I Had My Cat for 17 Years — But Even That Wasn’t Time Enough


Mittens was old, but I didn’t think she would decline in health so fast. I rescued the beautiful longhaired, gray-and-white feline, who was accentuated with a thick undercoat of smoky white, when she was just a couple of months old.

As I grew older and moved away from home, Mittens continued to dwell with my mom and dad.

Several months ago, my mom called me, noting that Mittens had not eaten much for three days, she was sleeping most of the time, and she had little interest in moving about their home. Prior, she had showed signs of weight loss and increased thirst, and she had been wandering in an apparent state of dementia. It wasn’t like Mittens to not eat ÔÇô- the little lady who always wanted a handout of "people food."

My mom noted in her phone message that she believed it was time to let Mittens go. She wanted me to make the final decision, and she knew that I wanted to be present at Mittens’ passing. I made a veterinary appointment for the following day, and we went together.

Over the years I’ve been present with many pets as they were euthanized. None are easy, but some are more expected and allow time for emotional preparation. This call came sooner than I anticipated.

Seventeen years ago I rescued Mittens after I spotted her being carried by a young boy riding his bicycle with a friend. He had Mittens tucked under one of his arms, and her back legs were dangling. I remember him dropping her in the street and picking her up again. I chased the boys on foot for a city block to ask them what they were doing with this baby.

They told me that they found her in a nearby park. A man in a car, they said, dumped her there, noting, "She eats too much." So they were carrying her home to see if their parents would let them keep her. I took her from them, stating with finality, "She’s coming home with me." I was getting married that fall, however, and I could not keep her in the apartment we rented. So she stayed with my parents.

Mittens, named for her white paws, was running a fever of 105 and limping the day I found her. A veterinarian diagnosed her with a broken toe, but the reason for her fever remained unknown. Her toe healed, her fever broke, and she lived her life in a loving home, which saw many cats, one small dog, and a rabbit come and go.

Each fall and winter Mittens blossomed into a pillow of exquisite fluff, and each spring my mom and I would comb her repeatedly to remove it. Her eyes were a brilliant emerald green. She was a talker, a lover, and a purr machine, and she loved to knead her paws and claws into your legs while she was being held on your lap.

When I visited my parents, Mittens would beat me to the back door, meowing to go outside and enjoy life. She loved patrolling my mom’s gardens in a fenced-in yard while I worked. She’d find my mom sitting on a swing and climb onto her lap for love. She was known for sudden bursts of energy, zipping across the yard, scaling a wood deck post and dropping back down to the ground like a sack of flour.

Often we’d find her lapping water from my mom’s pond. She would sprawl out on low-growing perennials to soak up coolness on hot summer days and lie beside the back porch until it was time for dinner. I’d step outside and tell her, "It’s time to eat," and she would jump up, run inside, and assume her position on the dinner table.

We always saved her a spot in one small quadrant of the dining table (beside my mom’s plate) so she could wait for morsels of food. Her front paw would sneak over onto my mom’s plate and steal bits of food, often dangerously dashing in front of my mom’s knife as she was cutting something.

As she aged, Mittens used my father’s knee as she climbed down from the dinner table, making the jump less strenuous. She’d walk across the middle of the table, often stepping in a bowl of food or on a plate just to sit on my lap while I ate. She’d purr and I’d rub her and tell her, "I love you."

Every Christmas she helped me decorate the tree by climbing into the ornament boxes and sitting under the tree enjoying the glow of tiny white lights. She grew fond of the church pastor who visited my parents to give them communion. She loved to meow at him and climb onto his lap to adorn his suit with fur.

In her golden years, she paced back and forth along the kitchen countertop while my mom cooked ÔÇô- stepping over bowls of food, walking on plates, and leaving her fur in our glasses of iced tea.

She could slink up into a chair with you and spread out across your lap for a snooze before you realized it. She also stretched across my mom’s sewing table, swishing her tail across fabric and risking having her fur sewn to material.

Mittens became the matriarch of the household, resting like a mother with all of the other cats and putting them in their place with a growl and a swat when they got out of line.

During her last veterinary visit, I carried Mittens in a small quilt — one that my mom had made, probably while Mittens watched. I held her head in my palm while she was prepared, whispering into her ear, "I love you, Mitt."

Seventeen years ago I held her close and told strangers, "She’s coming home with me." On this last day together I held her close, helping to set her free from an aged, ailing body to be home with our maker.

Read more on senior cats:

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