Animal protection has been an important issue to me since college, but for years I predominantly focused on being an activist out on the streets. Sometime into my career as a high school teacher, I considered adopting a cat because I felt that I could provide one with a good home. Furthermore, I needed to explore another form of advocacy beyond attending demonstrations, meetings, and fundraisers. After discussing the matter with my close friends, I committed to the idea despite one reservation: my allergies. So, in 2005, a woman I know with connections to people who foster domesticated companions made the arrangements, and, shortly thereafter, a man dropped off a five year old orange tabby named Lucy at my apartment.
Now, I wish I could say that we experienced a seamless transition with our living situation, but that’s simply not the case. Lucy hid in a variety of places for a year or more, including on the top of kitchen cabinets, behind the refrigerator, and under the couch. Honestly, I didn’t see her most of the time. She ate and played before the sun rose and after I left for work. I’d like to believe she enjoyed the view from our ninth floor windows high above a bridge with plenty of traffic. Also, on warm summer days she could watch a number of boats pass by on the river.
Eventually, Lucy adjusted and we could hang out in the same room. If I watched the news or a movie, then she would usually lay at the end of the couch. Like clockwork, when I talked to someone on the phone, she would always be right there meowing. She could be really pushy and a bit rambunctious at times, but I loved that part of her personality because those qualities made her unique.
For almost a decade, Lucy was the most consistent part of my life. We experienced a handful of major changes together as we ventured outside of our respective comfort zones. Leaving a steady teaching position for what turned out to be a six year doctorate program pushed me to my limits. Interviewing at colleges in different parts of the country and wondering where we would end up caused me a few sleepless nights. Packing up what little we owned and relocating to Arizona brought a combination of fear and excitement. Through all of this, Lucy remained my best friend. Many people have told me how much cats dislike traveling. Well, she could be a road warrior. She sat quietly in her carrier on the passenger seat as we drove across the country three years ago this July. Blaring hardcore music. Political talk radio. Intense desert sun and heat. Ground shaking thunder and pouring rain. Excessive speeds on winding mountain roads. None of it bothered her. Surprisingly, multiple hotel rooms didn’t cause her too much stress either. Unfortunately, our time in the Southwest didn’t last and we had to move again. I didn’t hear any complaints from her during the long 700 mile drive from El Paso to Houston on the second leg of the trip. Moreover, she didn’t get upset when we stayed in another hotel for a week as I searched for an apartment here in town.
Earlier this year, I reflected on the time we’ve shared and I wondered how much longer we’d be roommates. Then, last month she stopped drinking and eating and spent a couple of days under my bed asleep. One morning before work, I gently pulled her out to see why. She purred, but looked somewhat lethargic, so I put her in her bed in the living room. When I arrived home that evening, it appeared as if she hadn’t moved since I left. I tried to feed her, but she started howling and violently thrashing around before biting her back leg and collapsing on the floor. I immediately drove her to the emergency animal hospital. They treated her for pancreatitis and dehydration and kept her for the weekend. After I brought her home, she still wouldn’t eat and stopped using her litter box. Here I thought that consulting someone at my regular veterinary clinic for a second opinion would be helpful. Needless to say, they said she looked healthy. I never returned to that office.
My concern grew as Lucy refused to eat and continued to lose weight. Desperate, I consulted a third veterinarian who ran tests and prescribed some medication, but her condition didn’t change. When I arrived home from work, I found her crying and shaking in her urine soaked bed, largely unable to move. A wave of helplessness paralyzed me for a moment. Once I regained my composure, I gave her a bath in the kitchen sink. She didn’t like it very much, but lacked the strength to fight me as I covered her frail body with soap and rinsed her clean. Another visit to the same clinic the next morning yielded that she had multiple health problems: heart disease, a thickening of her stomach wall, and cancer in her intestine. In addition, she had developed neurological issues at some point that kept her from bending her left front leg when she walked. As the doctor and I discussed Lucy’s condition over the phone, I decided that her suffering could not continue. So, I returned to the veterinarian’s office to see Lucy one last time that afternoon. We shared several minutes together in the exam room and I told her how much I loved her. While I had the option to leave, I chose to stay until the very end because I didn’t want her to pass away without me there.
Lucy taught me so much about trust, patience, vulnerability, and acceptance – important lessons that I never imagined would accompany adopting a domesticated companion. Our relationship changed me as a human being. As we form bonds with these little creatures and share life experiences with them, they compel us to reexamine ourselves and the choices we make on a daily basis. Caring for her made me a more emotionally aware person.
It really hurts now that she’s gone, in part, because my apartment feels so empty. That said, I feel so fortunate that she needed a home at the same time that I needed a new friend in my life. I love you Lucy. Rest in peace.