My cat Mandy – 1996-2011
When I saw her green eyes and round calico face through the adoption window at Petsmart, I knew right away that she was my cat. The tag on her cage indicated that she was named Mandy and was four years old. With an orange and black face and back and white chest and tummy, she was by far the prettiest cat there. Plus, I had a soft spot in my heart for calico cats because of my childhood cat Cleo. That day, I didn’t even have to look at the other cats before making my decision.
I had come to Petsmart with Mom and my roommate D on a Saturday in late March. When D relented and agreed to let me have a cat, it didn’t take me long to make the trip to the Dream Power adoption fair. When the volunteer opened the cage and I took Mandy in my arms, I felt like she belonged there. And because she relaxed into my hold, I figured the feeling was mutual.
The volunteer told me that the other cat sharing her cage, Ashley, was put up for adoption with Mandy. Their former owner, an old woman whose grandchildren were allergic to cats, had hoped that they would be adopted together. Ashley seemed like a nice cat, a nondescript grayish kitty, and I wanted to adopt her as well, but only because it broke my heart to think of breaking up a pair. D put her foot down, saying that she would only agree to one cat. As I stood with Mandy in my arms, I tried to figure out a way to adopt them both and then finally resigned myself to the fact that Mandy was the cat I wanted and needed most of all. Mandy was the cat that I envisioned when I agreed to get an apartment with D, one of the biggest reasons I decided to room with her. I had wanted my own cat so badly since my childhood cat Flower passed away at the age of 17 six months before, but I couldn’t afford my own place and frankly was afraid to live alone. So I adopted Mandy that day, wishing Ashley luck in finding a good home for herself. I drove Mandy home, ready to embark on a new adventure.
Our friendship did not start out as smoothly as I had envisioned at Petsmart. For the first few days, Mandy hid in my closet and refused to come out to eat, drink, or use her cat box. Even though I had had cats my entire life and considered myself a bona fide cat person who understood their independence and eccentricities, I worried about Mandy’s hunger strike and did whatever I could to get her to eat. I bought every brand of cat food, hoping to find her brand of choice. It was the Friskies that she finally ate, and that is the brand I fed her ever since. Little by little, Mandy came out of her hiding place to lay on my bed as I slept or when I was alone in my room. She never did accept D. I probably came on too strong at first because I wanted the loving relationship that I shared with Flower. In those first days, Mandy zipped under the bed at my approach more often than not. She knew that I wasn’t being true to myself in those days. But she taught me to find myself. She helped save my life.
When I say that Mandy saved my life, I don’t mean literally. She didn’t awaken me as a fire crept into my room, but that’s not to say that what she did wasn’t heroic. I wasn’t doing anything too dangerous, yet I was living my life in a reckless manner. I was a lost, self-destructive person who was masking a deep depression, and who knows what could have happened to me if I didn’t adopt Mandy.
Two things happened to me in March 2000 that lit a candle in my dark room: I started practicing yoga and I adopted Mandy. Because of Mandy and yoga, by July, I knew I had to make big changes in my life. Yoga helped me get in touch with my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. I started to see that the way I was living, the way I was letting other people call the shots for me, wasn’t the way I wanted to live anymore. In order to get closer to Mandy, I started closing myself alone in my room with her, and by doing so, she finally began to accept me. Spending this time alone helped me to become comfortable with myself again, and I finally began to accept who I was. D slammed doors and pouted when I preferred staying home with Mandy rather than going to bars with her, but I had to separate myself from all of my friends who I was beginning to see weren’t healthy for me. After all, I had a cat to take care of. In those days, she took care of me more than anything.
In the process of ridding my life of bad influences, a paralyzing anxiety grew from within that found me afraid to leave my room. The candle light grew as yoga healed my lost soul. Each night I sat alone in my room with Mandy purring at my side while I worked through the anxiety workbook I purchased. She healed me more than anything over those few months, and we bonded. For the first time, I got to know her quiet personality. She was demanding, as all cats are, yet patient. My life regained meaning, and I lived for her greeting me every day when I came home from work.
As the end of my lease with D approached, I knew that in order to continue on my healing path my best bet was to find an apartment on my own with only Mandy as my roommate. That October, we moved into a two-level 4-plex on the west side of town. Even though at first I was worried about living alone, I never felt alone there. I had Mandy to keep me company. We became queens together, and I spoiled her rotten. She lived to sit by the glass door and watch the birds, but she never attempting going outside. Our second summer there, it was so hot that if I sat on my back stoop, she would sneak outside and sit with me. But if a car came down the alley, she would zip inside to safety. We spent both good times and bad times together in our snug little bungalow. Mandy helped purr me through the sorrow of losing both my grandmother and my cousin to cancer.
When I met Billy, it was important to me that Mandy accept him. While she never became attached to him like she was to me, she seemed to tolerate him more than she did most of my friends. When he asked me to move into his house, I worried that it didn’t have a glass door for her to watch the birds, but I knew Mandy approved. We just had that unspoken connection where we could read each others minds. We agreed to leave our single life behind and let Billy into our family.
It was a hard transition for both Mandy and me when we moved in with him. Billy didn’t grow up with pets like I did and had a different opinion about cats being allowed on the furniture. He and I almost broke up over the matter, because I wasn’t about to make her sit on the floor. Billy and I finally compromised and agreed that Mandy would be allowed on one couch. I worried that she wouldn’t be able to learn where she could and couldn’t sit, but Billy took it upon himself to train her. It only took one squirt of water for her to learn which couch was hers. This impressed Billy. He softened to her over the years but always maintained that animals should be treated like animals, not like little people. She learned to accept him and even love him, I think, but she never loved him like she loved me. She never had that bond with anyone but me. I can’t explain the depths of our attachment. Only those who have really loved a pet and been loved by one in return can understand this connection.
Two years later when Billy and I decided to adopt a dog from the Humane Society and instead came home with two, Mandy wasn’t amused. She spent the next few months hiding in the bedroom closet, only coming out to eat, drink, and use the cat box. Having two energetic dogs as part of the family was a big adjustment for all of us. When Billy got tired of having his dress shirts covered in fur, he closed the closet doors and forced her to accept Emma and Winnie. I worried that the dogs would bother or even hurt her, but I underestimated Mandy’s ability to hold her own. The dogs were always interested in sniffing her, but they learned quickly that this declawed cat ruled the roost.
What can I say about the years? The five of us were happy. Mandy and I spent the evenings on our couch together with the dogs laying nearby on the floor and Billy in his chair. The years passed quickly and while I acknowledged Mandy was now a “senior cat,” I didn’t stop to think about the reality of that label. She ate well and had reached a whopping 14 pounds. She still jumped on the top of the couch and enjoyed batting at the balls of yarn I knitted each evening. Since she panicked whenever she had to leave the house (which made trips to the vet traumatic to say the least), I accepted her as a permanent home fixture. Even when Billy and the dogs were gone, I knew that I was never alone because I could depend on Mandy to be on our couch, ready to purr and snuggle with me.
In the summer of 2009, I took Mandy to the vet for a teeth cleaning. I felt more guilty than usual that morning by taking her out of her house and I didn’t know why. She was 13 years old, and I had a bad feeling about the vet putting her under anesthesia. My gut feeling was right. Later that morning, the vet called to tell me that he didn’t want to give her anesthesia. Had I noticed her being short of breath at home? With guilt, I admitted that I hadn’t paid any attention to her breathing. He x-rayed her and found that her lung capacity was smaller than it should be, which he thought might be caused by fluid in the lungs. He could have done a chest tap to see if he could extract any fluid, maybe that’s something he should have done, he admitted. I agreed that he should have done that but worried more that Mandy’s extreme anxiety about leaving the house might have been more of the culprit of her rapid breathing.
The x-rays were examined by a specialist who wanted to do a CT scan. Both vets thought she might have cancer. During those awful weeks, I tore myself in two over what to do. I hated to take Mandy to the vet for more tests when she hated to leave home. If she did have cancer, I wouldn’t feel right taking her to the vet regularly for bouts of chemotherapy. I had to start putting her first as I tried to find the answers deep inside about what Mandy would want. I figured Mandy would want to go naturally if she was sick. But at the same time, I wouldn’t feel good about myself if she had something that could be treated with medication. I spent a good deal of that summer crying, the reality of Mandy’s age and mortality creeping up on me. I couldn’t imagine my life without her and decided to adopt the frame of mind of gratitude. I would be grateful for every day that I could spend with my cat. She had saved my life, after all. Now I had to figure out what I could and couldn’t do to save hers.
While doing a google search, I found a local vet who would make house calls. I called immediately to make an appointment and they planned to come to our house in two days. The veterinarian and his assistant came to our house that day, and I was so grateful that I would have promised them my first-born child for helping Mandy this way. I couldn’t imagine loving a child any more than I loved this cat. The vet looked at the x-rays and came to the same conclusion as the other vets. He did a chest tap on our couch and extracted fluid from her lungs. He suggested doing a CT scan to find out more but understood that Mandy was a sensitive cat that didn’t want to leave the house. He wrote a prescription for Lasix, a diuretic to remove the excess fluid.
That summer, I had a new challenge and felt guilty chasing her around the house, scooping her up, wrapping her in a towel and attempting to shoot a pill in her mouth. I tried everything: pill pockets, peanut butter, pill poppers. Mandy became the master of holding the pill in her mouth and spitting it out when she thought I wasn’t looking. I watched her closely that summer for any signs of shortness of breath. She seemed fine at home. Relaxed. Her eyes were clear, her coat was soft. She still batted at my yarn and purred loudly whenever I petted her.
When she had been on Lasix for six weeks, she stopped eating and started acting lethargic. She started peeing in the corner of the living room floor instead of in her cat box in the bathroom. Torn over what to do in her best interest, I decided to take her to the vet. Driving with her meowing in fear and annoyance the whole time, I worried that the trip would be too much for her, that it would make her hyperventilate or cause a heart attack. The vet found that she was dehydrated and suffering from a bladder infection. We decided to take her off the Lasix. They x-rayed her again and came to the same conclusions that she might have a tumor in her chest, that she should have a CT scan. All three vets in the clinic became involved in diagnosing her, but I knew I had to follow my gut about a hands-off approach to Mandy’s treatment, even if it meant that I wouldn’t have her much longer in my life.
But she thrived for the next year. She ate well, slept well, used her litter box. Sure, she had slowed down and I still watched her breathing closely, but I was overjoyed at this second chance. I started to understand the old adage that cats have nine lives. She had grown more vocal, meowing all the time like a cantankerous old woman. Her meow had deepened into what Billy called her old smoker’s meow. She and I enjoyed conversing with each other in meows.
In the fall of 2010, Billy started smelling urine again in the living room corner. We found many places where she had gone on the rug. When she did go to the bathroom to use the litter box, she often returned out of breath. So after an enormous rug cleaning production, we moved her box to that corner in the living room. That worked for a while until she seemed to have trouble getting across the room. She would have to stop and rest on the way to her box and we found places where she had peed on the way to her box. I worried that a urinary tract infection might be part of the culprit, and I didn’t want her to suffer from something that could be cured with antibiotics. As much as I love her vets, I didn’t want to take her all the way across town and I felt guilty making them come to our house. A new vet had opened up half a mile away, so I made an appointment there.
This new vet seemed genuinely concerned about Mandy. When she took Mandy to the back room to get a sample of urine, Mandy started hyperventilating. The doctor came back to tell me that they had to put Mandy on oxygen. My heart ripped open again, and I worried if Mandy would even survive this trip to the vet. She responded well to the oxygen, and since she was already there, they took an x-ray that looked startlingly similar to the x-ray from a year and a half ago. She tried to tap Mandy’s chest again and found that there was no fluid. The veterinarian took my hand when she told me that whatever was in Mandy’s chest was solid, that she could do a CT scan, but I explained my and Mandy’s situation and knew that I couldn’t make my cat go through procedures.
Despite the sadness of Mandy’s illness, Billy and I had a smelly situation on our hands. Neither of us wanted to live in a house that reeked of urine, but I was protective of my cat and wanted to give her the best life possible. Billy wanted to isolate her, but we didn’t have a room other than the bathroom and his office with a closing door. It would have torn me apart to lock her up away from her couch. We decided instead to make a little retirement home for her. We bought two baby gates and connected them in the corner of the living room, isolating a little square area for her bed, food, water, and box. Underneath her area, we put a plastic computer chair mat in case she had any accidents. She stayed in her retirement home when I wasn’t around, but when I came home I opened her gate and let her out to snuggle on the couch with me. The system worked well. She wouldn’t have to walk far to get to her food or litter. In the meantime, we recarpeted the living room.
This June, Mandy started laying in her litter box. I worried that she had another infection, but as time passed it became clearer that she was laying there because she needed to rest whenever she got up from her bed. Then one night, she jumped on the couch, which made her start to pant. I began the process of picking her up and placing her on the couch whenever she wanted to sit down with me. She still ate very well and seemed eager to leave her retirement home whenever I opened the gate. She still purred loudly and enjoyed having meow conversations with me. But slowly over the summer, she would have to rest longer when she walked out of her home. She spent more time laying in her box and ate less. I realized that she was on her ninth life.
Last week, she stopped eating. Her meow went through a transformation. One night it sounded kittenish, and then it became hoarse, and two days later she lost it all together. She still meowed silently to me. Her nose crusted over and she became more lethargic. I had spent two years preparing myself for the time when I would lose my Mandy, but nothing could have prepared me. I knew that I couldn’t take her into the vet if I needed to have her put to sleep. I didn’t want her last moments to be spent in panic and fear. I didn’t even know if she would survive the trip any more. I had heard of a place that would come to the house to put pets to sleep, so I called them for information. I just couldn’t commit though. She still had life in her and didn’t seem to be suffering. Although I realized that she would probably not last long on her own, I kept hoping for any signs of a miracle that would save my kitty. She was still responsive to my petting, she was still eager to come out when I opened the gate. I decided to take it day by day and learned a great deal about my own morals. Putting her to sleep when she wasn’t suffering felt akin to murdering to me. I didn’t want to play God with Mandy. I just couldn’t be the one to decide when it was her time to go.
Her decline was quick. Saturday, I came home to find that she had peed in her bed, because she couldn’t get up to get to her box. By Sunday, she stayed in her bed when I opened the gate. She still purred to me and silently meowed when I petted her. Yet I noticed that when she lay down she just stared off into space. She hardly closed her eyes, which worried me a great deal.
Monday morning she drank water for the first time in two days and I silently cheered with hope. By the afternoon, she complained when I lifted her out of her bed and just lay on the couch on her side staring and breathing and barely purring. That afternoon I wept for my cat. I tore myself apart in agony over what I should do. In a fit of desperation, I called the in-home euthanasia place, but they couldn’t come out until the next evening, which rendered me secretly glad that I wouldn’t have to say good-bye yet. That evening, I curled up next to Mandy and whispered to her how much I loved her and had learned from her, what a good cat she had been. I told her that I would always love her and never forget her, but if she was tired of fighting, she could let go. I would be sad without her and miss her dearly, but I would be okay. I think she understood and accepted my words.
That night, I sat on the couch next to her knitting while she lay on her side, her breath becoming shallower. Before it was time to put her to bed, I kissed and petted her again. She emitted a quiet, rattling purr, like the cooing of a dove. Then she lifted her head and looked at me with wild dilated eyes and meowed silently. I carried her on her towel to her bed in her retirement home and sat on the couch feeling like it was the end of the world. I prayed for her end to come quickly and accepted the fact that if she didn’t go on her own in the night, I would make sure and put her out of her misery the next day no matter what. I sat on the couch for a few minutes and watched her. Mandy struggled to get up twice but soon flopped back down to her position in resignation. It broke my heart, because I knew I couldn’t help her any more. I had to finally let Mandy go. I couldn’t do anything to save Mandy’s life, even though she had saved mine.
The next morning, Billy came into the bathroom and hugged me tight without saying anything. I felt his heart thumping, and I knew. “I think she’s gone,” he finally whispered, tears flooding his eyes. “She looked comfortable though.” I burst into sobs, and he held me close against him. When I finally got the nerve to go look at her, I saw my beautiful and beloved cat laying in the same position that I placed her in the night before. I was glad that she faced the wall so I wouldn’t have to see whether her eyes were open or closed. My first thought was of gratitude that she didn’t spend a long time in discomfort. My only other thought of how cute she looked. Her cute paws, her cute little round tummy. What would I do without her?
My phone call woke up my dad. I asked him if he could find out what we needed to do for her to get cremated, because I couldn’t bear calling anyone. Dad arrived 15 minutes later. He touched her back and then covered her with a towel and told me that he would take her to the vet who would make the arrangements. “Goodbye Mandy,” I moaned as he carried her bed with her lifeless little body in it out to his car.
Most of the rest of the day passed in a blur. I sat crying all day, writing in my journal, staring out the window. What I do remember is the love and support I felt from my family. Billy took the day off work to be with me. Dad stopped by after dropping her off at the vet and called me during his lunch break and again after he got off work. Mom came by in the afternoon to help me clean up her retirement corner and re-pot a plant to put in its place. My brother called me three times to make sure I was doing alright. My grandma called to express her sympathy. My dogs comforted me whenever I cried, looking at me with their big sympathetic brown eyes.
It has been hard these past three days without Mandy. She was primarily my cat, but she had an affect on other people, too. When Billy talked to a co-worker that next day, he told her, “We don’t have any children, so we love our pets like our children. They’re like little people.” He also told me, “We’re new at this, but we’ll get through it together.” He has been my rock. Yesterday I picked up her ashes and a paw imprint that the vet staff made for me, which made the pain feel new again.
So life goes on, and I’m gradually beginning to get used to the reality of life without Mandy. No one sitting on the couch with me while I watch TV. No one to purr me to sleep when I have insomnia. I will probably adopt another cat someday, but I can’t imagine letting another cat into my heart for a few years. No cat can ever take Mandy’s place. I love my dogs with my heart as if they were my children. But Mandy? I loved her with both heart and soul. I loved Mandy as a part of myself. I may never pet her soft fur again, have meowing conversations with her, fight with her to avoid being kicked off the couch (how do cats do that?), or listen to her sweet purr, but Mandy will always be a part of me.
– July 29, 2011