We recently had to put Gracie, our outdoor cat, to sleep after a sudden illness. I knew that I was a crazy cat lady, but I had no idea I was married to the male equivalent until we had to part with our 9 lb feline who stalked us and wouldn't take no for an answer when I tried numerous times four years ago to reunite her with her owner a few blocks over.
Michael was surprised by how deeply saddened he has been over her loss. As much as I wish I could take the pain away, I'm glad that he experienced a bond with an animal the way that I do. This is the 3rd cat we've had to euthanize but the 1st one that I think profoundly affected Michael. That's not to say he didn't love the other cats - even though Picasso was a little pain in the ass, but Gracie worked her way into Michael's heart, found a comfy chamber and stayed put. His morning routine was to pass by the indoor cat's dishes and get Gracie her food. Gracie would hear the sliding door open and he'd see her eager head pop up from the laundry room window where she'd been sleeping in her heated bed. She'd come running outside to great him and lay at his feet. Honestly, isn't that what any man wants?
She'd send him off on his day and be there at night to greet him. On weekends Gracie would wait at the front porch while Michael went for a run. If she could have, she would have handed him a glass of water when he came back. When I was gardening in the front yard, she'd sit with me while I weeded and dug in the soil. If she got too close to the road I'd call to her and she'd come right back. I think she knew I was not a fan of having an outdoor animal and she did her best to accommodate my needs while securing herself a pretty good life in our back courtyard - safe from coyotes. Raccoons, possums, skunks and the occasional friend's dogs were another story but she was a strong girl and quite territorial.
For those of you who have outdoor pets, be aware of a fungus called cryptococcus which is found in the southwest and is the disease that she contracted. It can come from bird droppings, possibly from ingesting them as well. Gracie definitely enjoyed not only hunting birds, but she would devour them and leave the beak and feet at the back door. A few of us witnessed this carnage and it truly is a bit like watching a car wreck, you want to turn away and yet find yourself fascinated at the same time.
As we went to several different Veterinarians during the week we realized we'd only had Gracie for four years, and we didn't know how old she was. We figured she may have been nine. We remembered back to the days when she first wandered into our back courtyard, timid and distrusting of people. Over time she let us pet her and on one cold rainy night, Michael and I, dressed like the Groton's Fisherman, tried to coax her out of the planter where she was soaked and come in to the laundry room to dry off and rest. She must have been tired. I found out from her 'owner' she'd been gone for 7 months. Turns out she didn't want to stay at that house because she kept showing up at our backdoor with a, "Hey, aren't you glad I'm back" look on her face. I know that's anthropomorphizing, but isn't that what we humans do?
We decided to introduce her to Sable and Smora, the indoor prima donnas who never had to kill their supper and whose paws had never touched cement. Bad idea. Fur was flying everywhere as Gracie attacked the two of them with Ninja-like capabilities. Out she went. We tried unsuccessfully the following week. When I had to pry Gracie's nail out of Sable's head I told Michael I couldn't put the cats through this anymore. That's when I resigned myself to accept that we now had an outdoor cat. All those judgements I'd made of people who'd had outdoor cats over the year's were now swirling through my mind. Hmmm, maybe they had a Gracie, too. She'd obviously decided not to live at the house from where she came; she couldn't 'play well with others' and absolutely was not going to let herself be adopted out at the Petco adoption day I'd subjected her to where she sneered at people and sat at the back of her cage patiently waiting for me to take her 'home'. She was tired and would like her dinner.
Our detached laundry room became her domain. On rainy days as she sat at the threshold I'd wave to her from our closed glass doors. Sometimes she'd come sit by our backdoor and get drizzled on for a while before heading back to her room where we even left the TV on for her; HGTV usually, although she'd watch football with Michael when he used the gym equipment.
Winter came. Michael and I put a portable heater in the laundry room for her. She decided our refrigerator's vegetable drawer, which had been in the laundry room while the fridge was packed with turkeys, stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce, was a perfect bed. It quickly became lined with a flannel blanket. A sheep-skinned bed was provided for her on the small outdoor table by our TV room window where she'd watch us play with Sable and Smora; who knew a cat could instill such guilt. She had a few store bought cat toys but preferred the live ones.
By the next winter she had a heated pad for her bed. She liked this very much. It would warm up with her body weight upon it and cool off when she wasn't laying in her bed. I was pretty proud of myself for finding that heated pad and Michael now didn't have to worry about the house burning down from a portable heater that you hear about on the evening news as they show a house engulfed in flames.
That spring we noticed the lizards in the courtyard were all missing their tails. A small mouse, birds and a rather large rat where some of the creatures she dropped at the back door for us. One night the two regular raccoons were helping themselves to food from her dish and a group of five of us were paying attention to them and commenting on how cute they were. Well, Gracie charged at them, swatted at them, chased them away and got our attention, which is all she ever wanted.
On occasion, a daring feral cat has come into Gracie's courtyard for food. She protected her space so fiercely, that one poor cat ended up in the pool. He's been coming around more frequently now and I think he even misses her. She was a big presence in our backyard and in our hearts.
She was bold and wild, soft and tender - a true cat. A true friend.