Yesterday evening, as I began to prepare dinner, I heard Steve call, “Jan,” kind of soft, kind of panicked. In that one short word, I knew something was wrong.
I hurried from the kitchen toward his voice in the hallway, where he held Malika. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“She can’t move her back legs.”
“What?” I thought, initially thinking, How can that be? “What do you mean she’s not moving her back legs?”
“She can’t move them. I just found her dragging herself across the room.” He put her down gently as she whined.
Our minds filled with all kinds of questions.
What could have happened? She was okay just an hour ago.
Did she fall from something? Break her back?
Did she have a stroke?
Did she jump from something and injure herself?
We only knew it was serious, so Steve called our vet. He said we should take her to the emergency room. Before yesterday, I never knew there was an emergency hospital for animals.
We rushed her to the Center for Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Care in Lewisville. I drove while Steve tried to comfort Malika.
When we arrived, we faced one of the great sadnesses of the COVID pandemic. Even at a veterinary clinic, we were not permitted inside. They took all of our information by phone from our car, then asked us to bring Malika to the door, where they would take her inside. We were asked (as compassionately as possible) to wait in our car for the vet to call us.
Steve scrolled through a decade’s worth of photos on his phone, recalling memories of Malika while I went to find something we could eat in the car for dinner.
After about 90 minutes, the vet called with Malika’s diagnosis. Aortic Thromboembolsim. Put simply, a blood clot had traveled from her heart to an artery, where it lodged itself and blocked the blood flow to her hind legs. The prognosis was poor, and as we feared, it became clear we would not be bringing Malika home.
Steve asked if we could go inside to say goodbye. Fortunately, they allowed us to do so.
Anyone who’s ever had to make the very difficult decision to have a beloved pet euthanized knows much of the pain and many of the thoughts we experienced in that room.
I can’t speak for Steve, and I know his pain was far greater than mine. After all, Malika was a part of his life longer than I have been. He’s been the most loving fur-baby Daddy I know to Obi, Samba and Malika.
So, I can only speak for myself.
I’ll admit, perhaps at my peril, that I’m not particularly a cat person. I’ve always preferred the demonstrative love of a dog–the wagging tail, the unbridled excitement upon my return, the unfiltered, uncontrolled, unconditional love expressed throughout the day–as opposed to the “I-can-take-you-or-leave-you” attitude of a cat.
Perhaps a cat lover is more secure and doesn’t need love to be so expressive, who instead finds love in the way a cat rubs against her leg, or nudges with her head while sitting on the couch. Or, perhaps she finds joy and calming in a cat’s purr. Or surely a cat lover finds humor in the trot of a cat as she walks ahead (aka, leads), tail stretched high in the air when it’s finally, finally, FINALLY time for a treat she’s been watching for, waiting, transmitting brain waves, all the while wondering how a human could be so dumb not to know it’s SNACK TIME!
This is not to say I dislike cats. In fact, as I think about what I just wrote, I realize that I may be more attracted to the personality of a dog because I’m more like a cat. I’m not demonstrative of my love–instead, I show it in more subtle ways. And, as I think about it, many of the cat lovers in my life are more dog-like–physical, expressive, if not uncontrolled.
Maybe it’s simply a matter of “opposites attract.”
So Malika and I took a bit of time to accept each other. She was one of the most timid, nervous cats I’ve known, and it took her months, if not years, to completely accept me. Of course, I take some responsibility for this, because it takes two to be unloving.
In time, she would allow me to get close to her, and some of my fondest memories are of when I’d come upon her in the hallway and she’d stop, look up at me shyly and tremble just a bit as she allowed me to bend and pet her. Sometimes, however, if I moved too quickly, she’d run and hide.
Always, always, at the sound of our doorbell, she’d run and hide and sometimes, it would take an hour to search all of her hiding places to let her know it was okay to come out of her fraidy-hole.
She often raised my ire when I’d hear her using our rugs or worse, our furniture as a scratching post, though by the time I rushed into the room to shoo her off, I’d barely catch a glimpse of her white body zipping out of the room to hide. I always wondered how such a fat little blob could move so fast.
But as she lay on the table in the ER, helpless, paralyzed and softly whining, none of that mattered. As I listened to Steve whisper to her that she’d been a good friend, and he’d never forget her, none of that mattered. As I contemplated the decision we’d made, the terrible uncertainty of our responsibility to be humane vs. letting her live a lessor life, none of that mattered.
Suddenly, in my eyes, she went from being a grumpy cat to a sweet girl who had shown us her love in the best way she knew how.
When we came home without her, we were sure that both Obi and Samba sensed Malika was gone. And even though Malika often hid from view, and didn’t join the rest of our little family in the living room in the evenings, we missed her. She was a part of “us.”
It’s no longer Samba and Malika and Obi. It’s just Samba and Obi. And that doesn’t seem right.
Yes, Malika was a grumpy fat cat. But she played a part in our lives. She loved the best she could. And we loved her back. She’ll be missed, but she’ll be remembered always.