You always remember your first, so they say. As a pet-sitter, I remember the first four-legged critter I cared for (the fierce but benign Tai). I remember breaking up my first dog fight (that would be you, Jack), my first thumb-sucking cat (Daisy), my first wild one (Pico). And now, my first death. It was always our greatest fear that a pet we cared for would die on our watch, or at all.
We had been looking forward to returning to Vancouver Island, to walks in the woods with Scratchy the dog and morning hugs from Squeaky the cat. But when the owner broke the news upon our arrival that Squeaky had died just the week before, the smiles slid from our faces. We’re always surprised at how emotionally attached we become to animals not our own; whether we spend several days with them or several months, we get choked with every good-bye, never knowing if it’s the final farewell. And here it was. Longtime readers of this blog may recall my chronicles of the fluffy orange cat, body creaky with age and disease, but mind sharp with vim and vigor. Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote earlier this year, ending with a prophecy that I was blind to at the time:
“Time for Squeaky, like all aged creatures, slips by in a dream, one day pretty much like the one before. He’ll sometimes sit and stare out the window at the birds in the feeders. When I let him out, he makes no attempt to catch them, all too aware that his hunting days are over. Even the birds seem to know this, as they brazenly flit about his head, secure in the knowledge that this fuzzy coot has the agility of an elephant. I often wonder what he’s thinking as he gazes out at the world. Is he remembering the 18 seasons of spring he’s seen come and go, the trees he once climbed, the mice he once chased? Does he lament these things he will not do again? Does he contemplate the end? Who knows? Like Grizabella, he sits quietly, withered leaves collecting at his feet, all alone with the memory of his days in the sun.”
Now I am left with my own memories of his days in the sun, in the rain, and in my lap. Squeaky, whose real name is Chester, lies buried just beyond the yard, beneath the evergreens he climbed in his youth, among the woods he roamed with abandon. Shakespeare wrote: “All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” Though my arms are empty, no old fur-draped bones to cuddle, I like to think Chester’s out there, passing through the forest to eternity. Or at least to a ninth life. Either way, old friend, I’ll always remember you.