Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fairwell Hailie

Today Jon and I had to put our last granny cat to rest, our dear Hailie.

She lived 18 years, which is far longer than I could have hoped for, but the last year she was clearly an elderly cat. About a year ago she began losing weight, just as the twins had come into our lives. We began a more aggressive feeding regimen that included wet cat food and "Cat Sip", a commercial, lactose-free milk for pets, that fortunately she loved. Mixing the two of them together and giving them to her was a recipe she could stand, and although she did not really gain back her lost weight, she did not lose more.
The last few days, I noticed her lying around in unusual places, the middle of the kitchen floor, the bathroom floor, next to the dog dishes. Last week, I came upon her, lying there, looking more like a rug than a cat because she was so skinny, with bony hips and shoulders protruding from her fur, and thought she had died. She was so still and was in such an odd location, I bent down and gave her a little touch, and she raised her head and looked at me in that "do you mind, I'm resting here" look.

Today, she didn't come down for breakfast, and an hour later, I heard her meowing, but it wasn't her usual caterwaul. As an aside, Hailie has always had a loud yowl, but it got louder, I swear the last few years. And, she would yowl at the oddest times, often when the house had grown quiet as we headed to bed or in the wee hours of the morning. But, the meow today sounded more like the meow of her kitten self, and I thought it sounded like she was telling us she was in trouble or in pain. Jon reported later in the early afternoon that Hailie was moving very stiffly. I saw it for myself an hour later, as I saw her walk across the kitchen floor. She was moving so slowly, like every step was a tremendous effort, and her balance was slightly off. Fisher had done the same thing in her last hours. I said to Jon when I saw her "we're going to have to put her down." He nodded.

But, it's Sunday. Our normal vet isn't open. So, initially, the plan was to make a call first thing tomorrow. But, as the afternoon wore on, it became clear that she was in discomfort. She would move every 10 or so minutes from one flat-cat position to another, stretched out, breathing slowly, eyes wide open. At 4, we agreed we needed to take her to the emergency clinic and end her discomfort before tomorrow.

Much to our relief, a neighbor was able to come over and watch the girls, and we took Hailie on her last car ride. She hardly moved while we drove. When we got to the clinic and had her euthanized, she went very quickly. She seemed tired, ready.

We, Jon and I, of course were not ready. It does not get easier, even though this is our third.

But, it's more important to remember how she lived than how she died.

Hailie came to us right before Mother's Day in 1993. The plan was to get a kitten from the local animal shelter and give it to my mom for Mother's Day. So, we went to the shelter, and entered a chaotic scene of young teens and a few adults playing what I can only describe as musical kittens.
There were 8 or so kittens available for adoption, and they were being passed around by interested adopters. Hailie or what soon became Hailie kept getting passed on to others, who passed her on, as they aimed for some smaller, cuter kitten. Hailie was the oldest of the kittens, larger, blander, with big paws. She was shy, and seemed uncomfortable with all the people handling her.

When she finally came into our hands, and there were no other hands to pass her on to, Jon even before I did had decided she was to be ours. We paid our fee, and brought her home. She was the second cat in our domicile. Fisher was the first beast in our house, and I was very curious how Fisher and Hailie would get on.

Of course, at first Fisher was unhappy about this new presence, and Hailie spent much time in hiding, but gradually, they became buddies. Over that weekend, it became clear to Jon and I that we were going to keep Hailie for our own. Another cat would have to be found for Mom (and we did, Cleo, but that's another story).

Hailie became a much more distant cat after Shadow's arrival that summer. She stopped hanging with Fisher, as Shadow began hogging Fisher's time, and Shadow and Hailie never got along.
She almost never slept on the bed with us, and when she did she preferred to be on a corner near our feet.

Hailie was still excellent at getting our attention, though. She was the master of the door (she made a much better door than window standing in front of our monitors as we tried to work). She loved getting our attention while we worked at our computers. Jon created a special camp for her in front of his monitor (in part to try and get her to park her keester so he could see past her).

She had the infamous "paw of doom." When she felt annoyed at Shadow, in particular, she'd unleash a thumping. Hailie would raise her right paw almost above her head, and bring it down in fast, repeated thumps upon the head of Shadow.  Hailie had no use for irritating other cats, and let them know it with her boxer paw.

Yogurt was one of her favorite treats. When I'd dish myself up some yogurt or had a yogurt cup, she'd be at my desk faster than I could take my first taste of it. I used to save the last bits from the yogurt cup for her. Occasionally, she'd get her head so pushed into the cup that it would get wedged in there, and then she'd walk backwards shaking her head trying to get the yogurt cup off, and when it did, her whiskers and forehead often would be smudged with her favorite stuff, then she'd happily sit there cleaning herself off with her hard-fought treasure.

She loved, I mean loved, drinking water by licking it off her paws. She especially loved dipping her paws in water glasses, preferably ones I was presently trying to drink out of. She was so bad about it that I could not trust that if I left a glass of water around that it would not be free of cat feet when I returned. Because of her, I stopped drinking out of regular drinking glasses at my desk, and switched to water bottles that I could close so that I wouldn't lose my freshly poured glass of water to Hailie's furry, dirty feet. She would create such a mess when she drank this way, letting her wet paw drip while she licked the water off. And, when she went back for more, she'd swish her paw around slopping water over the edges of the glass. Indeed, that was often the way I knew she'd adulterated one of my water glasses -- the sloppy wet mess around the glass, and then the wet cat paw marks of her departure. [I poured a glass of water tonight, and with a bitter smile noted I'd not have to worry about losing it to Hailie's cat feet.]


Hailie was a brown tabby, not particularly remarkable in markings, but she had stunning, large green eyes with an intent, wise look in them. She was the tallest and the biggest of our cats, not in weight (Shadow beat her there in her early years), but in height and stature. At her largest I think she weighed around 12 pounds.

As we acquired "the kittens" Tillie and Little Boy and last year Kitty Meow, Hailie tolerated them but like with Shadow mostly ignored them unless they irritated her in some way. It made me sad the day I saw her give way to Little Boy's bullying. In Hailie's prime, she'd have shown Boy-o who was the boxer of the family, but at 15 or 16, she was in her retirement and not up to such kitten antics. She chose to leave rather than fight.

With Hailie's passing, it feels like the end of something, an era maybe. Hailie, like Fisher and Shadow, were with Jon and I from our wedding, our moves around Minneapolis, to Philadelphia, and to Albany and our climb up the career ladder. Hailie had the distinct privilege of being the granny cat who came to know all of the daughters, something Shadow did not live long enough to experience, and Fisher only survived long enough to greet Isabel into this world.

These cats have been like Talismen, totems, sacred objects that journeyed with us, watched over us, nurtured us, and loved us for who we were, imperfect in all our ways. I am, as ever, grateful for their presence. Indeed, before we had daughters, we had cats. They were our children. Now our three cat-children have passed.

To Shadow, to Fisher, and now to Hailie, I honor your lives, your distinct characters, your special way of helping me to pause and share a bit of love with you and in return to receive it from you. Hailie, I love and miss you, special creature that you were, that you are.