What I Learned

It is amazing how animals integrate themselves into our lives and change things completely. I didn’t grow up with lots of animals in the house. Always independent, I grew up with visions of freedom, endless travel and nothing to tie me down – no husband, no children, no pets – just me and the open road.

Before I adopted Shakespeare, I went through cold feet with two other cats first. I just didn’t like the feeling of responsibility – it was scary and even sufficating. I probably wouldn’t have brought Shakespeare home either if she hadn’t chosen me first. She and I adapted to each other like two peas in a pod – she’s about as independent in nature as me, so it worked. I still travelled a lot and felt bad leaving her alone, so I thought I’d add one more member to our household – no more for fear of being labelled “The Cat Lady” – you know, that stereotypical middle aged woman running around in a housecoat talking to her animals like they were people. Things never do go according to plan do they?

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In 2002 I adopted Dickens and his sister Marlowe. They had been found without their mother in an abandoned house. When they were found, the third member of their litter was already dead. They probably wouldn’t have been discovered if it hadn’t been for Dickens. Marlowe was in pretty bad shape and Dickens was laying over her and crying, loudly. His strong, clear meow saved them both from likely starvation. After going through that together, there was no way I could separate them, so they both came home with me – to date, probably the most spontaneous major decision I have ever made. I didn’t know it then, but I had started myself on the road to emotional maturity.

Over the next eight years, Dickens became my nap buddy, my mischief maker, and my foot warmer when writing this blog. He was a big, fluffy teddy bear, topping the scales at over 30 pounds at one point. He loved to bang cabinet doors, call to me endlessly from the top of the stairs so I would play cat and mouse with him, and wake me up at the butt crack of dawn.

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Early last year I got yet another curve ball, Dickens was diagnosed with diabetes. He and I both had to adjust to him getting two shots a day – one every 12 hours without exception. I had to log in everything – the time of his shots, his bathroom habits, his behavior. We went through weeks of food changes and endless strict feeding time adjustments. We dealt with urinary tract infections, diarrhea, weight loss, and weekly trips to the vet for glucose tests.

My entire life changed. Nothing came before making sure Dickens got his shot on time – not work, not my social life, not travel. Through it all, Dickens handled every shot without complaint and still curled up with me like nothing was wrong. Every single day, regardless of how he felt, he greeted me at the door when I came home. Almost every night he wiggled his way into the crook of my arm while I read. He continued to be the first at the side of the bed when I woke up each morning.

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Three weeks ago we hit another bump in the road. I noticed him breathing funny. By the time I got him to the vet, his lungs were filled with fluid, his blood pressure was out of wack and his heart painfully enlarged. It was decision time.

Although it was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, it was the right one. Dickens had suffered enough and he’d done so with dignity and grace. Some people will say – “he was just a cat, get over it.” True enough. But, just because he was an animal doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lesson to be learned, a moral to the story that I was supposed to get. Through it all, Dickens taught me emotional courage, strength of character and the fact that life does go on, even when you don’t think it will. I am a better and stronger person because this cat was in my life for an all too brief moment.

Rest in Peace Big Gray.

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