In my family, we have a wonderful history of getting rid of cats, birds, dogs and Nintendo games years before their natural decline. They made too much noise, they peed in the house, they became a bother.
My brother and I were guilty of the same sins, but for some reason our parents decided to keep us. Darn laws.
But those were my parents’ pets that were given to farms, retirement homes and other euphemisms for the local animal shelter.
The only pet I’ve ever owned, an orange tabby named Cassandra I received on my 13th birthday, also is the only animal to ever make it to middle age in our household.
She no longer lives with me, choosing the life of comfort with my parents in southern Indiana over the rough-and-tumble streets of Sycamore, a place my brother’s fiancee’s stepmother compared to Mayberry, U.S.A.
I get monthly reports on her, and I occasionally talk to Cass on the phone. (Yes, I acknowledge this is completely insane. But what can I do? My mother puts the cat up to the phone and tells me, “Talk to the cat.” We exchange niceties, and my mother gets back on the line. It’s completely insane.)
I never thought of Cass becoming old until I read “Marley and Me,” a book about a guy and his crazy Labrador retriever that eventually passes away of old age after years of destroying the house.
Since reading the book, I distinctly remember my mother telling me Cass is beginning to have trouble getting up the steps. And that she’s taken to following my mother around like a lost little puppy. Even when it’s not dinner time. In human years, she’s a senior citizen.
Cass even eats her supper at 4 p.m. now. Sadly, it’s never an actual early bird.
While I’m sort of glad I don’t have to watch the cat I raised slowly decline, it hurts that I’ll miss the last few years of her life. And I’m already dreading that phone call I get from my mother one day.
I’ll probably cry when that day comes. I may even bawl. But I’ll always treasure Cass, despite the incessant meowing for food, the hair balls on the carpet and her tendency to lay on a newspaper any time I tried to read it.
Just like Marley’s owner, you love your pets despite their problems, sometimes even because of them. And letting go is a million times harder than cleaning up a mess.