Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Farewell to a Grand Lady Cat (Daisy, 1992-2010)

A Daisy in the Window
Daisy in 2007.

Yesterday, at the age of 18 (88 in cat years), Daisy crossed the Rainbow Bridge, making the journey her buddy Red had made two years before.

I had gotten her in 1992 when she was 12 weeks old. Back then I had told myself I was going to (a) go to a shelter and, (b) get an adult cat. No hyperactive kittens. Someone who knew the ropes, someone less adoptable because he or she was older. I would stop at the pet store to get supplies: carry case, cat food, litter, toys. Then I'd set off for Boston's Animal Rescue League.

At the end of the day I rushed from my workplace and got to Cambridge Pet five minutes before closing time. The proprietor told me, "We have kittens in the back."

I gracefully declined and explained my plans.

Then one of the kittens meowed, loudly, from behind closed Dutch doors, and I was hooked -- because of another Daisy, the first cat I'd known with that name.

When I was around 11 years old a neighbor was giving away kittens. I'd been bonding with cats since I was six, but those were outdoor cats, strays we fed in the back yard. This time, my parents decided to get a house cat. I would choose which kitten came home with us. Whoever it was, it had to choose me.

Most of the kittens were preoccupied with each other, but the runt of the litter struggled away from the group when I knelt at the other end of our neighbor's hallway. She fought to get to me. By the time she reached me I was hers. Daisy -- the first Daisy -- had been my companion and confidante for seven years until feline leukemia claimed her. An indoor-outdoor cat, she had been to the vet only once, to be spayed.

Suddenly, standing in Cambridge Pet more than 20 years later, I heard her meow.

My body tensed. I mumbled, "Maybe I'll take a look."

The proprietor opened the doors. Kittens in cages wrestled with each other, oblivious to our presence, except for one. That one stood her ground at the front of the cage she shared with rambunctious litter-mates, stared me straight in the eye, and meowed her heart out.

I looked at her, blinking back tears, and managed to choke, "I think you're trying to tell me something."

She had the same white fur with tawny markings. She had the same solidly tawny tail. The same voice. In that moment she became Daisy II and I became hers. The cab I took home that day was loaded to the gills with cat paraphernalia, an ecstatic 12-week-old kitty, and an equally besotted biped.

Top: Daisy I, who lived during the 1970s, looks out from a Rose of Sharon tree in the back yard of the house where I grew up in Brooklyn. Bottom: Daisy II in my North Cambridge apartment more than 20 years later.

Not long after we arrived home, I stood a mirror on the floor of my apartment and watched to see what she'd do:

1. She stopped in her tracks and hissed at her reflection.
2. She sniffed her reflection.
3. She looked for the "other kitty" behind the mirror, then in the bathroom next to the mirror. At this point I could almost see the cogwheels turning in her tiny head.
4. She dashed off to get a toy, brought it to the mirror, and noticed the reflection had the same toy.
5. She retrieved a second toy, with the same results.
6. She engaged in several erratic and unpredictable behaviors: jumping, falling to the floor, changing direction. Each time, she watched her reflection doing the same thing.

At this point, she became blase and left her reflection alone. Whenever I held Daisy before a mirror after that, she only glanced at her reflection before turning her attention to mine, and we gazed into each other's reflected eyes.

My Cambridge apartment included a long east-west hallway covered by a runner. Morning light streamed through the living room windows, creating sunbeams. When the time was right, Daisy -- still a kitten -- positioned herself at the end of the runner, dug her claws in, reared up, and then slammed the runner back down on the floor, creating a swirl of dust motes that sparkled in the sunbeams. After they settled, she repeated the process until the sunbeams went away.

Daisy also loved to fetch, something I discovered by accident. I was in bed, about to fall asleep, when she jumped on the covers and dropped a toy on my chest. Somewhat grumpily I threw it into the hallway, to her utter delight. She sprang off the bed, retrieved the toy, and was back on my chest in seconds, eager for me to toss it again.

It didn't take long for her to learn English.

At the west end of the hallway a flight of stairs led from my third-floor apartment to the second-floor landing. Before leaving for work, I would stand at the top of the stairs and call out, "Okay, it's time to go bye-bye!" and Daisy immediately dashed down the stairs to see me off at the landing, where my apartment door was.

One morning I was in the living room -- at the east end of my apartment -- and I suddenly noticed the time. Not yet in my coat and still empty-handed, I mused to myself, "It's almost time to go bye-bye." As soon as she heard me, Daisy raced from the living room down that long hallway and down the stairs, positioning herself at my apartment door.

She still possessed some of those smarts near the end of her life. Failing kidneys increased her need to urinate, which meant more litter box cleaning. To tell us she had used the box, she walked into the bathroom, stood by the toilet, and meowed. Then she upped the ante, signaling us when she was about to head to the litter box.

Daisy, the day after diagnosis

She'd been diagnosed in 2006 with progressive renal failure; I took this shot the day after receiving the news. She held her own for two years after diagnosis, before her health began to deteriorate. Red's death in 2008 was likely a contributing factor. Daisy became much more of a lap cat after he was gone.

A Tail of Two Kitties
Daisy and Red in 2006.

This past winter Mary fashioned a comfort cave for her, using a cardboard box (and then a milk crate) lined with bedding foam and with sweaters draped over the outside. As Daisy's mobility decreased, we brought her breakfast in bed.

Top: Daisy as a kitten. Bottom: Daisy at 18, napping in her cave.

Thank you for everything, dear little cat.

Elissa Malcohn's Deviations and Other Journeys
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