The death of a pet is a particularly strange thing, because non-pet owners often don’t “get” it, and other pet owners know what it’s like, but the loss of an animal hits the owners the most. Often times, they are the only people who ever get to know an animal.
Already, it has been two weeks since the loss of Ella. The balance in the cat interactions in our household has calmed down a little, since she never really interacted with the other two cats, nor did they seem to get along when she did. But mornings and nights are the most difficult. In the morning, I am used to talking to her, or seeing her up and moving around immediately after waking. In the evenings, I miss the click-clack of her toenails that she didn’t like to let me cut as she walked across the wood floors of our bedroom.
It’s strange to think of myself as a cat person in contrast to the childhood version of myself, who always loved dogs more. It wasn’t until I got my first cat, Zackary, in 1995, that I began that transition into a cat person. He was my first pet and my first buddy. Unfortunately, I learned a lot about death in 2004, and that included the death of Zackary. After becoming increasingly sicker, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and had to be put down. That was in November 2004.
Experts say that it’s important to allow ample healing time before getting another pet, but truth be told, I was sad, and lonely, and 2004 was a relatively terrible year. So in early December, I went to Pets Lifeline, the local no-kill shelter with my mother, to look at cats. There were no plans to officially adopt, but I wanted to at least peruse the options.
In the kitten room, there were plenty of kittens, and even a beautiful orange one that I loved. Zackary was an orange tabby too, and it’s no secret that I love orange kitties (see: Tetris), but this cat (named Darren) wanted nothing to do with me. Meanwhile, none of the other cats “spoke” to me.
As I was walking out the door, I saw in the big cage just outside the entrance that there were three kittens. Two were tortoiseshell cats, and one was all black. I thought the torties were pretty, so I walked into the cage to play with them. They didn’t want anything to do with me, however their little black sister kept jumping on my shoulder.
That’s when I remembered that you don’t pick the cat; the cat picks you. And I knew that even though she was a black cat, and that was maybe boring to me, this was my cat.
I adopted little Kyoto that day. She and her two sisters had been born in the shelter after their pregnant mother was brought in, and the three were named after Japanese cities.
On the car ride home, 8-month-old Kyoto was quiet. When I got home, she immediately got excited about her new environment, wanting to explore, and I remember spending the day on the couch, watching TV, while she sat on my chest and purred.
That was December 4, a Saturday.
This little black cat remained nameless for a couple days, until Monday, December 6. That night, my best friend Brian and I went to see Pedro the Lion (http://www.last.fm/event/3149157+Pedro+the+Lion+at+Sonoma+State+University+on+6+December+2004). During that evening, singer David Bazan talked about his new daughter, Ellanor. And when we returned to my house that night, Brian spent some time playing my Telecaster, singing to my new kitten and strumming chords, suggesting names. At once point he sang “Ella,” along with a minor chord, and she meowed at him. From then on, it was a done deal. Her name was Ella.
Ella’s full name was Ellasaurus Pinot Noir Tortoise. The first name was due to my love of dinosaurs. The second name, because she had brownish reddish spots on her fur in certain lights, sort of like a pinot noir. And the third name as a tribute to her sisters, the tortoiseshells.
For the next eight years, Ella was with me through everything. She was with me when I fell in love, when I moved between Santa Rosa and Sacramento and Petaluma, when I graduated university, when I was left by my ex-husband, when I went through the “finding myself” phase, when I wrote my first novel, when I graduated graduate school, and then when I moved to Germany. She was my companion, and in return, I treated her well, protected her from her brothers, and doted on her as best I could. Although Zackary was the cat around for my childhood, Ella was the cat who was there during my 20s, the cat who grew into me as I grew into myself.
As far as cats go, she was a model cat. A bit picky, as evidenced by how she only liked dry food, and very specific brands. She didn’t eat wet food, snacks, or people food, and thus it was easy to have a meal or a treat around her without her begging or trying to swipe it. The only non-cat food she liked was celery, and that was more because of the smell.
As for her behavior, she was independent enough, but knew her name, and responded to me. She never got into trouble, except when she would occasionally unravel the toilet paper rolls and chew on the paper, or when she was pissed off and peed on clothing, backpacks, or bedsheets as rebellion. This was how she got my attention and tipped me off to something not being to her liking.
In contrast to the all-loving Tetris, who is best friends with any and every one, for a long time, Ella loved only me. My mother did come in at a close second, though. And when it came to outsiders, Ella preferred females to males.
In particular, Ella had a reputation for openly showing her disdain toward males. There were a handful of boyfriends or flings in my past whose belongings she would pee upon if they were left unattended. As for my ex, who lived with Ella for 2.5 years, she went so far as to pee on his clean laundry multiple times when I went out of town and left him there. If only I had heeded her judgement. She obviously knew what she was doing…
So of course when I started dating M., I expected Ella to be wary of him at best, but on one of their first meetings, she was already seated on his lap, and I took it to be a sign of her approval. The final nine months of Ella’s life were spent living with M., and it was no strange sight to see her seated on his lap, sprawled out, eyes closed, and purring. Although I remained her favorite, she loved M. and she trusted him.
I don’t know exactly when it began, but Ella started sleeping on my chest at some point over the past few years, only I never thought much of it, since it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Earlier this year, however, she took to doing it all the time, splitting time almost equally between my chest or M.’s. This would get her in trouble come bedtime, because she would sit on my chest and purr. This is something I don’t mind, but M. is a sensitive sleeper, and he would eventually shoo her away in hopes of falling asleep, because her purrs kept him awake.
In the last week or two of her life, Ella began sleeping next to M. on the bed, something she never would have dared to do before.
I can’t say for sure, but I think she sensed the end coming. I did too, even though I didn’t know it until reflecting upon it. But deep down inside of me, part of me suspected that something would happen. This was because of her undiagnosed sickness, which worried me increasingly over the past few months.
See, Ella started wheezing two years ago. It was something out of the blue, but its beginning coincided with the sudden death of Grrr in December 2010. I wouldn’t say that she was fond of any of the cats, but she and Grrr were buddies, if only in secret. He didn’t pick on her like the others did, because he was at the top of the chain, and they both knew their places. So while they didn’t actively seek one another out, I occasionally found the two of them cuddled together. They lived somewhat harmoniously, and so when he died and Tetris began to challenge the order, it made sense to me that she would start acting up from stress, anxiety, etc.
But after a couple months, it didn’t stop, so I took her to the vet. Multiple vets actually. She was checked out, blood tests were done, and the end result was that everything was OK. One doctor assumed it was allergies, so I started giving her allergy medications, but she hated taking the pills and her resistance often caused them to dissolve in her mouth, the bad taste making her foam at the mouth. Not long after, I gave up, because the struggle didn’t seem worth it, especially with no noticeable difference.
So Ella lived the next two years with this problem, in which she had wheezing fits several times a day. Often they were triggered when she perceived a threat from one of her kitty siblings, brought on by stress factors, but other times they came out of nowhere.
At times, I suspected heartworm, knowing that it’s something that can cause sudden death a couple years after the infection, but was told by multiple vets and vet technicians it likely isn’t. A week before she passed, I noticed she was straining when using the litter box, but inspection showed that everything was solid – hard even. So I did some research and concluded that we should change her diet to something with more fiber.
On Saturday, December 22, we stopped at a pet store and picked up three varieties of dry food with formulas that contained more fiber and less carbs, just as I had read. Unfortunately, we returned home and not much later, Ella died. It makes me sad to know that we were aware of something being up, and working toward helping her, but noticed it too late. That’s the one thing I dislike about cats as pets: it’s hard to know they are sick until it’s too late. And once the symptoms present themselves, cats are usually close to the end.
It seems as though Ella passed away due to a blood clot. All the symptoms leading up to her death point to it, including the loss of mobility or balance in her back legs, and the panting. We called the vet immediately and as I cradled her, she cried out in pain. Shortly after, she got quieter and quieter. She passed away within 15 minutes from the first sign of something wrong.
I already miss her and will continue to miss her, even though most of the crying has been done. We were lucky enough to find a resting place for her in the midst of this big city, where most people don’t have yards of their own. Ella is resting underground, next to a tree in a backyard garden, surrounded by buried bunnies and guinea pigs. Christmas was sad this year, as we buried her on December 24. But we put her to rest knowing that she had an exceptionally good life full of a lot of love.