Today I had to say goodbye to Shadow, a much loved and loving friend.
~ * ~
A couple of weeks ago I noticed she was a bit thinner than usual.
Ten days ago I noticed her hair was not as shiny…and she was even thinner.
A week ago I was alarmed by how much weigh she had lost, so quickly, and how skinny she felt and looked, and after close observation for a couple of days, I realized she had stopped eating.
Today, after talking with our vet, I had to make the painful decision to put my friend to sleep.
I want to remember all the good times.
~ * ~
August – September 2004. This was one of the most destructive hurricane seasons since I moved to Florida. I was incredibly lucky / blessed that, despite living pretty close to where the paths of three of the four “retired” storms for that year intersected, neither my children, their father/step-family, or our friends were injured. Yes, our house was damaged, but most of it was covered by the insurance, and we were okay.
A couple of weeks into October, I noticed a gorgeous black cat following my dogs as I walked them–Laika was a large German Shepherd mix (140lbs) who had found me a little over four years earlier, and Alana was a friendly and clumsy yellow Lab, just under three years old. And yet, this cat not only showed no fear, she just loved them. We would just be walking along the neighborhood, day or night, and she would just trot up to them and greet them nose to nose, then strop herself around their legs, and purr so loud I could hear her–three feet away, at the end of the leashes.
After a handful of days of this, I was determined to befriend this brave and intelligent animal. It wasn’t long before she would follow us all the way home, and by the third week she would wait at the door for us to come out. By December, my children had named her Shadow (because she was the only completely black cat I have ever seen¹), and she lived inside. Mind you, without any conflict with the two other, strictly inside, cats.
Shadow, however, still liked to go out–to walk the dogs with me. She would get ready as soon as I grabbed the leashes, and walk out between Laika’s and Alana’s legs, then follow us all around the neighborhood, never straying more than fifteen feet from us (and blithely ignoring any other dogs and their people), then follow us home.
A particularly fond memory is having a (rather unpleasant) neighbor stop dead in the middle of the street, seeing the procession (large couple of dogs, human, cat) and calling out, “Say, are you aware there’s a large black cat following you?”
Shadow, however, had been an inside cat before she found us. Someone had declawed her two front paws² and she had been spayed. Despite resembling nothing more than a black Burmese cat in both body/face type, the softness of her short coat, the sweetness of her voice and temperament, she was also a rather large cat when she adopted us, measuring just under 19″ from nose to base of the tail, and about 12″ tall.
Amazingly, during the next few months, she grew about three inches longer, and just a shade taller, and her weigh settled at around 18lbs. Most of her bulk was muscle–one of the last times she was outside, she managed to catch and kill a bunny in my back yard.
Shadow was, in a word, magnificent.
She was very intelligent–she would not just come when called, she would jump on the chair or table when signaled to do so, and ask for pets by touching her front paw to your hand or face, purring loudly.
She was incredibly sweet as well. She loved to sit next to us humans on the couch and just purr away, and whenever either of the dogs got sick, she would lay with them. When my mother–emphatically NOT a cat person–would visit, Shadow would sneak on the chair seat just behind her, and stay there for hours, a warm, purring weight.
When, in 2010, a co-worker found a six weeks old kitten on the road, and I decided to give it a home, Shadow adopted him. She played with him, bathed him, and pretty much mothered him from that moment on. Early last year, when I agreed to temporarily-forevermore house my son’s two cats when he moved back to California³, Shadow took on further mothering duties–never mind these kittens were over a year old at the time.
~ * ~
Probably as a result of that hurricane season, Shadow was very nervous during stormy weather (I have told my readers before of how Alana used to comfort Shadow–and that image, crappy as it is, gives you a good idea of Shadow’s true size).
Sadly, Shadow also didn’t like cameras, or even cellphones, aimed at her. She had a knack for knowing when you were just looking at your phone or texting, and when you were using the camera, and she would vanish from your screen a lot faster than you could aim. (Even my photography-mad brother couldn’t get a decent picture of her in over nine years.)
And so, I don’t have any moderately good–or indeed even recent–pictures of Shadow to share with you, aside from the ones in my mind and my heart.
~ * ~
Godspeed, my friend. May you walk with Laika on the grass, play hide and seek with Coraline, curl up with Kitty, and sneak playfully on Bebé, in a place without pain or thunder.
~ * ~
¹ I have now, and have had in the past, other black cats. Most of them have small patches of white hair–sometimes what seems like just a handful of white hairs. Shadow was totally black, not one white hair to be found, from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail, and everywhere in between.
² You really don’t want to get me started on this rant–suffice it to say I think it’s barbaric to put your possessions ahead of your cat’s wellbeing. If you care so much about the state of your furniture, don’t adopt any pets (and beware of young humans).
³ Long story, not mine to share