Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In Honor of the Little Orange Cream Cat

Little Miss Holly

As a general rule, cats tend to live longer than dogs.
At least that has been my personal experience. While my dogs seldom live past thirteen, I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with four cats who graced me with upwards of nineteen years of life. None of them started with me younger, smaller, and more helpless than Holly.

Named for the Canadian Jazz singer Holly Cole, Little Miss Holly came into my life as a starving handful of naked feral kitten whose mother had been killed and who herself was on the verge of death. Feedings every two hours transformed that tiny handful of cat into a tiny armful of cat - at her biggest Little Miss never topped seven or eight pounds. She tended to be around six.

Holly was born in Northern Washington at a time when I was living in Vancouver, Canada. I had made a long weekend trip into the States with some friends whose parents owned a lake house...and ended up smuggling Holly back into Canada (shhhh) because there was no way she would survive a vet inoculation at that point. We honestly didn't think she'd live through the weekend, and every day when she made it through another day we were a little surprised and encouraged.

When she was about eight months old, and between four and five pounds I took her in to be spayed - the idea of this delicate little cat accidentally getting out and getting pregnant freaked me out. The anesthesia nearly took  her life. I was allowed to take her home in a semi-coma, cold to the touch but still breathing because the vet couldn't do anything else for her and I wanted her to die with me if it was her time. Fortunately, it wasn't. Once again this little trooper fought back from the brink and hung onto life.

Since then Holly has helped me rehabilitate and train a steady parade of dogs. She would do her part to teach them manners by scolding them if I had to talk to the dog in a sharp voice - she was also my enforcer. When I was working with Jenny and Jenny wasn't listening Holly would give her a sharp meow, run over and smack Jenny on the nose with a soft little paw as a reminder that I was the boss. Holly also used to scold my Rottweiler and my Boxer for similar poor behavior. The bigger the dog, the more likely Holly was to scold them if she didn't think they were listening closely enough. Her attitude was, size is no excuse for bad behavior.

Her hard start in life did not leave my kitten without her scars. For years she would race around the house, staring at the walls like she heard voices coming from them. She also had a habit of sitting next to me but staring behind my head like there was something always just about to get me...it could be a little unnerving late at night and I had two roommates in a row who insisted the houses we were in must be haunted. I think it was Little Miss' brain that was haunted but I didn't mind.

I had one roommate in Vancouver who was an opera singer. In the morning when she did her warm up vocals Holly would come running from wherever she was and get right in my roommate's face, close to her mouth and meow as my roommate sang. Holly became very practiced at warm up vocals. A person singing always brought her running to contribute her meows and the little kitty chatter she had, almost like she was seeing a bird.Something about vocalization always excited her.

Holly settled down in her middle age, gained a whole two pounds and didn't seem to be bothered by voices any more. She almost passed for a 'regular' cat and would allow strangers to see her. Somewhere around the age of sixteen though, she began to regress, hiding from more people. This past year, at seventeen, she started hiding from my family when they visited, even my sister who was once my roommate and Holly's friend.

In the past six months, some of Holly's feral behavior started to return. We've made a lot of little adjustments since then...I didn't realize how many until this past month when the reality of another stay in the hospital arose for me. As I was thinking about all the directions necessary for someone else to look after Holly -- and then realized she wouldn't even show herself to a stranger -- I realized that our lives together were nearing an end.

It is usually difficult to say goodbye to an old friend.
It is even harder when you've raised them from a little helpless handful into a strong willed personality.

I've always believed though that the last act of kindness we owe our animal companions is saving them from painful, frightened, end of life experiences.

When a animal becomes senile to the point that we can no longer offer them the comfort and stability they need to be comfortable, then it is time to let them go. Even when saying goodbye is so difficult for us.

Thank you Little Miss for all the splendid years together.
Your tiny paws left mighty tracks in my life.


  1. Hi Christy: I am in Maine at my friend Heidi's gorgeous ocean cove front cabin with her lovely golden Magic.

    I read your post laughing and teary- eyed. What a lovely way to honor your sweet, complicated, odd, fascinating liltle old girl. I am sorry for your loss, but glad you found a way to memorialize her and grieve and share your joy and adventures with your quirky beloved pet.

    Acting to ease our pets' suffering is always the right thing, even if it is hard and even if it is to avoid their fear and stress in a tough time a few months from a more natural end. Good for her that you made this choice, she was very lucky that you saved her and integrated her into your pet "clan" where she could have an enriched life she would never have otherwise had. She was a lucky, lucky girl from five weeks old until her peaceful death yesterday.

    I know you will mourn her over the coming days, weeks, months. I hope you also go forward toward your surgery healthy and ready and recovery quickly and smoothly. I am glad you have a lot of help, as always, let me know when I can help, all the best, Kathy

  2. Hi Kathy,
    Sounds like a very lovely place to be in :-) and good company - can't ask for much more than that.

    I found that writing about Holly helped me come to grips with the realness of the need. There were good and bad moments. Not so good when the vet tech questioned if I'd tried to think of other options because Holly still "looked" good.
    Better when the vet herself was kind and compasionate and reminded me that Holly's quick fade after the muscle relaxant showed she wasn't as strong as she looked.

    Holly was always helping me find new experiences. Like the time we were driving back to upper Michigan for Christmas with the family and a snow storm started. My windshield wiphers were clogging up so I jumped out to knock them off, closing the door behind me so a cat didn't jump out into the highway.

    My little helper hoped up on the door to watch me, setting off the electronic locks and locking me out of the car without my jacket...cause I was just hopping out. This was on a not too travled road. I got to stand leaning against the car while two vehicles that did happend by kept driving without slowing down.

    I got lucky when a woman who was delivering newspapers saw me, turned around and came back to see if I was actually okay - it was after all a snow storm. She drove me several miles to a small gas station - the only one in town - and it didn't even have a public restroom. It took over an hour to get a tow truck from another town to come and break into my car. The whole time the car is still running so the cats are warm....

    And when all was said and done, I didn't have any cash and the guy wasn't set up to take my credit card! He gave me his long drive and services as an early Christmas present. I had never been so humbled.

    Holly was a real teacher ;-) She was also very pleased to see me when I finally got back in the car and gave me a little lick as if to say, "wasn't that interesting!"

  3. Oh my gosh, what a whopper of a story.... She is especially lucky you let her come back home after locking you out.

    I am giving that vet tech a couple slaps upside the head mentally. When I made the horrific decision to put Gilly down there were people I did not talk to who I knew would fight me on it. And a couple people who gave subtle signs after of fighting me on it. Their support would have been a comfort. I was able to shrug off the lack of it pretty well. As Jon Katz says in his book, you took marvelous, loving care of her, you made the right decision for the two of you. Honor her memory by treasuring all the care and thought you took with putting her down when it was right.

  4. Lol, I always tell new writers, sometimes the truth is too weird to be believable fiction.