Before I go, I have something to say

Best in Show

Sophia is getting old. For years, my daughter has been telling me she’s twelve, not a day over, but the vet keeps less sentimental records. So now we know this orange tabby is actually sixteen. That’s old in cat years, maybe even older given the life Sophia has led. Or I should say, the life she led before Allison rescued her.

Allison was working at the Dubuque County Airport, and someone reported that a cat had given birth to kittens in one of the outbuildings. Homes were found soon enough for the kittens, but nobody wanted the mother. She was mangy, skinny, and skittish.

One of the maintenance guys said he would take care of her. In his terminology, “taking care” meant shooting her. So Allison, soft-hearted friend of animals that she is, scooped up that young mother and brought her home. She promised that Sophia, as she had already named her, would only stay on the screened porch, and only until a home could be found for her.

First, she took her to the veterinarian. We’ve been going to our vet for twenty years or more, from the day we brought Zooey and Scotty home from a friend’s farm, and then when we added Henry, after Scotty died of causes unknown. The vet gave Sophia a thorough going over, and declared she had it all – ear mites, fleas, various infections, buckshot under her skin, and paper in her stomach. Alone in the cornfields, she’d been starving to death.

Back she came to our porch, where Allison administered the medicines and ointments needed to bring her back to health. And – you saw this coming – she first made it into the house, and, soon after, into our hearts. The old guys, Henry and Zooey, didn’t notice her much, and she was affectionate with everyone. Soon enough, she began to put on weight and to look less like a wraith out of Dickens and more like a pampered pet out of, I don’t know, Sex and the City?

Bu the time we sold the house, we’d already been through the wrenching demise of Henry. I volunteered to take him on that last ride to the vet, and I held him while Dr. Neumeister administered the drugs that would make him “go to sleep.” Oh, the euphemisms we employ to make the unbearable a little easier. I didn’t know animals die with their eyes open, so I kept talking to him long after he was gone. Maybe he could still hear me, as he climbed the steps to heaven.

No one in the family would be offended if I said that Henry was the weird cat. When he first came home, he ran into a closet and would not come out for days. Finally, I picked him up and deposited him in the litter box, where he seemed relieved in both senses of the word. After that he grew aggressively friendly, meowing up a storm as Zooey tried to figure him out. They soon became buddies, staging fake fights that resembled sumo matches, spending each night curled around each other in one not-too-big kitty bed.

Zooey was . . . oh, Zooey. I don’t know how much I can write about him. Let’s just say that he was the first, in our family of mother, daughter, son, and he would even sit in Daniel’s lap, unlike his timid cohorts. He even played a feline version of peek-a-boo (if this is too precious for you, bear with me; it was funny) by meowing every time we peeked around the door. Peek: “Meow?” Peek: “Meow?” Oh, he cracked us up.

Sophia, too, had her moments. One was the day she somehow got a plastic Eagle bag wrapped around her neck, and instead of holding still so we could disentangle it, she went racing around the house, pursued by the Scary Plastic Bag until she completely wore herself out. Cats hate plastic bags. Just ask.

Henry was the one who got his head stuck in a Kleenex box, but we tried not to remind him too often. (We do have a photo.) He was afraid of his own shadow, but he would go up and sniff that shadow, so we decided he was actually brave.

Kitten – that’s her name; nothing else ever seemed to suit her – joined the family during that brief moment after I had moved out and Allison lived in the house alone. (Don’t report me to Human Services – she was in her mid-20s.) According to Allison, this little black cat presented herself at the front door, and, also according to Allison, nobody responded to the “lost cat” ad she supposedly posted in the paper.

I can’t write about Zooey’s demise. Let’s just say that there are two little tombstones at the Humane Society’s pet cemetery, and one reads “Brave Kitty” and the other, “Best Kitty.” It wasn’t that he was better than the others; it’s just that he was, in so many ways, the best.

Now it’s just Sophia and Kitten at Allison’s apartment, and Sophia is undergoing those tests that take up so much time when a pet (or a person) grows old. Her blood has too many white cells, and we’re not sure if we want to know what that means.

When I moved in with my husband, I liked our house, but something was missing. It didn’t take me long to figure out I was seeing something in the shadows – an invisible cat, waving its tail as it ran by. So we brought home Leo.

Someday Leo will be old. He’s middle-aged already. The hard part is still to come. Yet we keep bringing these animals into our homes, and into our hearts. Our houses, and our hearts, would be empty without them.

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