It was over two decades ago during my first year of vet school that I lost my childhood cat, Blackie, and found myself going with a mentor to select two new cats to adopt from the colony that lived at his farm. It was with a heavy and reluctant heart I looked over the crowd, drawn by their dinner of cat food spread in a wide dish in the center of the barn floor. I didn't want another cat, I was still grieving the loss of Blackie, but we lived in an old country house and mice were a very real issue out there.
From the many cats of varying ages, colours and sizes one that I picked was a small orange-and-white female who we named Ginger. I chose her because she was one of the last cats still eating at the communal food bowl after everyone else had dispersed, I figured a good appetite and persistence meant she was probably robust and healthy. I was right. Today, at just shy of 23 years of age, we said goodbye to Ginger.
In those first years in Prince Edward Island she learned to hunt, and what a hunter she was! While we lived in the old house she kept the mouse population in check. When we later moved to Saskatchewan her hunting options were greatly reduced but that was fine by her, she was just as happy to sit in the sun.
However, once in a while she would catch something, but instead of making a gift to us of a dead mouse or bird she would give it to Michael (the lovely but dumb-as-a-post three-legged cat). He would toss his 'prey' in the air proud as punch as she sat somewhere nearby grooming her paws and watching him smugly.
|Vomit on me one more time Michael...|
On one of our numerous cross-country (and inter-country) moves she even sat with Michael in the back of the car. At least until his motion sickness got the better of him and he vomited on her head., at which point Michael was banished and it was several days before he made it back into Ginger's good graces again.
Ginger was an old soul. Never really excitable, she loved to get affection, she loved to sit in the sun and contemplate life, she loved to take a little walk about the yard and nibble some grass and most of all she loved her food....
She was heathy most of her life, except for a mild rhinitis that flared up from time to time. She developed thyroid issues in the past few years and, as is common for old cats, some mild kidney issues. Over the past months though her health had started to deteriorate with a few low points followed by a rally when we made changes to her treatment.
We've said goodbye to many (many) pets over the years and one thing we've observed is that if you are paying attention they usually will tell you when it's time. She had significantly declined in the past week and this morning she just looked spent and was having trouble walking. True to her nature she still ate a bit for us when we brought her a fresh can of Friskies, but you could see in her eyes how tired she was. We knew that today it was time.
We sat in the warm Caribbean sun on our back patio. She had some food and water and then just slept while I stroked her. Placing the catheter barely bothered her. When we had said our goodbyes and started to inject the barbiturate she sighed once and left us.
We are sad, of course. It is the sorrow of loss. It is the empty space she has left in our household.
But at the same time it's hard to feel too sad when we think about her life. She was happy and healthy for close to twenty-three years. She has lived in many places; from the east coast of Canada to the broad prairies, from the suburbs of Chicago to a remote town six thousand feet up in the Colorado mountains, from the freezing cold of Saskatchewan to the tropical heat of St. Kitts. She was an elegant old lady and lived a long and full life.
So we are sad, but at the same time we are happy for a good life, well lived.
Tonight we raise a glass to Ginger!