Mr. Lucky and I got married in September 1994. The following summer, right around the 4th of July, we went to visit my sister who had moved to Lexington from Cuba, where she’d been living with her husband and kids. As per usual, Cuba was experiencing some unrest at the time and military dependents were sent back to the States for their protection. Her husband had to stay there to finish out his tour of duty so she came to Ky with two kids and a few cats.
The day we arrived, she introduced us to her cats and pointed out one that was sleeping on her couch didn’t really live there – he was just visiting. I laughed and questioned what she meant. Apparently within just a few days of her moving in to the rental house she was to be in until their next assignment came through – a stray male cat showed up, looking for a warm spot to snuggle. She knew she couldn’t keep yet another cat, in case they had to leave the States again on their next assignment. So she said, “Why don’t you take him home with YOU?”
After begging Mr. Lucky, my oldest daughter Suki (who was about 9 at that time) and I managed to get him to agree to bring the cat home with us. We named him Shadow and he immediately fit right in with our small family. We actually had plans to go camping the very first weekend he was here so after much discussion… we decided to take him with us. (Who takes a cat camping?)
We set up our tent and started a fire and settled in to play some games. The first few hours he paroled the area around our campsite, never getting out of our sight for long – almost as if he was making sure we weren’t planning to leave him there. He finally settled in for a nap nearby and that night, slept right in the tent with us. I knew by the end of the weekend that he was going to be a great pal to have around.
Over the years, I’d laugh at his casual attitude toward us. He would sit on the arm of the chair I was in or on the headrest (with his tail flipping around and whacking me in the face occasionally) but never in my lap. I could pick him up and snuggle him in my arms for a few minutes and he tolerated it with a calm reserve, but when I’d set him back down, he’d shake his fur out and give me an expression of disgust – something we began to call his “stink face” – a look that clearly said he was annoyed with us. He had the personality of a true cat – independent, calm, aloof, and often, downright invisible. Oh, he was around – just usually off asleep somewhere until he got hungry!
There was a point in time a few years after we brought him home that he just vanished. I hung “Lost Cat” signs all over our neighborhood and called the vets office, hoping someone would find him and turn him in. He was wearing a collar and a rabies tag – surely they’d know he had a home. Months and months passed. I mourned him, as if he were dead and gone.
Finally, one day out of the blue, the vets office DID call – saying he’d been located about 5 miles away. A family had been feeding him for several weeks and when the woman’s young son had tried to pick him up, Shadow had bit the boy on the cheek. Suddenly it became urgent for the woman to find the owner, so she was tracking us by the rabies tag on his collar. (Which she should have done in the first place, duh.) During the months he’d been missing, his rabies tag had expired so I guess she was worried about her boy – rightfully so – but it really annoyed me that she’d been feeding my cat for weeks, without ever bothering to find out who his family was until he did something wrong!
The vet advised me to carefully go pick him up – in case he had been exposed to a rabid animal… mainly because I kept saying that it didn’t sound like him to BITE someone. I was worried that he might be half crazed out of his mind with illness! I drove out to the woman’s house with a can of tuna and my pet carrier. I opened the can of tuna and set it inside the carrier as I rounded the corner to the back of the house, as I was told he was laying on the back porch. My plan was just to lure him into the carrier with food and quickly close the door, thinking if he was sick and biting people – I didn’t want to be next!! (I was about 8 months pregnant with Beebo at the time and was afraid to risk her health or mine if he was sick).
As soon as I came around the house, he took one look at me and jumped up, purring loudly and ran toward me. In moments he was rubbing all over my legs in his joy to see me. I knew at a glance he was NOT sick at all – but I still put him in the carrier and brought him home, mainly because the woman was glaring at me with an evil eye – as if it was my fault. Within minutes of arriving home with him, a man from the Department of something-something showed up, needing to check him out since he had bitten the child and the parents had reported it. I ended up keeping Shadow in a cage for 10 days, the quarantine period, to ensure he was NOT sick – which is the state requirement when an animal has bitten someone and there is no proof of proper rabies vaccination. In our case, we had proof – it had just expired since he’d been gone for so long. The man returned on the 10th day to see him and said, “Let the poor guy out of there. He definitely used up one of his 9 lives on this ordeal!”
I went that very day and got his shots updated.
Shadow never wandered away for long after that, thank goodness. Even though sometimes he’d disappear overnight. I’d always fuss at him, telling him he better not be using up all of his lives, out there – running the roads. I kept asking him if he had a lady-friend somewhere he’d go visit but he sure never was one to kiss and tell.
As he mellowed in his old age, he realized sitting in my lap was actually pretty warm and snugly. It reached the point where he wouldn’t sit anywhere but IN your lap, if at all possible. It was kind of funny to watch him change so much as he got old.
We always counted the 4th of July as his birthday – since that was the weekend we brought him home – although the vet estimated him to be 2 years old when he came to live with us. So this July, he would have been 19 years old. That’s really old for a cat, huh? I think it is, anyway.
On Friday, May 4th – my sweet boy ran out of his 9 lives. Over recent months, he had been showing signs of losing his hearing. And Mr. Lucky swears up and down Shadow was losing his mind – wandering through the house bellowing at the top of his lungs. He’d wake me from a dead sleep by meowing so loud I thought someone was screaming!
Here comes the hardest part to say……
I killed him.
He was asleep under my van. I didn’t know, of course. I came out of the house to go pick up my daughters from school. He often slept under the van but he always heard the front screen door open and close and he’d come out from under the van, stretching and yawning. On his final day, I’d even opened the sliding doors on my van to empty out some trash and closed them back. He never came out so I never, not even for a moment, thought about him being under there.
Until I started backing up and heard a big THUMP.
And then I saw him – it was as if he jumped up to run and couldn’t – instead his poor body flipped around a few times, until he collapsed on his side. I ran to him, touching him, petting his side, screaming prayers. It was awful. I knew there was a small blanket in the van, I’d just seen it. I ran back to get it and picked him up, laying him on the blanket. I saw three droplets of blood fall from his mouth as I moved him. Before I could even get my brain wrapped around what had just happened, he took a final shuttering breath and left this earth.
I have cried until I can’t cry any more. I feel overwhelmed with guilt. I know he was old and he lived a good life and I knew his days were numbered – they’d have to be for a 19 year old cat. But never, EVER, in my wildest dreams, did I think that sweet boy would die at MY HAND.
I love you, sweet boy. Please forgive me.