A cat helped make me who I am today. This may be difficult to understand, but you will once I tell you the story of my beloved cat, Sugar.
There are countless unwanted cats in this world and Sugar appeared to be one of them. Following our next-door neighbor’s financial ‘crisis,’ resulting in them moving out of state, there sat Sugar. I knew nothing of him except his name as I had heard them calling him at times. They could not take him. It was a warm August day when their U-haul pulled out of their driveway, so I didn’t think much of the ‘common’ orange striped cat they left behind. I noticed he was de-clawed on all four paws. I worried. He seemed okay. He wandered the neighborhood as if he owned it. I’d occasionally leave a plate of tuna or meat scraps out. Sugar would accept them gladly. Then, he would wander out into the unknown abyss of his life, doing whatever it is that “street cats” do.
It was only when the cool fall air transitioned into a deep freeze and one of the coldest Idaho winters recorded in years that Sugar became a much bigger concern. My husband was not an avid cat lover like I was. He had never experienced the love of a “family” cat and was highly allergic. So, the battle began. I explained it was necessary to bring Sugar indoors or he might freeze. Despite my husband’s resistance, I decided it was time. I would do what my heart told me was necessary. The intensity of the battle grew, but I knew I would win this one. So, upon returning from work on a particularly frigid evening and seeing Sugar huddled tightly on the abandoned concrete entry of the place he once called “home,” I lured him into our home with some tuna and trepidatiously looked at my husband’s disgruntled face. We stared one another in the eye and he knew. There was no more fighting this battle. It was over and Sugar came out the victor.
First thing was first. This mangy cat had obviously taken a liking to sleeping under cars. His coat was coated in black oil, which he was unable to remove himself. I knew a bath was not going to be the best way to earn this cat’s trust, but I felt I had no choice. As I lured Sugar into the lukewarm water, half expecting to come out a wounded soldier by the time this process was complete, he did not fight me. He did not flinch. No, this cat sat complacently in the warm water and seemed to absorb the warmth into his body with pleasure. I massaged his ears and body with the shampoo and gently rinsed him, then wrapped him in a warm towel. We sat by the fireplace together enjoying the peace and the warmth together. I immediately knew that this cat was special.
The long winter continued. Initially, my husband set some ground rules. I understood. His allergies were severe and I was not willing to push the matter as long as I knew this kitty was okay. Since our home sat vacant for ten hours each day while we participated in the “rat race” of work, school, and life, I made a nice little bed in our utility room with some food, left the door from the garage to the utility room cracked and kept the garage door cracked as well, so he could go do what “street cats” do and still have food and a warm place to sleep.
This method of “caring” for Sugar went on for about a month until I recognized this kitty needed more than food or shelter and I needed to give it to him. So, I began to bring him into our home and allow him to sit on a cozy blanket on my lap or in front of the fireplace and I loved him. I loved this cat that did not expect anything, but appreciated everything. I loved this cat who allowed my two young daughters to dress him in doll’s clothing and funny hats and tote him around like a rag doll. Each night, he would take turns sleeping with one of them on their bed and snuggled into them tightly. Each day, he spent a few hours sitting by the mailbox outside our front door and seemed to ‘meditate’ as he took in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. He knew how to be ‘in the moment.’ He was at peace. I especially loved this cat who slowly began to gain respect and possibly even “love” from my own husband.
I knew nothing about ‘our’ new kitty or his history. He seemed spry enough. My girls loved to play with him and he enjoyed chasing his cat toys. His street life was ‘marked’ by the nicks in his ears and the occasional war wounds he would return home with after a day of exploring. I estimated he was about five years old. I had fallen head-over-heels in love and so had my young daughters. I wanted this cat to be a part of our lives for a long time, so I no longer fed him cheap cat food, but gave him a premium brand that cost much more, regardless of my husband’s grumbling and groaning.
One day we received a serendipitous knock on our front door. I opened it to find a young, college-age girl with a look of uncertainty and concern on her face. “Excuse me,” she began. “I know this may seem like a strange question, but do you know anything about a cat…..” Then, her eyes suddenly wandered past mine into the living room and locked onto something. I turned my head in the direction of where she was looking and there sat Sugar, absorbing some spring sunshine in the middle of the floor.”
“THAT cat!,” she exclaimed! “Sugar was my cat growing up. I left for college a few years ago and learned my parents had to leave him when they moved out of state. I just happened to be in the area and wanted to find out if he was okay.”
The girl proceeded to explain that she was now 21 years old. Her family brought Sugar home as a kitten and she raised him as her own. He cuddled with her every night in bed, just as he did with my girls. He brought her the same joy that he brought us and she missed him dearly. It was then, that I finally was able to calculate Sugar’s age. He was 16 years old!
My mind swirled. My heart sank. Had this girl come to take ‘our’ beloved kitty away? If she wanted to, I certainly wasn’t going to stop her. After explaining to her how much we loved him and how well we cared for him, it took every bit of courage to say, “If you want to take him, you can. I understand. He really is your cat.”
I’m pretty sure the release of my breath could be heard on the other side of the neighborhood when she responded, “No. It’s okay. I’m engaged now and our apartment doesn’t allow cats. I just needed to know he was okay.”
Two more years went by and Sugar stayed as healthy and spry as ever. My hubby no longer resented Sugar. He loved him too. I witnessed a changed man. “I’ve got a lot of respect for this cat,” he would say. I’ll never forget the day I heard a cat fight in our fenced back yard. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest as I ran outside to find our de-clawed kitty pummeling a young neighbor cat. As I raced to break it up, the young cat went tearing over the eight-foot fence with Sugar following close behind. The cat cleared the fence. Sugar nearly made it. He held his own, though. I was so proud.
I noticed Sugar’s enthusiasm was gone early one Saturday morning. It was a beautiful summer day. Normally, he would be out frolicking and taking in the world on a morning like this. Instead, our sweet kitty was huddled under my daughter’s bed. It wasn’t good. He could barely move and had blood and other unknown substances leaking out of his body. My heart broke. My oldest daughter and I solemnly drove him to the 24-hour vet clinic. I explained to her what may happen, although I prayed I was wrong. After some evaluation, we were told that Sugar had an infection, which could most likely be cleared up. However, he also had Kidney Disease (something I already suspected) and his teeth would need to be pulled. They could hardly believe he had been eating all of this time with so much infection in his gums. They told me it must be very painful, although Sugar never showed any sign of it. I was devastated. A decision had to be made. The vet left the room to give us some time to think. Sugar had already been sedated to be put to sleep, but I was the one to decide if he should live or die. I knew what needed to happen. It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to face on my own.
I explained to my daughter that Sugar had lived a good, respectful life. If he continued to live, he would no longer have this life. He would most likely be weak and experience pain and suffering. She agreed. We cried heartfelt tears as we said goodbye to our honorable kitty. We told him he was special. We told him he would be okay. We thanked him for being a part of our lives and gave him hundreds of hugs and kisses.
As we exited the building carrying nothing but a weighted cardboard box, we sobbed, oblivious to the staring patrons surrounding us in the waiting room. I sincerely hoped that none of them would have to experience this that day.
We buried Sugar right where he belonged. In our back yard. His ‘stomping ground’ where he could continue to frolic and be the wise warrior that he always was. Occasionally, I believed I saw Sugar wandering our house or ‘meditating’ in his favorite spot by the mailbox. No, Sugar was not dead. I knew he would continue to sweeten our lives forever as we remembered him and the wisdom he taught us. He was a warrior. He fought through every battle with strength and dignity. I will always honor him by doing the same.