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'Saying goodbye to that special, feline friend'

Last modified: 8/11/2012 12:00:00 AM

Peppercorn, our little calico cat, was 20 years old. That's a good ripe age for a feline. We knew it wouldn't be long. Every life, no matter how full, has its ending. It's like a good book; you may not want to reach that last chapter, but it's got to come.

My husband and I were living in Milton and our two boys hadn't even been thought of yet when we decided to get a kitten. We already had a couple of cats, but we had a big old farm house with a nice barn, and we were well on our way to becoming crazy cat people. Peppercorn probably was too young to leave the nest, and I suppose our Witchie sensed it. He was a smart fellow, a slender yellow and white neutered male, and although it wasn't exactly love at first sight (a good deal of hissing went on) he felt sorry for this poor little kitten who was obviously scared to death of him. So Witchie adopted Peppercorn, or PC as we took to calling her.

Now, like other mammals, male cats have little underdeveloped nipples on their undersides. Missing her mom something fierce, PC latched on to one of those tiny nipples on Witchie's belly and started nursing. Witchie didn't object, and even groomed her while she went at it. She worried that nipple into near full size, although she never got anything out of it but comfort. That was enough.

Our cats have always been indoor/outdoor, and I'm not going to get into an argument about this, so don't start. We did the calculating with the pros and cons, and this is what we decided. Sometimes they disappear, but it's not always a tragedy. Our Lola didn't come home one night, but months later when we were walking up the road she came out to greet us. Had a nice new collar and looked decidedly sleek. Just found better digs, that's all, and more power to her.

I like to think that Witchie moved on that way. He was a stray to begin with, hung around long enough to bring up PC, then went on his way to grace someone else's household. Peppercorn missed him terribly when he left us. She moved into the bathroom closet and refused to come out. Had to put a catbox in there and feed her on the shelf where she hid, peeping out from among the linens. She stayed there for months, mourning the loss of her Witchie. Finally she did start to go out again, although she kept to herself. Didn't get along with the other cats.

We moved to Deerfield some 12 years ago. PC disappeared about a month before we vacated the house in Milton, and we thought that was that. She hadn't been happy since Witchie left, and we hoped she'd found a better home where she could be top cat. Maybe she had even found Witchie and moved in with him. We had enough headaches with moving. Couldn't spare too much worry for the fool cat.

About a week or two later we got a phone call from the new owners of the farm in Milton, asking us if we had lost a calico cat. Seems she showed up at the door, skinny as a rail and insisting on coming in. We drove out to see and sure enough, it was PC. She was very glad to see us. Brought her home to Deerfield and she didn't stray far from the food bowl for months.

I could tell you lots of other stories about PC: how she killed the mouse on our computer, how she used to get into the guinea pig cage (she just wanted the fresh greens - she didn't care about the guinea pigs cowering in the corner), how she still chased her tail and played with cat toys right up until her last birthday. Twenty years is a long time. You folks with dogs or cats who've had a long life know you could fill a book. Plenty of writers have. I'll just say that we reached a point with Peppercorn that we knew it was the end.

You can tell it's time, when they've gotten all skinny and frail, begin to lose control of their limbs or bladder, start moving like every step hurts. If you're lucky they pass away quietly in their sleep. Peppercorn needed a little help. The vet figured it must have been a stroke. She could have lingered, suffering, for days. I was home alone with her when I made the decision, took her in to Dr. Mahoney, and held her as a simple injection eased her passing. When my husband came home we buried her out back. Had a spruce tree in a pot we'd been meaning to plant. We put it in over her grave.

As those of you who've lost a special critter know, you don't replace a friend. I love all my cats, and each one is special. Each time it's hard to say goodbye. But sad as the ending might be, the story is worth it.

(Mel Graykin of Deerfield is a writer and freelance philosopher.) '


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