Sunday, October 01, 2006

Not Just a Cat

My childhood memories of Sunday School have become a blur of choruses of “Jesus Loves Me” (not the Whitney Houston rendition) and memorizing the Lord’s Prayer for prizes of candy bars and prayer cards. One particular lesson, however, still sticks with me.

The topic was heaven. We were not at an age where we had serious theological debates, but were nonetheless old enough to have some notion of death and the afterlife, at least as much as anyone understands such things. Some precocious child (it wasn’t me) asked if our pets would go to heaven when they died, and I remember distinctly what our Sunday School teacher said as she tried to answer the question. "Only people go to heaven," she said. "The Bible says that animals will return to dust.” She quickly changed the topic, content that we wouldn’t question the authority of statements that begin with ‘the Bible says…’.

I suspect she wasn’t expecting that question, and she was even less prepared for the discussion that should accompany it: the concept of soul. The notion of the human soul is problematic enough, but what about those of our four-legged friends? I remember that at the time, I couldn’t imagine my cat suddenly turning to dust and I also doubted that there could be a heaven that didn’t have puppies and kittens. I still have the same basic reaction as my eight-year-old self; I don’t want to go to any place, especially for eternity, where my pets aren't also welcome.

These days, I’m not religious enough to dwell much on thoughts about eternity, but concepts like love and loss, birth and death have been at the forefront of my mind this past week. I lost my cat Ullrick to cancer on Wednesday. He had been losing weight and eating poorly for the last week, so I took him into the vet. When I made the initial appointment on Tuesday, I had no idea he would turn out to be so sick.

The next morning, I said goodbye to Ullrick at the vet's office on Wednesday with the knowledge that he might not be coming home. I had a feeling that would be the last time that I would see him, and a phone call around 4 pm confirmed that feeling. He had a lump in his lymph node that was inoperable and untreatable. Rather than bring him home just so I could spend a few more days with him, I made the decision to let him stay asleep since he was already under general anesthetic.

Since Ullrick left me, I’ve been asking myself if I made the most of the short time that I had with him. There could have been more walks in the park and more snuggles in the bed, but I can’t go back and change that now. It doesn’t help me, and it won’t bring him back, to dwell on such thoughts, but it can remind me that I have another cat who needs all of the love I can give her right now – and I need all the love that she can give me.

I’ve experienced a whole gamut of emotions – sorrow, disbelief, denial, anger, shock. At times, maybe there have even been hints of reconciliation and acceptance, but I don’t think I’m there yet. It mostly doesn’t seem real…Monday night he was curled up in his ‘puddy basket’ (as in Sylvester the "puddy tat") with his (not-so) little sister, Tuesday was an excruciating day at the vet’s, and Wednesday he was gone. Now it’s Sunday night and I’m still struggling to come to terms with it all. I've spent a large chunk of the last few days curled up in bed with Vessa and looking at pictures of Ullrick.

I’ve been very lucky this week in that I’m surrounded by animal lovers, both in real life and online. I’ve been very touched by the outpouring of thoughts and well wishes I’ve received in my inbox. Mamma Mu was staying with me this week and was a lifesaver in that she went to the vet’s to pick up the empty carrier and pay the bill for me. I’m not sure I could have handled it myself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the prevalence of “pet bloggers” and humans’ tendency to anthropomorphize their animals. (It’s nothing new; the ancient Egyptians even deified their felines in the form of the cat goddess Bast). Jokes about lack of opposable thumbs aside, there is a human behind every cat, and I think it’s our way of giving them a voice. It’s also a way to express our love for them, because it taps into a community of animal lovers who care for their pets as much as we do.

Although I miss him dearly, I don’t regret a single second of the last nine months I spent with Ullrick. He was still a baby when he came to live with me, and I watched him grow into a handsome cat. I saw his immediate affection for his little sister when we brought her home, and those big green alien eyes always seemed to see right into my soul, as if he could read my mind.

I’m glad I could tell when there was something wrong in his little body, and despite the sorrow, I know that the final decision was the right one. I would have figured out how to pay for it if there was a treatment that would have given him a fighting chance, but I have to trust that the veterinarian would have given me those options had such existed.

I know that sometimes people who have never loved or been loved by an animal might have a hard time understanding how you can be so shaken up over the death of a pet. “It’s just a cat,” they might say.

But Ullrick wasn’t just a cat. You see, he was my cat and I was his person. He didn’t belong to me; we belonged to each other. I’m counting on the fact that if there is a heaven, the souls that belong to each other will be together.


Blogger nels, ed, nitro, and/or xing said...

oh, my dear woman. every sentence, every word--i've felt it all so many times, but never articulated it so clearly, so well. please accept my heartfelt condolences.

what an extraordinary person you are. sweet ullrick was as lucky to have you as you were to have him--you have seen the truth of it: we are all parts of the same soul, and will be whole again eventually.

consider yourself hugged warmly, and vessa skritched thoroughly, by

cheryl (the missouri meowers' mom)

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh sweetheart, very sorry for your loss.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Johan said...

As a current servant to two cats and a long time reader of your blog, I'm really sorry to hear that Ullrick is gone.
My condoleances to you and Vessa

5:03 PM  
Anonymous mia said...

I am so sorry to hear this. Of course Ullrick is in heaven now. What nonsense that animals shouldn't have souls!

Thanks to you this little guy had a great life the little time he got - and that is something noone can take away from you. Love survives death. :)


9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(not anonymous, simply at loggerheads with Blogger's ident system)

Too bad about Ullrick, Grrrl, and your grief is heartfelt; but did you by any chance catch the report on Svt/ABC Monday eve., on the ugly trend of abandonned "summer cats," that only now find their way into animal- shelters in our ABC- counties? The all-black litter of 7 (count'em! one could call them after the Seven Dwarwes!) were especially cute!

No, not one could replace Ullrick for you, but maybe your pain could be alleviated somehow by taking care of a new, helpless cat- being, and (AGAIN) watching it grow into the PROPRIETOR OF TOPMOST SHELF OF THE SOCIAL LADDER[tm] of your home?


(there ought to be a video of the report with them WAY-CUTE KITTIES on )

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No video, and not "ABC," but "Lilla Aktuellt's" page with no less cutey felines and a live link to katthem m.m. with lots of links/ addresses to Cats-In-Need sort of.

Show me the Cuties!


12:52 PM  
Blogger hanna said...

Oh honey, you know I'm so sorry for your loss, he was a lovely lovely boy. And I hope, and believe, that your pain will diminish with time even though the memories and the love will stay forever.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Your humble cynic in a cynical World said...

I can't tell you how sorry I am to read this. One of my cats was gone for almost 2 weeks this summer and I was totally devastated. Hugs from me and my two cats!

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Sandrine said...

Thank you I finally found words to describe my relationship with my cat: she's my pet, and i'm her person.
She's 18 years old and doing fine, but I know some day, I'll have to face her loss, and I know I'll be devastated then.
But right now, I can hear her sighing and snoring in her sleep, and we both send you big hugs.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to read about Ullrick. He's in Heaven, and you will see him again.

He was blessed to have you as his human.

I've been through this myself, and I understand how you feel.

I am sending you hugs, and I will light a candle and pray for you and Ullrick.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Björn said...

You never expect the cat to be that sick. Just last thursday we went to the vet with our cat Xerxes who was feeling down and wouldn't eat thinking he had some infectious disease or possibly a serious cold.

We went home with an empty cat cage, and a promise from the vet that she would call in the middle of the night if there was any change. Sure enough, at five in the morning the vet called and asked if she could put him down.

You never should go to a vet expecting your cat (or dog) to come home with you.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, it's been over 7 years and whenever I see a black giant Schnauzer in the streets, the ters just come out, be it in Rome, Stockholm or Rio de Janeiro...
Some bonds cannot be explained, just accepted as a gift.
Sweet memories I have...

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I stumbled upon this blog after a reference in an article in about dating in Sweden (your famous?), eager to learn more (I studied abroad in Lund last Spring and fell in love with the country). Enjoying your blog, and greatly appreciate this posting. I lost my dear cat (my baby!) Escalante the morning of the new year, passed away at the vet's, we think from chewing on a toxic houseplant (come to find most common houseplants are toxic to cats...). It was completely heartbreaking.

I feel like I've lost my soul mate and you describe the experience so well. I don't know if there's a heaven or if our energies just disperse and become part of everything but I hope at the least that there is a moment of recognition-that we are briefly connected again to our loved ones! Life certainly feels much less rich without them. If only everyone could appreciate the love of a cat :)

For all we know our kitties are lazing about in some flowery field soaking up the sunshine and chasing bees until we come for them or they for us!


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