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