Animals have a funny way of wriggling their way into the deepest corners of one’s heart.
In the late summer of 2014, I had to face the difficult but unavoidable decision to hold hands and shed tears with my youngest son while we drove to the Veterinary hospital in Yardley, PA to bring peace to Romeo’s life and to end his excruciating pain.
He was a brave and funny dog, and as miniature dachshunds often-times do, he maintained a puppy-like quality almost to the end. Unfortunately, age, arthritis and a severe birth defect made the decision to euthanize him clear but still painful.
Only a few weeks later, I said goodbye to Annie under the care of the same compassionate animal lovers and caregivers. This time on my own. As it turned out, Annie couldn’t bear the loss of Romeo in addition to her faithful companion Christian heading off to college. She passed in peace.
One of my favorite stories about Annie is when my friend Dan house sat for me while Christian and drove from Pennsylvania to Missouri. He called me on the third afternoon of his stay and said, “Beth, it’s so cute how Annie sits on the third step every day around three pm to watch the squirrels play.”
“Dan,” I said, “She’s not watching the squirrels play, she’s waiting for the school bus to bring Christian home.”
The memory of this exchange never fails to make me chuckle.
No Pets Ever Again
After this experience, I swore to myself and to my youngest son, no pets ever again. My commonly repeated reason was, “They’re too high maintenance, and I don’t want my lifestyle to be constrained by the effort it takes to care for a pet, especially if I want to travel or have to move again someday.”
Christian, my youngest son, gave me the right amount of time to grieve before the hints started dropping, not about a new dog, but of all things the hints were about how cute and low maintenance cats are.
No cats, no dogs, no pets remained my stance – well until it waivered with one too many cute cat pictures sent my way via mobile technology.
We started to talk about it and came to an agreement. If it was going to happen, and for me, that was a pretty big if – I would consider adopting an adult cat, one that was as hypo-allergenic as a cat can be and one that was not going to reproduce.
We agreed on all counts.
Google the Matchmaker
So, one night in early January of 2015, I first did some research to find which breeds of cat are the least likely to bother people with pet allergies. I quickly scrolled past and dismissed the idea of owning a hairless cat and just as quickly, began to seriously consider the notion of finding and adopting a Russian Blue.
Russian Blues are described to be intelligent, somewhat shy around strangers but still sociable, playful and affectionate with their owners. I was sold by the description alone, and then there is the fact that Russian Blues are gorgeous. They have a special kind of grey coat of hair; it’s thick and smooth and shiny. But, it’s the eyes that captured me – I never knew there could be such expression in a cat’s face.
Maybe it’s the way they’re a bit wide set on their face combined with the large ears that made me fall in love with the breed. I just couldn’t help but think that if, and again a big if, I were to adopt a cat, a Russian Blue would be the right match.
After completing my research, I did one Google search. It was something along the lines of “adult Russian Blue cats for adoption near me.”
The first link in the search results was to an animal shelter in Trevose, PA. Before clicking through, I checked the distance from me and decided it was reasonable. One click later, I found Mia. A female Russian Blue, everything from the description of her personality to her glamour shot was spot on, and I felt my resolve around the topic of “no pets ever again” begin to dissolve.
I copied her glamour shot and sent it to Christan in a text message. As you can guess, the deal was sealed for both of us, and I brought her home on January 15, 2015.
Life on Pine Grove Road
Meeting Mia at the shelter was a bit discombobulating. I’ve never seen so many kittens and cats running around in a confined space. Mia was in a kennel, sequestered from the other cats, while at the same time she was smack dab in the middle of the chaos.
The caregivers at the shelter explained to me that she was just under a year old, had no tolerance for other cats and had been in the shelter for nearly eight weeks. I felt compelled to bring her home.
It didn’t take any time at all for Mia to settle into her new home on Pine Grove Road in Yardley, PA. Mia and I enjoyed two full summers in our house with a three season porch. She loved to enjoy the view from the windows while I puttered around with paints.
She regularly supervised my creative sessions and working sessions, no matter what room in the house they happened to take place.
Oddly enough, one of her favorite places to hang out was on the third step with a view into the front yard. Her favorite time, also around 3:00 pm.
I’d be remiss in telling this story if I didn’t mention that all was not completely smooth with Mia’s adjustment during this time. Her eight-week stay in the shelter as a kitten, not quite a cat had left her a bit skittish and untrusting, which led to some behavioral challenges mostly to do with using the litterbox.
More than one trip to the vet resulted in medicine and special food to treat her interstitial cystitis symptoms. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a neurological condition that affects a cat’s bladder and causes them pain when they use the litter box. It’s often-times caused by stress.
At any rate, the meds and the food seemed to work and life with Mia was more than good.
The Road to Omaha
A new work opportunity halfway across the country in October of 2016 meant packing up my belongings and settling into a new abode in Omaha, NE.
I packed a suitcase full of the comforts of home for Mia, boarded the plane (after going through security with her, which was a trip in and of itself), and checked into a pet-friendly hotel before pumping up the air mattress in my new apartment.
We settled into a routine, one that was enjoyable, although not without similar challenges to those we experienced in Pennsylvania.
Mia’s keen sensitivity and awareness sometimes got the best of her, but again thanks to special food and treatment options, her behavioral challenges were manageable.
I’d never thought of cats as particularly intuitive or expressive, but Mia certainly challenged that perspective. On more than one occasion, in not so subtle ways, “encouraged” me to get out of bed and into the day.
One Move too Many
I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But that’s what happened.
Mia and I traveled by plane from Philly to Omaha. We drove in style from Omaha to Syracuse. The trip included a brand new trave cat tube and a trunk full of cat and people essentials for camping out in our new home; once again waiting for the movers to deliver our belongings.
We arrived and settled in the best we could while we waited for the rest of our belongings to be delivered.
Outside of the expected initial stress-related, but manageable challenges, Mia seemed to settle into our new home with no problem. We resumed our twice a day treat toss routine, she supervised my unpacking and organizational efforts from the comfort from her favorite basket to a cave made of packing paper or a chest full of linens depending on what was most readily available.
Then things began to change. Three months after moving in, we had our first visitor; one of my coworkers came over to help me hang some pictures. Mia’s reaction to new people had always been unpredictable; sometimes she showed complete indifference and other times she greeted a lucky visitor with a forehead or tail rub to the calf.
On this particular cold March day, her greeting was a hiss, a rather scary one at that. I haven’t had many visitors here, but the few I’ve had all got the same unwelcoming greeting from Mia. She didn’t even make an exception for the woman I interviewed to be her cat sitter whenever I traveled.
The hissing was the first of many behaviors that changed and worsened over the following months. The door frames and baseboards started to look like swiss cheese; there were nights that she pawed and clawed at the patio door so violently I thought she might actually cause damage.
Our morning routine changed entirely. We still started the morning with a game of treat toss, but instead of laying on the end of my bed or just outside the bathroom door while I got ready for work, she started hiding under the folds of the comforter on the floor at the end of my bed.
Sounds harmless, right? It seemed so until she started pouncing at me with claws bared. It got so that I had no idea what to expect from her. One minute she was more affectionate than she’d ever been and the next she was lashing out with claws and sometimes even teeth.
Between her increasingly aggressive and erratic bearing and the damage she was inflicting on the woodwork and carpets, I had to make a very difficult choice. I’d tried everything from the meds her Vet in Omaha prescribed to help with anxiety to sprays, diffusers; you name it, I tried it – all to no avail. I came to the sad realization that I was not going to be able to keep her. We were both in distress.
My first thought was to find her a new home and I found a couple of reputable websites that help facilitate the adoption process. In the end, that was unsuccessful. I had more than a few inquiries, but they all had kids in the house and many had other pets. There was no way I could think about putting her in a home with children, the risk of her lashing out at a small child was too great.
In hopes that a Veterinary clinic would help me do two things, I made an appointment for her. My hopes were that they might be able to help me find a new home for her, or worst case scenario they could assuage the guilt I felt for the research I’d done on pet euthanasia.
During this entire time, I kept thinking about my dear friend Gina and how much she loved Mia and how she’d adopted and cared for more than one adult cat with special needs over the course of her life. My hope was that I would be able to find someone like Gina to take Mia in and give her a new home.
The Veterinarian’s assistant checked us in and we put Mia on the scale. She weighed just under 11 lbs when we left Omaha, that night she weighed in at 7.5. I knew she’d lost weight, but, as Christian and I liked to describe her, she was so “flurffy” – it masked just how much weight she had lost in a very short period of time. There was no more doubt that something was seriously wrong.
After relaying my tear-choked account of events to the Vet, she gently suggested to me that euthanasia might well be the very kindest thing to do for Mia. She also did her best to try and find a new home for miss Mia, to no avail. She also agreed with me that given her past – putting her in a shelter, surrounded by other animals would be the worst thing I could do.
With many tears, and thankfully with gentle hugs from the staff, I said goodbye to Mia.
It wasn’t until I returned home, that I realized it was Gina’s birthday.
I think cat’s do go to Heaven, and I believe Mia is with Gina.