10.22.2012: Saying Goodbye

Sorry, folks, gonna be a total Debbie Downer here for a minute.

Soon after my freshman year of college, my family went to the local animal shelter and picked out a pair of kittens. Actually, the “shelter” was more like a trailer with cats on every flat surface, and a medium-sized cage in the middle of the floor, containing five kittens.

The first one was easy enough to pick out – he was standing up against the front of the cage, crying for attention. His four siblings were shy, huddled in the corner watching us. We arbitrarily grabbed one a black and white one, and skeedadled out of that place in a hurry.

We named the black cat Bagheera, after the black panther who becomes Mowgli’s mentor in Kipling’s Jungle Book. Bagheera was bold and adventurous, and never shy about letting us know he wanted something. His brother, who was cautious and mostly followed his brother’s lead, we named Shadow. Shadow loved nothing more than to be held. As a kitten, we would cradle him like a baby for what seemed like hours at a time, carrying him along as we did chores or watched TV. Even when he went to the vet, he loved for the nurses to pick him up and carry him as they checked on other animals.

As they aged, their personalities changed. Bagheera became the nervous, cautious one, while Shadow always met everyone at the front door. Neither cat ever loved our dog, Copper, whose tail tended to swing like a mace when Copper got excited, but Shadow at least acknowledged the dog. All Bagheera ever did was smack Copper’s nose when he got too close. Shadow’s name came to take on a new meaning. It wasn’t so much his brother that he followed – it was my mom. For a decade and a half, wherever she went in the house, Shadow was at her side. He slept on her lap most nights, and cried at her door when she closed him out.

While Bagheera aged, Shadow never seemed to. Hyperthyroidism kept him skinny and energetic. He was thirteen or fourteen when he caught his first mouse, using only his back claws – fifteen years ago, we had a different attitude toward declawing. That seemed to awaken some instinct within him, and suddenly he took an interest in toy mice, chasing them back and forth across the living room when I threw them. Bagheera came down with diabetes and kidney problems, but other than his hyper thyroid, Shadow stayed skinny but healthy.

Until today. Today we learned that Shadow has cancer. It’s neither operable nor treatable. He doesn’t seem to be in any pain, but he’s lost most of his appetite and his kidneys are pretty much shut down. The vet doesn’t know if he has hours, days, or weeks, but she’s pretty sure this is the end.

I haven’t lived at home since 2005, and since both cats are older (and Bagheera, with his various health problems, has been through more than one false alarm) I admit I’ve been mentally preparing for this for a while. For the past couple of years, each time I’ve visited the house I’ve taken a moment with each cat, just in case it was the last time I saw them. They’ve been part of the family for almost half my life, and I am very sad to have to say goodbye.

John Cocteau said he loved cats because “I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” I’ve always thought this to be true. The Keelty family home will not be the same without its Shadow.

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