When I was a little girl my sisters and I didn’t really have a house pet. What we had were stray cats that would come and live with us for a while and then either, get escorted out by my mom for various destructive reasons, or would just move on to better things.
By first grade, I got permission to have my very own pet. He was a brown hamster with a scarf of white fur. I named him Johnny and he was my baby. He’d always let us know when it was going to rain by stuffing his cheeks with seeds. On Valentine’s Day I gave him a Hershey’s chocolate kiss and he happily ate it like a child, getting his hands and face brown and sticky. He survived an unfortunate squeeze between a door and a road trip in the passenger cabin of a U-Haul without air conditioner across the Arizona desert. He started his life in California and died in Texas. He developed an abscess in his cheek. When I took him to the Vet I was sure they’d save him, but I was informed that he did not survive the operation. I know now there was no operation. He had been put to sleep.
Fast forward 25 plus years to Washington, D.C. and I’m in a neighbor’s apartment choosing between five-week-old female and male kitten siblings. I choose the shy, fuzzy, caramel male kitten hiding behind a framed picture on the floor. His meow was so small you had to be very quiet to hear it. That night, he slept in my hair, probably the closest thing to his mother’s warm fur. Over the next 15 years he became my housemate, playmate, guard cat and cat nurse. When I was bedridden with pneumonia and a temperature of 103, he came and lay over my feet. I later learned that cats do this when a person is going to die. Hmmm? How sick was I? When I was sad, he’d do the same thing. When I would hear noises in the middle of the night I’d get out of bed, find him and we’d look at each other. If he seemed calm, I knew things were okay. If I seemed nervous about the noise, he’d tense up and become more alert.
Puff was a 17-pound, beautiful longhaired, caramel-swirl colored cat I taught to sit. He too had a white fur scarf, white mittens and white furry boots with a long feathery tail. He’d sit at the top of the stairs and guard the upper floor. One day I forgot to warn a sitter about this and when she went upstairs to get my son’s pajamas, Puff trapped her in my son’s bedroom for 20 minutes. He’d chase my mom’s Chihuahua dog until both my mom and the dog were safe in their room. Puff was not the friendliest cat to strangers but he loved me and my son very much. When he was younger, Puff would push his paws under the bathroom door to let me know he was waiting for me. Funny, my son did the very same thing with his little hands as a baby. Puff had the amazing talent of fetching small paper balls I’d throw into the air and would bring them back to me. We’d play hide and seek around the couches.
He got to travel to California and to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. He experienced the exodus from D.C. on 9/11 and survived a couple of bad, two-on-one cat fights with feral cats that got too close to our property.
Fast-forward 15 years of life with Puff, and he’s 75 years old in cat years. He is moving slower and his outdoor excursions are now confined to sitting on the porch or patio. One day, he just doesn’t seem to get up from the couch at all. I take him to the Vet and he is diagnosed with diabetes. I become his nurse and learn to inject him with insulin twice a day. His hind legs gradually begin to drag and he eventually has trouble making it to the litter box. He is now sleeping all day and hangs out in the area between the morning room chairs and his food bowl in the corner of the room. He begins to drink excessive amounts of water, a side effect of uncontrolled diabetes. The insulin is not working.
I force myself to begin planning his exit from our lives. I ask the vet for some advice and she says it is time to let him stop suffering. I see his little cat face and he is mentally all there. He stills finds the power some mornings to climb the stairs and jump on my bed to wake me up with his purring sound and a light clawed paw on my arm. The vet explains to me that he must be feeling pain in his legs and must not be feeling well at all in his condition. She suggests giving him a dignified end before he get’s worse. So I schedule a date, Tuesday, October 26. A few days before the date, I explain to my son that Puff will be going to pet heaven to be better and play like a kitten with his mom Kalua, and his dad Sampson and his sister Squeaky. My son is sad but understands after being witness to Puff’s declining health.
My last drive to the vet is one of the hardest moments of my life. I don't want to be the decision maker of this situation. Puff is a member of my family whose life I'm about to end. I have to be calm so that my cat does not sense what is about to happen. After a tranquilizer and two different injections, Puff is asleep and in pet heaven. The process itself was much quicker and simpler than the time it will take me to erase the imprint Puff has left on my life. I catch myself saying “I’ll be back Puff,” as I leave the house, or making an automatic turn into the pet food isle at the store. When I come downstairs in the morning I expect to feel a furry push against my leg by the coffee machine. And when I come home from dropping off my son at school I stop myself before saying, “I’m back, Puffy”.
I don’t miss cleaning the litter box at all. But I do miss the silent presence of my quiet and loyal companion. I used to tell my son that Puff was the King of Kadinsky, a fictitious animal kingdom surrounding our property where he ruled and kept order among the critters and protected his castle, our home. The land of Kadinsky is missing its king.