By Sondra L. Shapiro
When the little calico cat showed up at my office doorstep more than 20 years ago, one look at those huge green eyes, with their dark, mascara-like rims, and that “prairie dog” stance and I was instantly won over. Convincing my husband, David — with whom I cautiously broached the subject of adoption during a phone call from Germany where he was on business — to allow me to bring a third cat into our home was not as easy. “No, not another one,” he said, even before I got the words out.
So, as soon as my jet-lagged husband put a weary foot in the house, I was ushering him back out to my office where I was keeping the kitten in an unused room. As we searched the dark office, we finally discovered the ball of fur fast asleep in an empty envelope box. David’s heart melted. Needless to say, it was love at first sight and from that day forward, Falene became “daddy’s little girl.” Petite by normal cat standards, she never weighed more than 9 pounds; yet, her larger than life personality filled our home with laughter, love and affection.
Now memories are all we have left of Falene. Our hearts are broken. The silence she left behind has created an eerie atmosphere in our home. “This house just seems large and empty,” David said through a flood of tears.
Falene was with us for most of our marriage. She was there for all family events — good and bad times. She was cordial and welcoming to guests, always vying for attention. Falene also seemed to take pleasure in scaring the living daylights out of visitors with her very unique, blood-curdling meow. We could never figure out why she chose to express herself that way, but trust me, we have never heard anything like it emanating from any other cat.
Despite the verbal expressions, Falene was a dainty girl, who would position herself on the sides of the litter box to avoid stepping in the smelly, dirty gravel. Her habit made it all the more difficult to bear in her later years, when we would often find her just sitting in her litter box, oblivious to the debris.
Happily, her feeble years did not erase her love for us. Till the very end, Falene was the ultimate lap cat. Wherever we were, she would follow, snuggling up under the blankets between us every night, or waiting patiently under the table each night hoping to charm a morsel of salmon or chicken from one of our plates. Though it was difficult for us to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of Falene falling while attempting to jump on our bed, her persistence always triumphed and we would awaken again to the feel of her little furry body.
These last months were difficult for all of us, with Falene requiring almost round the clock care — subcutaneous fluids twice a day for kidney failure, seizure medication three times a day, heart and blood pressure pills each morning, a laxative and Pepcid for stomach issues. Near the end, we learned how to help her urinate and how to administer an enema. David and I didn’t sleep much since she was prone to violent seizures at night.
There were countless, expensive emergency trips to the veterinarian, which merits a separate column (the cost of medical care for pets is astronomical, verging on obscene).
Through it all, Falene just didn’t want to give up. She would rebound, eat like a pig, and accomplish feats she hadn’t been able to perform in years — exploring, jumping up onto high pieces of furniture or greeting us at the door. We believe she was trying to tell us to not to give up on her, just yet.
She had been at death’s door so many times, that during her last major hospitalization, my mother-in-law quipped that she wasn’t worried, Falene would bounce back as she always did. Other friends said Falene had used up more than nine lives.
Needless to say, her “parents” were overtired and stressed — but we never once resented the constant care. We felt it was a gift we could give this enchanting family member in return for the love and devotion she gave us.
But we knew that all the medication and care in the world would not turn back the clock. We were braced for the inevitable sadness. The day had finally come when our girl stopped eating, when she turned her tired eyes to us, with silent communication that implied, “I am so tired. I can’t do this anymore.” And so, with unbearable sadness we said goodbye to “daddy’s little girl,” who would always live in our hearts and in our memories.
Twenty years gone in a flash, the space between her envelope-box introduction to her very last day, resting peacefully in the sun in our second floor hallway, seems but a day apart.
Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or read more at fiftyplusadvocate.com.