by Claudine Wright
When we think of the word “relationships” our thoughts immediately go to our associations
with other people. Yet the reality of relationships is much broader. We can have relationship to material things – men puzzle over women’s relationship to shoes, women marvel at men’s relationship to cars, or tools, or any number of electronic gadgets. But there is another relationship that can be every bit as intense as the human-to-human relationship, and sometimes even more so, and that is the human/animal partnership.
Several weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to my beloved cat, Cassidy. I had agreed to adopt
him thirteen years ago, sight unseen, to prevent him from going to a shelter without a “no-kill” policy. He was already a year old, and there often isn’t a long tenure for older cats in a no-kill shelter. I couldn’t bear the thought of an animal being put to sleep, especially if I could something to prevent it, so I agreed to take him even though I hadn't seen him.
Cassidy arrived, all thirteen pounds of him, with his then owner one summer afternoon. As soon as she put him down, he dashed up the stairs, used his paw to force open every closet door, and after thoroughly exploring every nook and cranny of the apartment, ran down the stairs, sat on the kitchen floor and began to clean himself. Clearly, he felt he had come home. Dawn, the young woman who had to give him up, handed me the leash she had bought for him, along with a half-full bag of IAMS dry cat food. I promised her I would take good care of him. She left in tears.
Over the next thirteen years, Cassidy and I developed what I believe to be an unusual bond.
Every pet owner thinks his or her animal is unique and perhaps I am no different, but having had cats all my life, including Cassidy’s companion cat, Molly, I know that all cats are not created equal, nor do they behave thus. Very dog-like in his behavior, Cassidy would greet me at the door when I came home and follow me around the house. He was not your typical let-me-rub-my-head-against-you kind of cat. He had more dignity than that. But he wanted to be near me at all times. When I worked at the computer, he would sit curled up on the printer. He could anticipate when I was about to print something, and would get up to sit on the printer table and do his best to “catch” each sheet of paper as it emerged.
His antics were manifold, and I remember them with a gentle fondness and an equal twinge
of sadness, but what I miss most is the unspoken communication we had. I didn’t tell my cat about my day, or my problems, as some people do. For many, that is a worthwhile function that pets perform—an uncritical, non-judgmental ear. Even though I spoke to him constantly, with Cassidy and I, the communication was mostly non-verbal. With his amazingly large gooseberry green eyes, Cassidy would gaze into my own unblinking for what seemed like minutes at a time. Unlike dogs who tend to think of stares as threats, most cats will hold your gaze, and Cassidy would maintain my gaze longer than most. At those times, I felt a connection that I still have difficulty putting into words. I felt in touch with life, with something deep and mystical; I felt a communion with something much larger than my myself or a mere cat. It was a communication at the level of the soul. If there is such a thing as an animal soul mate, then he was certainly mine.
I will miss the way he would gently tap my eyelids to wake me up the mornings and press his claws into my cheeks ever so slightly when I tried to ignore him. Or the way he would
“complain” when I banished him upstairs for fighting with Molly, but what I’ll miss most of all is the unspoken communication we had.
When I was considering the decision to put him down, I thought of the fact that he would no longer look at me. Time and time again I would turn his face to mine and try to connect as we had done in the past, but he would look away. I knew in my heart it was time, but I wanted to fight. When I took him on that very difficult trip to the veterinary clinic for the last time, the vet, not knowing our history, said to me when I kept insisting that he looked “well”.
“Do you know what I see when I look into his eyes? I see a cat who says, ‘You’ve done all
you can, and it’s time for me to go’”. I knew she was right, but I needed the rest of the day to make the decision. I left him in the hospital for several hours, and went back in the evening to bid him goodbye.
My only regret—well one of my regrets – was that I opted to have him sedated before he was brought in to be with me for the last time. His eyes were no less beautiful, but they were unseeing. I couldn’t lock eyes with him one last time. As I held him in those last moments, I recounted his life with me. I reminded him of the first time we met, all the time we spent getting to know each other, the good times we'd had, and how much I would miss him. I would like to think that at some level he heard me, felt my hand stroking him, and that he went to the place where the souls of animals go, and that he remembered that for the thirteen years of his life with me, he was loved. Unconditionally.