When I first met Heath in 2004, he had an indoor/outdoor cat named Taylor. He was a tough old cat, but he’d gotten into some sort of field fight with an animal whose tooth got lodged into his side and caused an infection that just wouldn’t heal. About a year into our relationship, Taylor showed up one night for a visit, looking worse for wear, with a kitten in tow. She was younger than a kitten should be separated from their momma, which led us to believe she’d been the only survivor or maybe the outcast. It seemed weird for a male cat to take a kitten under his wing and while we couldn’t be positive of their relation, she shared too many of his features to just be a stranger kitten. He taught her to come to the window well, like he did (we lived in the basement of his parents’ house at the time) and they’d come hang out every other day or so until she was brave enough to come to the window alone and then we never saw Taylor again. We suspect the infection had finally gotten the best of him and it seemed like he wanted to make sure his baby had a safe home before he wandered off to die. We named her Tay, since she looked so much like her father and for the first few months of her life with us, we let her be an indoor/outdoor cat like Taylor.
Then, one night, as I lay asleep in bed below the window well, I was jarred awake by an obvious scuffle outside the window and the screeching of a cats cry. Tiny little Tay was being harassed by the other field cats and was so terrified by the time she’d reached the window well, she literally pooped herself in fear. I refused to let her outside again after that. I couldn’t stand the idea of her being bullied.
Before that day, I was strictly a dog person, with zero interest in owning a cat. Even in the first few years of having Tay around, while I obviously had started to love her, I would joke about how she was Heath’s cat and one day I’d have a Great Dane that would be mine. But time passes and Tay became just as much my cat as she was Heath’s. She was such a sweet and gentle cat, with a purr that just exuded comfort. She became my reading buddy, my cookie-thon companion, my fur-baby. And she showed me that cats were just as easy to love as dogs were, to the point that this once dog-person is rightfully considered a Cat Lady by most now. The love I had for Tay encouraged me to care for strays and even rescue another cat. Still, none of them are even close to as perfect a cat as Tay.
In the fall of 2017, we noticed two little nodules on her belly. We wrote them off as fatty tumors since they were tiny and didn’t seem to bother her. But by the time Christmas rolled around, the nodules had double in size and branched off into new nodules. We took her to the doctor in January and they diagnosed her with Breast Cancer. That wasn’t even something I would have considered a potential cause. They told us that as long as it hadn’t spread, they could remove the whole right side’s mammary glands and we’d likely get at least another 3 to 5 years out of her. But when we went for surgery, an x-ray revealed that the cancer had already spread to her lungs. They were honestly surprised she wasn’t in worse shape already. Because that was the first hardest part. She was more playful than ever. She’d finally started chasing Callie around playfully, and she was still eating and using the bathroom like normal. None of the typical red flags for her impending death were present. They told us to just keep an eye on her. Make her comfortable as her body broke down. And to bring her back when we thought it was time.
Deciding when it’s time was the second hardest part. No one wants to make that decision for their loved one, especially when their eyes tell you they’re not ready to give up the fight. Up until her last day, she fought the cancer – still trying to be her usual self even as her lungs made it increasingly harder for her to breathe. She’d try to use her scratching post only to be winded by the effort and look at us with so much confusion, as if to say, “Why can’t I do this anymore? What’s happening to me?” It was heartbreaking.
Her decline seemed to happen all at once, those few weeks that followed her diagnosis passing slow and fast all at the same time. On the morning of February 26th, she wouldn’t get out of bed. And when she was forced to, she took 2 steps before collapsing for air. Finally, she seemed to say, “It’s time.” She didn’t fight us when going into her crate. She didn’t meow in protest on the ride to the vet. If anything, it was like she was trying to tell us it’d be okay.
Her lungs were so weak, she probably could have completely passed away with the first dose of sedative. It didn’t take long for them to lose their fight. The ache in our hearts leaked from our nose and eyes and I don’t know how long it will take for us to stop crying over this. Every time we think we’re doing better, we accidentally call Callie Tay or say “the girls” when really it’s just one girl now. As someone who works from home, Heath, especially, has struggled really hard with the fact that he’s spent nearly ever minute of every day for the last 13 years with her, which is more time than he’s spent with practically anyone else in his life. The loneliness her absence has brought is hard to swallow.
And while all of this is miserable, we are grateful to have Callie. Lord only knows how much more this might have destroyed our spirit if we didn’t have another fur-baby to love on and care for. Still, I wish we’d been more proactive, that we’d taken those nodules more seriously when they first showed up. Maybe we would have gotten more time with her that way or maybe she wouldn’t have had to suffer as bad in her last days.
Nothing prepares you for the loss of someone you love, whether they’re human or animal. People who have kids, don’t seem to quite understand the impact of this for us, but the longer we fail to have children of our own, the more and more our cats feel like our kids. They may be the only kind we ever have after all, and losing one at only 13 years old, when they could have at least lived into their 20’s, hurts tremendously.