When I lost Manny to cancer on June 21, 2009, I found myself in a single-cat household for the first time in 14 years. Eli, who had been the baby of my original clan, was now 13-years old and alone for the first time in his life. I wondered if he would enjoy some time as the sole kitty or whether he would rather have a feline compatriot. I watched for signs of a change in his behavior or attitude. I listened carefully for whatever message he had for me. We settled into a routine where he spent nearly every night in our bed, sleeping between our pillows with one paw wrapped snugly around my arm and purring loudly in my face.
I eventually realized that Eli would be content with any decision that I made. Eli just loves being Eli, and he loves that we allow him to be himself. As long as he is secure in that, I think that he will accept any addition to our household. It was not Eli who had to make the decision about adopting another cat. It was I who needed to determine if I were ready to open my heart to loving another. I was, and so I decided that I would.
After looking for at least three weeks, we found a beautiful, little, 7-month old kitten named Heather, and we adopted her on December 26, 2009. We hadn't been looking for a kitten. In fact, we had actually thought that we would adopt an adult cat, but we made our decision based on personality (had to get along with dogs) and type of hair (with a highly allergic person in the house, we have learned what kinds of hair are less troublesome), and all signs pointed to her. So, after some negotiation, Heather became Alla (he wanted to name her Marie Laveau, but that seemed unwise to me) and turned our house into a multi-cat home once again.
Now, just seven months later, I am once again facing the very real fact that I will soon be living in a one-cat household once again. Only 14-months old, Alla has been diagnosed as having FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). A fatal condition, FIP has no cure and no treatment. Theories vary on how effective both traditional and holistic approaches are, but what seems clear to me is that Alla is going to die much, much, much sooner than I ever would have imagined. It is nearly impossible that she will be with us this Christmas, which would have been her first with us. It would be considered quite lucky is she is with us more than a couple of months. Each day, I simply pray that it will not be her last.
I do believe deep down that all things happen for a reason, but I am struggling to find a good enough reason for a cat to be doomed to live only a year and a half--or less. I am equally full of anger and sorrow, and my outward expression of emotion teeters tenuously between the two. I have heard others say that when one encounters a pet with special needs, he has been chosen to be the animal's earthly caretaker not only to provide the love, care, and support needed during the animal's life, but also to have the strength, bravery, and selflessness needed to help the animal during its transition out of this life. I do respect this idea, but I wonder how much I am capable of. I am merely human, after all, and heartbreak takes its toll on a person. I have lost pets before, and each loss is with me daily.
I don't know what the future holds for Alla. I don't know how long she will be here with us. All I know is that I love her. I love her, and I will do all that I can to give her as much quality of life for as long as possible. If there is any lesson for me in this tragedy, I guess it is that life is never guaranteed and that we should make the most of the time that we are given.
So, to you, my reader, I suggest the following: Hug your kids a little longer tonight. Kiss your significant other when it's unexpected. Give your pets more of your attention. Look up at the sky. Watch the clouds. Let the rain touch your skin. Squint at the sun. Sleep in. Indulge a little. Laugh at the little stuff. And when you feel stressed, breathe deeply and fully.
Now, if only I can follow my own advice....