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Farewell, Cleopatra; You Kept Me Sane, Happy, and Loved

My cat's recent death forced me to take a hard look at what I really want for myself, and for the first time in my life, I know what that is.

Vanessa Pinto  |  Apr 27th 2016


When I stopped writing full-time, I started a paralegal/personal assistant business of my own — and my clients took over my whole world. Somewhere in all that, I had a close relationship that drained me emotionally, psychologically, and physically. The only thing that kept me sane, happy, and loved was my beloved calico, Cleo.

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Here’s Cleo on my chest, as usual.

I had Cleo — short for Cleopatra — for 11 and a half years. I adopted her from a shelter in San Luis Obispo. (I’ve rescued all my pets.) I went to the shelter looking for adult cats rather than kittens because, much like adopting children, everyone wants a baby and I wanted to see the cats who had less of a chance.

As I walked through the kennels I felt a paw tap me on the shoulder; I turned to my right, and that was the first time I saw Cleo. I asked the attendant to take her out of the cage. As soon as the person handed her to me, she put her face in the crook of my arm and started purring. Cleo chose me; I loved her from that very second and never stopped.

Cleo was my partner: She moved with me; she kept me company; she was there for every good and bad thing that happened in my life. All of my friends, lovers, and clients knew Cleo — the kitty who ruled with an iron paw. Every party I had, she was there. She let people pet her and was never skittish; Cleo loved attention. When people came to the house, she assumed they came to see her. Cleo was the best part of my day.

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My Cleo.

On March 7, close to 5 a.m., Cleo woke me. At first I thought she was playing but I realized very quickly something was very wrong with my sweet kitty cat. When I picked her up to place her on the bed, her back legs gave out. Her front paws worked fine but she rolled like a roly-poly because she could not use her back legs at all. I saw the panic in her eyes, and her breathing was labored.

Her vet was open 24 hours, and I took her in immediately. They rushed Cleo downstairs and the nurse walked me into an exam room. The vet came in and when I looked at her, I knew she had words I was not prepared for. She said, “I’m really sorry but I don’t have good news.”

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Cleo, again, always laying on me.

Cleo had a heart condition. At a checkup three months earlier, the vet said she was in great shape, and with her type of heart condition it would go one of two ways. One, little blood clots could shoot out, and we’d put her on medication. In the worst case scenario, a huge clot would form, paralyzing her back legs and sending her into heart failure, which would kill her. And here it was; as soon as this vet started explaining, I realized Cleo was experiencing the worst case scenario.

I had to put Cleo down. There was nothing they could do to save her.

“You know this happens a lot to cats,” the vet said. “It’s something that’s common. But what’s odd is that most cats are screaming in pain, and she’s not. She’s clearly in pain but she’s meowing; that is one tough kitty cat you have there. She was still purring when I examined her.”

That’s my Cleo. Much like her momma, she is always a lady, and a lady knows how to exit. The vet said that because of Cleo’s condition, I could not sit with her when they put her down. But because she was doing so well in the moment, they would shoot her up with morphine so I could say goodbye.

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Cleo, my magnificent beast.

I walked into a very cold, sterile environment. I saw my Cleo laying there looking like she always did — high as a kite and exceptionally happy — but she didn’t look like she was about to die. They left us alone and we had a talk. I petted her and she purred and I thanked her for picking me to be her person. Cleo picked me to give her a life, and she picked me to help her leave this world. I told her I was sorry it had to go like this and I kissed her. I told her to say hi to Dad, and I would see them both on the other side. When I came home, I felt like I was on drugs but I was completely sober.

People often say I live in a big house, but I never thought it was that big. Yet after Cleo died, this house seemed huge because all the love that lived in it was gone. The first week was the hardest; I never realized how much space, energy, and love that little kitty gave me. I didn’t rescue Cleo the day I got her at the animal shelter, she rescued me. No matter what happened in my life, no matter how bad or sad, there she was. It’s been very hard to adjust; sometimes I think I hear her, or I forget she’s not here. My birthday was March 28; I had planned a big party on March 26, but I cancelled it the day she died. I can’t celebrate without her right now.

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Here’s Cleo on the fence.

Death, whether it’s a person or an animal, really upends you. Death brings change, whether we like it or not. Death is the big question mark — what happens when we die? It forces us to look at our lives and re-evaluate what is really important and what isn’t. I used to say, “I know what I don’t want, but I have no idea what I actually want.” Cleo’s death forced me to take a hard look and figure out what I really want for myself. I did a lot of soul searching, and for the first time in my life, I know what it is. I won’t share that, because it’s also my birthday wish. So I will keep it to myself for a while.

I have had an extraordinary life. I had an amazing father who shaped me into the woman I am today. I came to San Francisco to be a lawyer and somehow I ended up as a writer and a business owner. Being a writer is not easy; usually you have to try and try again. I didn’t have to try very hard to get noticed; I was very lucky. For some reason, people liked reading my work, and they still do. I have worked in the amazing world of adult entertainment, seen and done things most people only get to watch on the internet. I have traveled; I have loved and been loved. I have a wonderful family — some blood, and the rest a family of my own choosing. I have been blessed to have a variety of friends, and they make my life very interesting.

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Cleo on the prowl.

And I had a cat, a cat who loved me so much. I realize that Cleo was the reason I never felt alone. Animals love you so purely and unconditionally; they bring us joy, company, and a friend for life. While I process all of this, I wonder what life will bring next, and I look forward to a change. I had no desire to celebrate my birthday this year. Instead, I took the day off; I headed to the nail shop and then to my happy place — a 14,000-square-foot spa, where everything is perfect and just for me. I just wanted a quiet day, so I chose a day of self-care and reflection.

It’s never too late to do something different, no matter how old you are. Life is what we make of it, and I’m not done yet. Do something you never thought you would do; you will be amazed what you are capable of when you realize that, even as adults, we can be better, happier people. For all of you who are pet owners, kiss your sweet perfect beasts for me. I’d give anything to snuggle Cleo again.