Once upon a time, when Eric and I were first married (21-plus years ago, who’s counting?), we brought Madison into the house literally the day after we got back from our honeymoon. It was a planned adoption from a family who thought they’d be able to keep her, but could not. I wrote annual letters on Madie’s birthday (also my birthday) for the kids so they’d know how she was doing.
Madie lived to be 17, and we probably let her go on too long — at the end, she was just super cranky and pissed to be alive, but she was our firstborn, and how do you let go?
In the fall of 2009, I went into my favorite farm stand and saw a crate of kittens. The one in the middle had the most insane whiskers I’d ever seen. I knew this cat was destined to be part of the family, so I brought him home (well, at that time I thought he was a she) even though Eric said that a kitten would probably the death of Madie.
And that’s how we got Skilly. And Madie lived on.
Skilly and Madie were opposites. He was a ball of fluff, she was sleek and skinny. He was friendly and open, she pretty much hated everything at that point. Skilly was an innocent, Madie was super smart. Skilly loved to play with Madie. Madie lived to hiss and scratch at Skilly.
Skilly took it pretty hard when Madie passed in 2012. He was just confused.
And we were confused last July — July 4, I’ll never forget that date — when Skilly went from perfectly fine to completely NOT fine in literally a minute. July 4, being a holiday, meant no vet was open, and we didn’t think it would be a problem if we waited until July 5 to get him in.
It was a problem. Skilly died of kidney failure that evening at the age of 6. Our hearts broke. That cat … I can’t even put into words how much a part of our family he was. He loved us so much, and we loved him so much back. He was the best.
Three months to the day that Skilly passed — October 5 — I came into work to find a coworkers in tears. She’d adopted Pearl from cat rescue, but couldn’t keep her — she had another cat who was bullying Pearl, and she’d decided the best thing would be to find the girl another home. I instantly said yes. I figured our next cat would find us, and there she was.
Being Pearl’s fourth home meant — and still means — that our girl has some issues. She’s prickly. We’ve been bitten more than once. I’m pretty sure she was just waiting for us to drop her off somewhere else.
About a month later — Election Day, can’t forget that day either, only good thing that happened — I went out to compost my coffee grounds and heard a LOUD mewing coming from somewhere in the yard. I went to our woodpile, lifted the tarp, and a kitten literally fell out. My cat rescue coworker (and Pearl’s former Mom) advised that I put him back and see if Mama Cat came back for him.
Mama Cat did not. And that’s how we got Bear.
Bear was two or three weeks old when he came into the family, and that was a little scary. I was afraid that I’d inadvertently set him up to die — I’d rescued him from the woodpile, but now what? He was too young to know how to lap milk yet. My sister-in-law had a friend who’d had to nurse kittens, and we were able to borrow not only a kitten-sized bottle, but kitten formula.
Bear thrived. He grew and grew. But he had absolutely no fear of anything — and he didn’t really know how to be a cat. We hoped Pearl would teach him, and she did kind of take him under her wing (he didn’t know how to clean himself, so Pearl took it upon herself to do the job. Sitting on his chest most of time to keep him from squirming and playing with her tail). But apparently you can’t teach cat skills.
Bear loved us so much. SO MUCH. Even more than Skilly, who loved us a lot. The base of his tail would shake when he got excited, which was generally when he greeted anyone at the door. He didn’t know how to jump, so he’d climb — the bedspread, the cabinets, our pant legs. He liked to see what was going on, his preferred seat across our shoulders. He would instantly purr when we’d pick him up or he’d come to cuddle, which was all the time. He fell into the toilet twice. He liked to pick up his dry food from the bowl and put it on the floor, and then eat it. His favorite toy was a sock filled with rice that Johanna made him — he’d carry that thing around in his mouth. He loved to sleep in boxes, with Pearl at first, and then on his own as he grew.
I had to separate Bear and Pearl once because they would just not leave each other alone and I was getting tired of Pearl’s hissing. I put Bear in the bedroom and shut the door. I was blogging and didn’t notice at first that he had assumed a watchful position by the door. When I went to investigate a little while later, I saw that Pearl was on the other side of the door, and they were touching paws through the crack.
When we got Bear, Pearl started to settle down, like maybe we could be trusted to keep her after all. When the weather got better, we started letting Pearl outside, and that additionally helped — that cat is way, way too smart to be stuck inside all day, and we’ve always had inside/outside cats. We started letting Bear out, too, but he was generally supervised. Either by us, or by Pearl.
Last Tuesday I got a call from Abby — she had let the cats out after school and had just found Bear in the road. He’d been hit by a car. I stood up, grabbed my stuff, and was out the door.
I found Johanna sobbing on her bed. Abby and her friend were in the garden burying Bear. His body was perfect — no broken bones, just an odd wound to the side of his head, which had been enough to kill him.
We are heartbroken. And I feel terrible. He was a mere 6-months old, and I can’t help but wonder if I set him up for failure after all. When you have no fear, how can you survive?
Maybe we should have made him an inside cat. Maybe I shouldn’t have babied him so much. (Although how you don’t baby a kitten that needs to be bottle fed, I have no idea.) Maybe we weren’t supposed to find him in the first place.
I don’t know.