We put our cat Sandy to sleep this weekend. She was 18 years old and had cancer, and we made the decision to euthanize her just before the pain began.
Her entire life was gravy. She was the smallest of a litter of five kittens born in our backyard. Over the summer of 2001, we watched them frolic in our backyard under the watchful eye of their mother, Agnes.
Late in the summer, we noticed Agnes pushing one kitten away as she led the others off in another direction. You see, the kitten was sick. Her eyes were crusted over, fused shut. She was not breathing well, her nose was full of snot and dirt.
She was blind, alone, weak and sickly. and there was a bad storm coming.
As we watched her through the window, we debated bringing another cat into the house (we already had one).
“If you bring her in, you’d better give her a name,” my mother told us, “because you’ll be responsible for her.”
Well we did, and we named her Sandy and got right to work, bathing her eyes in warm water to loosen the crust and get them open. She was wild; hissing and spitting and swiping and gnashing.
But we fed her and sang to her, and pretty soon she trusted us enough not to harm us too badly. We took her to Dr. Fish on Jamaica Avenue, and in the waiting room she crawled out of her towel and sat on top of my head.
Once she was healthy, we spent a weekend in Atlantic City and left Sandy with my parents. She spent the entire weekend terrorizing them; hissing and spitting and swiping and gnashing.
Over time, she mellowed a bit and dropped all of this intimidating behavior in favor of growling and giving glowering looks. She could be quite an intimidating cat.
One day when she was about a year old, we were back at Dr. Fish’s office. She objected to the placement of a thermometer (and I don’t need to explain why), and jerked her wee body about and sank a fang deep in Dr. Fish’s thumb.
From that moment forward, there were big stickers all over her file in capital letters warning: WILL BITE.
Our kitten had a record.
Over time, she began to mellow. Other cats came into our house and she took on a motherly role. In fact, she reminded me a lot of Agnes, the mother who left her behind.
In time, she learned to love our affections. For a while, we could pet and cuddle her as long as no other cat was nearby, she didn’t want them to see her softer side. But she would never purr for us.
I had a special song for her, which repeated her name over and over and sang her praises. She loved that song, and over time we began to hear a slight purr. By the time she was 10, she was a champion mush with a spectacular purr.
It was love and trust that brought that out of her. And it was love and trust that brought us to St. Mina’s Animal Clinic on 76th Street, where the staff is kind and caring.
We sat once again with our little girl, in the very same waiting room that she once viewed from atop my head. We were there so long ago to cure her, to save her. And now we were here again fulfilling our responsibility, rounding out the commitment we took when we named her.
We were distraught. But we also know that 18 years ago she was on the brink of death. That’s why I say her entire life was gravy. One minute she was alone and blind and abandoned, and she ended up living many years in a warm house, well loved, and extremely well fed, likely eating more food from our dinner plates than from hers.
When they are in pain, we do the hard thing and we take their pain away. But there’s a price attached to that. You take their pain into your heart, it’s how you honor them.
I know many of you have been through this, we've all been there. The story I’ve just told applies to so many of you. Pets aren’t like family, they’re not just part of the family, they are family.
For those of you with pets or those with pets you’ve parted with, there will be a Blessing of the Pets ceremony at Emanuel United Church of Christ at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard on Saturday, October 5, at 11 a.m., rain or shine.
Bring your pets or bring pictures of your pets. We’ll see you there.