Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Sweet Katie Bug


In July, 1989, my boyfriend (now ex-husband) Mark and I moved from Charleston, WV to Bluefield, WV…a small coal mining town in the southern part of the state, right on the Virginia border. There was not much there. We rented a single-wide trailer, Mark went to work every day, and I couldn’t find a job.

One day, while driving around, I found the Mercer County Animal Shelter. I stopped in, to look around. There were a lot of kittens, and I thought “That’s what I need….a companion!” When Mark got off work that afternoon, we rode up there together.

“I like this one!” I chose a fluffy orange tabby, which looked kind of pissed off. I was choosing on looks alone.

“No,” Mark said. “This one is the one”. He chose a tiny Tortoise shell tabby, who was casually lounging in one of the litter boxes. She was cute and had unusual markings, and seemed friendly enough.

We left, with the kitty in tow. I named her Katie, after my mom, because I thought she was beautiful, like my mom, and also because I missed my mom so much.

Katie was a little spitfire. She loved to run from one end of our trailer to the other, knocking over things as she went; a whole dish drainer full of clean dishes, the broom and mop leaning up against the wall, my breakable glass figurines in the living room. She also played fetch! She loved the plastic rings that came from the milk cartons. I’d say to her “Want to PLAY?” She would meow, and run over to me. I’d toss the milk ring, and she would run and get it, and bring it back to me in her mouth! She was so tiny and cute…and I loved her. I got her used to riding in the car…we’d go for rides, over to the radio station to visit Mark at work. I bathed her, coddled and held her. She was spoiled rotten.

Eight months after we adopted her, we moved to Fort Myers, FL. She rode with us in the cab of the U-Haul, under Mark’s seat. When Mark would light a cigarette, she would start meowing, and come out from under the front seat, and continue to cry until he put his cigarette out. She also rode part of the way on his lap, while he drove.

Upon arriving in Ft Myers, we stayed the first couple of nights with Mark’s elderly Aunt Helen, who despised cats. Poor Katie had to sleep in the cab of the U-Haul at night. During the day, she was with us, in our car, while we rode from place to place, searching for an apartment.

We finally found a one bedroom right up the street from Mark’s work place. We settled in. Katie was strictly indoors, so she amused herself with sitting in the windowsill, watching birds fly overhead…sometimes seeing the big Pelicans glide by. Her eyes would grow huge at the sight of them. “Look! Look – look!” I’d whisper to her, and her mouth would open, making tiny little chittering noises. After a short while, all I’d have to say to her is “Look-look!” and her eyes would turn dark and big, and she’d hop up into the window sill, tiny meows coming from her mouth.

One day, she came trotting into the living room with something large and black in her mouth. “What do you have?” I asked. She danced away from me, then dropped the thing on the floor, and began to bat at it. Upon closer inspection, I thought to myself, “Gee, that kind of looks like a Scorpion…” Black, curled forked tail…..Shit! A Scorpion! Just as she was leaning down to pick it up in her mouth once more, I screamed “LEAVE IT!!” She darted away, and I ran to Mark’s closet to get a heavy dress shoe to smash it with. I pounded it, then threw it’s carcass out the front door. A Scorpion! I had never seen one before. Welcome to Florida.

Katie got a friend in December of 1991, when I went to work part time at a veterinary clinic. I brought Punkin home, and they took right to each other, although Katie remained The Queen. She was a well-traveled girl, going with me to WV, then back to FL, then to Massachusetts, Tennessee, then finally North Carolina. She took it all in stride. She was a healthy cat, and easily adjusted to her surroundings. She never had any health problems, and was very independent. She was with me through a marriage, a divorce, living single, then finding love again. The night that my new boyfriend came over for the first time, she climbed right into his lap, surprising both of us. Steve, because he didn’t like cats, and me, because Katie didn’t normally warm up to strangers right away. She climbed right up into his lap, lay down, and began a low, contented purr. Steve changed his cat-hating ways when he took up with me. “They were here before you” I pointed out “and they aren’t going anywhere.” He still complained occasionally, but he came to love them as much as I did, although he would not admit it for quite awhile.

Kate always became playful when I cleaned the house. I would turn on loud music when I cleaned. While living in Florida, I would listen to Bread while I cleaned. To this day, the song Sweet Surrender reminds me of Katie. When it would come on, I would sing loudly and she would race around the apartment, her eyes big as saucers, her tail fluffed out to full bottle-brush mode.

One time she got angry with me because I wouldn’t let her mooch food from me. I was sitting on the loveseat, and she was next to me. “I said NO!” firmly to her. She quickly bent down and bit my knee, then took off fast as lightning, for the bedroom. “I can’t believe she just did that….did you see that?” Steve was laughing….”She took off because she knew she shouldn’t have nipped at you!”

Another endearing Kate-ism, was her searching through the grocery bags when we’d get home from the store. “Are you looking for your DINNER?” I’d ask. She’d meow furiously, pawing through bag after bag, until she’d find the one containing her cans of Fancy Feasts. She then would nose at the bag for me to unpack it. I kept the cans under the sink, and one morning, I slept in, past her breakfast time. When I got up and went into the kitchen, the cabinet door was open, and there was a can of Fancy Feast in the floor, Kate sitting beside it. I don’t think I have ever laughed as hard as I did when I saw that. I wish I could’ve taught her to open the cans.

Kate slowed down as she aged, and became a permanent lap cat. As soon as we’d sit down, she’d climb on our laps and settle in. Steve nick named her “Kate Moss Kitten” because she was rapidly losing weight. We found out that she was hyperthyroid, and the vet put her on medication. She never gained her weight back, though she ate like a horse.

She began to have sneezing and nasal problems. Her little nose would run and run, but sounded clogged up at the same time. I began taking her to the vet, to get her sinuses flushed out. The vet suggested that she may have a cancerous nasal polyp, and wanted to scope her nasal cavity. They could not do it at the office, so she wanted to send her to the vet school at NC State University, the procedure would cost over a thousand dollars. At this point, Kate was nineteen years old. “No, I want to just continue with the nasal cleanings” I said. “No scope”.

Throughout her long life, Kate shared her home with 7 other cats, and still, she reigned Queen. Everyone else was submissive to her, and no one ever picked on her, even as she aged. She and Punkin remained close, and she grieved when Punkin passed away unexpectedly. She did not get along with any of the other cats as well as she did Punkin...when Mark and I were still together, he would refer to them as The Lesbian Lovers, because they bathed each other constantly, and got into occasional lover's spats.

Kate’s weight got down to 6 pounds, and one morning she refused her food. She had never done that before. She was always ravenous. I tried everything from canned tuna to stinky salmon. She purred, and rubbed me and wanted to be held…but did not want to eat. Steve and I gathered her up, and took her to the vet. She stood on the table for a few seconds, and then just laid down. Her breathing was rapid, and she appeared to be exhausted. “It’s time” the vet said.

We whispered to her….”We love you, Katie Bug….you’re such a good girl….we love you so much…” In seconds, it was over.

Nineteen years old, My Sweet Katie Bug, My Kate Moss Kitten. We love you, and talk about you all the time. We will see you again….until then, run and play, and hear Sweet Surrender in your dreams.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

~Sandy the Sheltie Mix~


December 1983:

My parents had recently split up, and my Mom and brother Mark were preparing to move from New York to West Virginia. My Mom was from WV, and I was in my freshman year of college there. The arrangement was for my Mom and brother to move in with my Mom’s younger sister Jackie, into the house that had belonged to my
granny, who had passed away that June.

Mark had been asking for a puppy. My Mom didn’t mind the idea, since granny’s house was way out in the country, with lots of land for a dog to roam. My granny had always had dogs. Presently, there was one living there with Aunt Jackie…a hound mix named Smokey. There were also a couple of cats, Garfield and Blackie, who could always be found lounging on the breezeway, or on the wide windowsill outside the living room window. Jackie was opposed to us getting a puppy right away. It was winter time, the puppy would have to stay inside, thus there would be messes to be cleaned up. I didn’t care…I wanted my brother to have a puppy. He was leaving NY, his school, his friends, everything that was familiar to him. I wanted to make him happy.

Me, my college roommate Cherie and a friend of ours all went to the animal shelter on a snowy Friday afternoon, a few days before Christmas. There were some puppies there, all cute. A trio of Sheltie puppies caught my eye. The one in the middle was gazing at me….soft brown eyes, tiny black eyelashes, little freckles across the bridge of her nose. “Take me….” Her eyes said. “That one!” I pointed to her, and Cherie opened the cage to take her out. She was warm and wiggly, and covered my face with kisses and puppy breath.

We took her back to our dorm room, where we fed her and gave her water. She snooped around the room, then discovered she could bark…oh boy. We were of course trying to be quiet and hide her. It was all over then. Girls from up and down the hall flooded my room, with squeals and “OH HOW CUTE!” Luckily, Cherie’s house was close by, and she was going home for Christmas break. She offered to take the puppy and keep her until Christmas. Problem solved.

Christmas Eve afternoon, my father and I drove to Cherie’s to get the puppy. I knocked on the door, and the puppy’s head appeared in the tiny window in the door. Cherie was holding her up and it looked so funny! “How’d she do?” I asked. “Not too bad…she had some accidents and chewed up my Stevie Nicks tape…other than that, no problem.” Cherie said. Out in the car, I tied a big red bow around her collar, and we started home to Aunt Jackie’s. All week Mark had been searching under the tree for his gift from me. “Where’s my present from Missy? She ALWAYS gets me something…there is nothing here!” He would complain. My mom just smiled…she knew what was coming. We arrived at the house, and I had the puppy wrapped up in my coat.

“Do you want your Christmas present now?” I asked my brother.

“Yes….Oh Yes!”

I set my coat on the floor, and with a flourish, whipped the coat off of the puppy. There she was, the soft tan and white fuzzy Sheltie mix with the big red bow around her collar. Mark screamed. My heart was glad and my throat swelled….I had made him so very happy.

He named her Sandy. Sandy was housebroken within two weeks. She didn’t cry or bark excessively. She won everyone’s hearts immediately.

By the time I got back home in May when college was out, Sandy was a permanent part of the family. Smokey loved her, the cats tolerated her. And she was smart. Mark had already taught her to sit, shake hands, and she came when called. He also trained her not to go up to the road. Many of my granny’s dogs had died because they went up to the road and got hit. Sandy knew to stay in the yard with Smokey. She was a perfect dog.

In November, my mom bought a town house for us. Aunt Jackie needed her space, so we moved out. The town house had a small back yard. Sandy had a dog house, but not much room to run. She became more of an inside dog then. We took her for walks and she slept in Mark's room. She was the bright spot of happiness for all of us.

Mom, Mark and I would sit in the living room on the floor, and hand Sandy a rolled up newspaper. Mark would hand it to her and say “Take this to Mommy” Sandy, grasping the paper firmly in her teeth, would obediently take it to my mother, who would take it out of her mouth and say “Oh thank you, Sandy, good girl!” Then she would roll the paper back up, and hand it back to her and say “Now, take this to Missy…” and Sandy would….very patiently and seriously.

She would sit by us while we were eating….sometimes with one long drool hanging down the side of her mouth. My brother would reach over with a napkin, and wipe her mouth. She never jumped on people, or acted up. Her favorite treats were these beef basted doggie waffles. One time, I was in the floor with her, and pretended that I was eating them. The look on her face was priceless….she wasn’t mad…she looked heartbroken. I quickly handed over the treat to her, kissing her little face, and felt bad for teasing her.

My father would still come visit us from NY, even though he and my mom were split up. He was not an animal lover. He tolerated Sandy, and she knew it. She’d be in the living room with us, and he would say “Sandy, do you want to go outside?” A wheedling appeal in his voice. She would stare balefully at him, while my mother would croon “No, she doesn’t! Don’t listen to the Mean Old Man, Sandy-Lou, you can stay in the house.” My Dad would scowl.

Eventually he began to warm up to her. “Want to go for a ride Sandy?” He'd ask. She would hop to the front door, smiling, tongue lolling out one side of her mouth. He would get in Mom’s car, and she would ride shotgun, they would go down to the corner store to get a newspaper. Sandy loved riding in the car.

Some years later, I moved away to Florida. I couldn’t wait to come home and visit. My mother took my picture with Sandy, and Sandy smiled in the picture, showing her teeth. A couple of years later, I temporarily separated from my husband. My two cats and I came to stay with Mom for awhile. Sandy was less than thrilled to see my cats. My cat Punkin loved Sandy. She wanted to rub up against Sandy, and sleep next to her. Sandy would eye her hatefully, and curl her top lip up, showing her crooked little teeth if Punkin got too close.

“Sandy!” I’d yell. Immediately, she would get a sheepish look on her face.

“The kitty loves you,” I’d explain. “Let her smell you…”

Sandy would have none of it. When she would fall asleep, Punkin would go over and rub her face in Sandy’s furry tail, and purr away. Mom and I used to talk about Sandy’s dislike for the K-I-T-T-I-E-S (we would spell it out, because if Sandy heard the word “Kitties” she would give us a hateful look). It was very entertaining.

Finally, it came time for my brother to leave home. My mom and Sandy were on their own. My mom would take Sandy out to Aunt Jackie’s for weekends, so she could run, and play in the huge yard, and fields. One such weekend, my Aunt Jackie got up on Sunday morning, and went out to feed Sandy. She saw Sandy, lying in the front yard. She thought she was asleep, so she called and called - Sandy didn’t move. My Aunt had MS now, and could not walk well enough to go out into the yard to investigate. She called her brother-in-law, who came over, and examined Sandy. She didn’t have a mark on her. She appeared to be asleep. She was gone, at eleven years old. He surmised that she had had a heart attack, while chasing deer in the yard during the night.

Mom didn’t tell us. I called from Florida one afternoon after work to chat.

“Hi, Mom, can I talk to Sandy?” It was a big joke with us, I’d call and ask for the dog.

“She’s dead, Missy….” Gee Mom, try not to be too subtle. I sank to the floor, phone in hand, hot tears running down my cheeks. I held back giant sobs.

“Does Mark know?” I whispered.

“No, I told your Dad to tell him….” My parents always hated to be the bearers of bad news….always avoiding it, one of them trying to get the other to do it.

My brother had moved to Nashville, TN by this time. I know he cried. I know it hurt him more than anything ever would. He never got another dog.

We were all affected by her death. We still have her photos, and her memories. We still miss her each and every day. But we feel lucky to have loved her and received love from her for eleven years.

Sandy-Lou, we love and miss you. We will see you on the other side of The Rainbow Bridge~