As we get older, the number of goodbyes we are required to say seems to multiply exponentially. Over the years, I have had to say goodbye to both of my parents, my mother-in-law, several of my aunts and uncles, as well as BigBob’s, many of my friends’ parents, some of my favorite teachers, et. al. Too often I pick up the local paper and read about another classmate who has died. It seems that every day the list of folks who touched my life but have departed gets longer and longer. In fact, just two weeks ago, I found myself at the Hallmark counter. I bought two “thank you” cards, an anniversary card, a birthday card, a get well card, and five sympathy cards — four for friends who had just lost their fathers and one for a gentleman who just lost his wife.
The goodbyes I have had to say over the years have included those said to many beloved pets. If you read this blog regularly, you know that our pets are spoiled rotten and treated as well as our kids! One of my co-workers talks about going home at lunchtime to let his two dogs out of their “crates” so that they can potty and stretch their legs. I don’t say anything, but I laugh to myself, knowing what Sophie and Buddy are doing during the day: BigBob found Matthew’s old Power Rangers bedspread in a box in the garage and dragged it out for Buddy (aka “The Goo,” as in baby talk – gaga googoo) to curl up on in the family room while they watch television together. There he is all snuggly and cozy. As for Queen Sophia, ruler over all things and people in this house, she sleeps with me (there she is on my bed) and then spends her days lounging there or on one of the couches, waiting for us to return and worship her.
The first gut-wrenching goodbye I ever had to say to a pet was to Barney, my parents’ silver Cairn terrier. I used to call him “my little brother” because he was treated as well as we were and twice as pampered. Like Sophie and Buddy, he was practically human, with a huge vocabulary. But he was a purebred Cairn and he developed hot spots. When the vet said that there was no more he could do, it fell to me to make the decision to euthanize him. I simply could not put my parents — especially my father who had an extremely serious heart condition — through that ordeal. I had never had to face a situation like that before and, knowing that, the vet tried to convince me to leave the room. I refused, so the last thing Barney saw was my face, the last thing he heard was my voice reassuring him, and the last touch he felt were my hands and BigBob’s gently stroking and petting him. It was the hardest thing I had done in my life up to that point, but it was absolutely the right thing to do and I have never regretted my decision.
The losses of our beautiful golden retriever, Lady, her ever-cantankerous playmate, Tramp (also a Cairn terrier), not to mention Snowball, pictured here with Matthew, were also difficult. Snowball was an Alaskan Eskimo dog that we adopted from Pets ‘n’ Pals to keep Lady company after Tramp died. He was the dumbest dog that ever lived, but he was very loyal and loving. And then there was Shivers, my calico cat. She was a major pain in the ass! But I still miss her. Sir Sandy XV, my sister’s cocker spaniel, and her little poodle, Princess, who just died a couple of months ago at the advanced age of 16, were also very special to us.
But saying goodbye to my T.C.’er (pronounced “teesir”) absolutely broke my heart. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about and miss her, even though she left us in September 1998. (Lady died in her sleep on Thursday and I had to put T.C.’er down on Tuesday. What a week.)
I named her after “Top Cat,” one of my favorite cartoon characters, after she wandered into my yard and refused to leave. I had never had a pet before in my life and I was determined that she wasn’t coming into the house, but after she presented me with a dead bluebird on the front step, I relented. And she never went back out. She was perfect in every way: Beautiful, extremely intelligent, very well-mannered, and totally loving. For 18 years, she slept on the foot of my bed, nipping my toes through the blankets. She never disturbed a thing in the house.
When BigBob and I met, I had a cute little apartment where I lived with “my girls,” T.C.’er and Shivers, both of whom were potty trained (yes, they used the toilet). He still talks about meeting them and thinking about T.C.’er, “What a curious little cat.” She talked and talked to him! Of course, Shivers was determined to run him off — she slept on the pillow next to mine like a person and when he came along and took her spot, she was most unhappy. She tried to break us up by scratching on the closet door and keeping him awake most of the night! But he eventually won her over with Pounce treats and belly rubs (she would lay on her back like a dog and want you to scratch her stomach).
Like Sophie does now, T.C.’er ran the house. She kept Shivers in line, boxing her ears when necessary. She used to meet me at the door and tell me all about the mischief Shivers had gotten into during the day while I was at work. If she could only have gotten that little paw up on her hip, the picture would have been perfect! We used to call her “Dr. Craig” and Shivers “Ehrlich” because they reminded us of William Daniels and Ed Begley, Jr. on “St. Elsewhere.”
My mother, Ethel, managed to practically turn T.C.’er into a dog. When we were transitioning into a new house, we briefly rented an apartment. I did not want to try to acclimate T.C.’er to that environment, so Grandma babysat for several weeks, saying “Oh, us two old ladies are very happy together.” And they were! T.C.’er didn’t really care if she ever came home again. By then, she was about 13 years old and very content to be totally indulged by my mother. She came running when Ethel called her name, responded to commands, followed her around the house, and sat in her lap every minute that mother was in a chair. It was horrifying! Eventually I had to say, “Nope, she’s coming home with me to the new house” and she was very happy to spend the rest of her days there with us.
As she aged, she developed dementia and would get lost. The first time it happened, I was in my bedroom and I woke up to the most blood-curdling whining. I thought, “Oh, great, the neighbors got a cat and it’s in heat.” When I went to close my sliding glass door and realized it wasn’t open, I also determined that the sound was coming from inside the house. There was T.C.’er in the living room, crying out. But when she saw me, she came running. She purred and nuzzled me as if she hadn’t seen me in a decade. I spoke with the vet who assured me that “It’s kind of like living with your grandmother” and so long as she did not get outside where she would be hopelessly lost, she wasn’t suffering. So BigBob just made sure that he put her back on the foot of the bed before leaving for work (she always followed him into the kitchen when he got up to get ready for work — that’s where they had their morning talk and shoulder snuggles).
T.C.’er was 18 years old when she died of old age. I decided to put her down because, at that point, the vet told me he believed she was pretty miserable and would die within a week at the most. I did not want her to suffer. Again, I stayed in the room, and then went out to the car and sat in the parking lot by myself for a long, long time. I remember calling my buddy, Clint Ritchie, a man who lives his life surrounded by animals (35 or so horses at any given time, several dogs and more cats than he can keep track of) up at Happy Horse Ranch. “Honey, you just have to do the right thing for the animal. Then you go out behind the barn, have a good cry, and get on with things.” The cowboy way. So that’s what I did.
But I have never gotten another cat and I never will. (I have developed allergies to cat and dog hair and can’t live without Zyrtec, Singulair, Mucinex, and an inhaler.)
More importantly, my 18 years with T.C.’er were so special and I still miss her so much every single day that I know no other cat could ever have my heart the way she did. And if it did, I just couldn’t go through saying goodbye again.
I believe in heaven and that we will spend eternity there with all of our loved ones. So I like to think that my parents are looking after T.C.’er, Shivers, Lady, Tramp, Snowball, Barney, Sandy, and Princess. In fact, BigBob and I have joked many times about my father’s faux complaining when we lose a pet: “Oh, great, they’re sending another one for me to take care of!”