a stranger -- I realized that our lives together were nearing an end.
It is usually difficult to say goodbye to an old friend.
It is even harder when you've raised them from a little helpless handful into a strong willed personality.
I've always believed though that the last act of kindness we owe our animal companions is saving them from painful, frightened, end of life experiences.
When a animal becomes senile to the point that we can no longer offer them the comfort and stability they need to be comfortable, then it is time to let them go. Even when saying goodbye is so difficult for us.
Thank you Little Miss for all the splendid years together.
Your tiny paws left mighty tracks in my life.