Monday, January 11, 2010

Farewell to a Feline Friend

Today I say "goodbye" to a staunch companion and affectionate friend. My parents' beloved feline, Cherub, had become now incurably ill. Today, at 3 pm, she went into her long and final sleep.

When we moved to Christchurch 16 years ago, my parents bought an exotic persian kitten. We named her Cherub, and she was born on the last days of the year. At first, I admit, I was slow to love her. I had already convinced my parents to permit me my own cat, a lanky, peach kitten I had named "Titus". As mum was none to fond of him, I was determined not to show "her" cat any affection either. After all, my moggy was better than her pedigree. With her downturned mouth, and snub-nose, she was not everybodies idea of beautiful. Indeed, she had a perpetually peeved off expression, which did in no way indicate her personality. Cherub proved to both live up to her name and be an instant charmer. It did not take long before I was won over. She was blessed with an endearing nature and she loved to be near people. Whereas Titus spent the days roaming the neighbourhood, invading other people's houses and stealing the occasional sausage, Cherub wanted only to be with us. If you were lying down, she would stretch herself across your neck, resting her head against your cheek. This position put her rumbling purr and tickling whiskers directly beneath one's ear, and even if you could fall asleep in such a pose, there was always the risk that she would suffocate you.

As she grew up and grew older, Cherub began to show the effects of her mutations. Her flattened nose made her breathing wheezy, almost ashmatic and one-by-one her teeth rotted and had to be removed. Still, her sunny disposition remained. She was always quick to forgive it ever you stepped on her paw or tail (she did love to be underfoot) and never once bit. Even when she pawed at you, it was only under the most distressing of situations that she would put her claws out. When she was put into the conservatory ("her" room) at night, she would claw at the door, eager to be in amongst the warmth and affection. If you were posing for a photograph in the garden, it was inadverant that at least one shot would contain her small ginger self curling around your legs.

After I moved out, I saw less of Cherub, and am regretful now that I did not make a point to cuddle or pat her every visit. As the firmest hand in the house, it was my duty to groom her - a process she hated (but sorely needed). This entailed holding her by the scruff of the neck with one hand, whilst using the other to comb the tangles and matts from her pelt. Although not a longhair, her fur was not low maintenance. She would put up with this for a few seconds before slowly starting to resist - digging her claws in, squirming away, or when the stress got too much, mewing piteously. Here was the only time she ever clawed in anger - when I pushed her too far. I was always concerned that she would begin to associate me with this undignified and unpleasant experience, and thus offered her treats at the end of each session. Whether it was this reward or her forgiving personality, I do not know, but she would still trot up to me when I came to call, begging a pat or a tickle.

Cherub passed her 12th year - the expected lifespan of her breed, in good health (despite the lack of teeth). Although not as fast a-paw as once she had been, she still kept Max - the neighbours' ugly grey ex-Tom, on his toes. Although more time was spent lounging in the sun, she would still attempt to help mum with the gardening and could leap up onto the fence with ease to peer down on her domain. It was only into her sixteenth year that she really started to slow down. She spent longer hours sleeping (hard to measure with a cat as that is) and when picked up no longer responded with a headbutt and a nuzzle. Her wheezing breathes seemed shallower and the weight fell off her in droves. She guzzled her food, greedily lapped water, and resembled a fur-covered toastrack. Upon visiting - after not having given her a cuddle for some time, I picked her up and was shocked at how light she had become. It had become difficult for her to balance and she was forced to squat instead of sit. Thus she was taken in for that fateful visit.

The Vet's Verdict was diabetes - an incurable disease in which the body fails to assimilate the food successfully. Thus no matter how much she eats, it was not turned to life-giving energy. It is able to be maintained, but in a cat of Cherub's advanced age, the possible side effects combined with the stress of a daily injection, would likely be too much for her. We made the difficult decision to let her die with dignity. The last few days were hard. I visited more than usual, shedding tears over her fur (and not just because I am allergic to cats) and my parents doted on her - plying her with treats and affection. I hope she remembers us fondly, as she chases butterflies in the Rainbow Lands.

Goodbye Cherub, you are sorely missed.

(For those of you wondering what became of Titus, he was rehomed at 6 years of age when I went to University. I did not have much time for him and he was a cunning beggar who had managed to catch and kill four of our aviary birds. We put an add for him in the BSE that I wrote, starting with "Loveable rogue...". He found a new home in a motel on the outskirts of Christchurch very quickly. I hope he was happy there. I still miss him sometimes, but he was an independent, half wild soul)

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