August 20, 2019
I didn’t want another cat. In late July of 2002, it had been five months since my six-toed orange boy Woofie had to be put down at age 15 years after suffering from tongue cancer. He had lived his entire life at my house in Sausalito, and at that time I wasn’t spending many days there, as I was over at Claudia’s a lot. But one day my co-worker Tim Van Raam walked into my office and said, “I just got you in trouble.”
“What did you do?” I asked in a mild panic.
He said, “I was just talking with Nancy Hair on the 22nd floor, and she does animal rescue. She told me that she had an 8-week-old orange female kitten that needed a home, and I told her about you.”
“No!” I replied immediately. “I am not ready for another cat, and I am hardly home anymore. Plus, Claudia already has one cat, Snowy, at her house. So, thanks, but no thanks.”
Then, a day or two later, I stopped by Nancy’s office to tell her that Tim had mentioned the orange kitty, but that I was not in the market for another cat.
She said, “I understand. But look, here’s an idea. I am coming to your show at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley on Friday the 2nd of August. How about you and Claudia come by for dinner beforehand, just to have a look. No pressure here.”
“Okay. But I’m telling you, I am not ready, I am seldom home, and Claudia already has a cat.”
Friday the 2nd came around, and, as planned, Claudia and I drove over to Nancy’s house before the show. While walking up the sidewalk, I reminded Claudia that “Nancy is coming to the show, and we are going to her house to enjoy a nice meal and be social, since she is coming to our gig. We’ll visit with the kitty, but now is not the time to bring a new cat into our world.”
When we arrived at her place, there were numerous dogs and cats – and maybe even a rabbit – running around the first floor. We were introduced to all the critters – including the orange kitty temporarily named “Foyle” – and then we made our way to the dinner table. No sooner had we sat down in our seats when little Foyle made the most strategic move of her life: she jumped up onto Claudia’s lap and settled in. Claudia looked at me, I looked at Nancy, then back to Claudia, and the die had been cast. We were going to be taking Foyle home with us. But not that night. We had a gig to play, and then the next day we had a party planned at the house for our visiting friend Mike Fleming, so it was too busy a weekend to be bringing a new kitten into our home.
On Monday, August 5th, after dropping off my boss at his home in Lafayette, I stopped by Nancy’s and picked up little Foyle, put her in the cat carrier, and drove her to Claudia’s in Mill Valley, where – save for about four days some years back when C’s house was being tented and treated for termites – she was to spend the next 17 years of her life. And soon her name was changed to Milly.
Like most pet owners, we had our nicknames for her. The most common was just Mill. Sometimes she was Miller. Often I called her Millsie, Milly Vanilli, or Milly Munster. Claudia’s favorites were Miss Meow and Millicent. And the one that I used the most was Monkey. She answered to them all. That is – being a cat – when she felt like it.
She was the sweetest and cutest little thing, and as you might imagine, Snowy at first was none too happy about having this little monster running around the house, being terrorized at every turn. Snowy at that point was eight-years-old, and she was the queen of the roost. She taught Milly the rules of the house, and eventually, as Milly matured, they became friends. Claudia helped them get along in a major way. She took a small paint brush, and gently swabbed the cheeks on one and then applied the pheromones to the cheeks of the other. This way, each kitty got used to the other’s smell. Sometimes they would even sleep side by side. They were a great pair, even with their distinct colorings and personalities. Snowy did most of the talking – asking for food, treats, etc. – while Milly tagged along quietly.
Snowy lived 18 years, but she passed in May of 2012. After Snowy was gone, Milly then came into her own, since she was now the only cat in the house. She started to become more vocal, asking for things like wet food, treats, and the drip from the faucet.
Ever since she arrived at 251 East Blithedale, she was my little girl. Snowy was Claudia’s, and Milly took to me. She developed some great routines along the way. In the mornings, after I showered and finished with the hair dryer, the bathroom door would immediately be pushed open, and she would jump up onto the toilet and from there, onto the counter, where she would sit patiently, watching me shave and brush my teeth. After I was done with my toothbrush, it was time for her to drink dripping water from the tap. Even though she always had ample water available in bowls, she loved using the drip, and it was always a pleasure to watch that long pink tongue lap away at the faucet. After I got dressed, the next step was to march out to the refrigerator where she would get wet food from a can, and I would lead her into the bedroom where, purring away at a frantic rate, she would wolf down her breakfast. After that, before leaving the house, it was a back to the bathroom for her post-meal drip, followed by some more serious morning napping time.
When I would return at day’s end, hearing the bells ringing on the gate, she would run to the window beside the front door and start announcing, “Daddy’s home!” As soon as I’d get inside, I would pick her up and give her a big hug before she would then lead me to the kitchen where I’d ask the stupid question, “Are you hungry for some dinner?” At this point the meows would begin in earnest, and she would follow me into the bedroom to eat her third meal of the day (she trained Claudia as well to feed her midday). After dining, it was off to the bathroom sink for some drip. And when that was done, she would head back to the bedroom. For my day job, I wear a dress shirt to work, and underneath that, a basic white undershirt. When I changed into casual clothes, I’d lay the undershirt on the bed, and Milly would then begin to roll around on it for many minutes, taking in my smell. This was just so damn adorable! I was honored by this daily ritual.
On weekends, when I did not have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to work, I would sleep in as late as possible. While doing this, Milly would often jump up on the bed, and I would lift the sheet a bit so that she could crawl “into her cave,” where she would lie right next to me, purring away, and I would cover her with the sheet. I loved it when she did this, as there is nothing like the sound and feel of a happy cat lying so close to you.
One bad habit she mastered was asking for drip in the middle of the night. Old man that I am, I sometimes must get up at 3 a.m. or so to relieve myself, and usually there would be this orange creature sitting on the toilet seat or counter, waiting for me to arrive and turn on the faucet. Of course, I would then have to wait until she was finished drinking before going back to bed. But worse than this were the occasional times when I didn’t have to get up to use the loo, so sometimes she would jump up on the bed to remind me or just stand on the carpet and say, “Hey, it’s time for you know what!” Sucker that I was, I always accommodated her demands while stumbling to the bathroom.
These are but a few of the fond memories I will always cherish and carry with me, because on Monday, August 19, 2019, my little girl went to sleep forever.
A few months back, while having her annual check-up at the vet, we were told that she showed the early signs of kidney disease. That news was a shock, as she had been in perfect health for all her 17 years. Sometime later we noticed that she wasn’t eating as much as before, nor drinking enough water. Another trip to the vet showed that she had lost a few pounds, something that we did not notice as much since we saw her every day. In early July she began sleeping more and more, and the greetings at the front door were not as frequent. She was eating less of the dry food that was always available to her, and her water bowl was barely touched. After trips to the vet for some subcutaneous fluid injections, we learned to do the process at home, which saved a bit of money, but was never a pleasant task, as Milly was not fond of this daily routine. Three weeks back an ultrasound was done, and it was determined that she either had irritable bowel syndrome or, worse, lymphoma, in her bowels. After she was given a shot of prednisolone by the vet, we were hoping for the former prognosis instead of the latter, while Claudia administered pills and liquid drops daily. Claudia also bought countless gourmet wet foods to try and whet Milly’s appetite, and some would work for a day or two, but then she would turn away from them. This past Sunday, the 18th, resigned to the fact that the end might be coming sooner rather than later and having no commitments, we both hung around the house for almost the entire day, to be with our ailing little girl.
And it was a good thing that we did. Later that night, after eating a lot more food than she had in a while, she vomited numerous times. Worse, she lost the use of one of her hind legs, so she was dragging herself around the house. Many had told us that “You will know when it’s time.” On Monday morning, we knew it was time for that final trip to the vet. By 9:15 a.m., Milly was finally out of pain for good, and the tears began to flow. As anyone that has ever had a pet knows, saying goodbye to a loving creature is one of the hardest things to do in life. Even though we had been through this situation a few times together with other kitties over the past 24 years, it never gets any easier…
Today – the day after Milly went on to that big kitty sandbox in the sky – things are decidedly different. This morning there was no opening of the bathroom door after the hair dryer stopped. No one asked for the drip after brushing my teeth. And there was no hungry creature leading me to the refrigerator for an early breakfast. I drove to work in silence, not bothering to turn on the car radio to find out what was going on in the world, because it simply did not matter. My little girl was gone, and it was time to try to get back to the daily routine of everyday life. After getting through the work day in a slightly catatonic state, I returned to the house at day’s end, and there was no meowing orange feline to greet me at the door. There was no need to make a bee line to the refrigerator. And the undershirt was just tossed forlornly into the hamper.
Claudia set up a little shrine to Milly in the living room. There are framed photos of her, two candles, her nametag and collar, and a few tufts of her orange fur. There are holes in our hearts, and a profound emptiness in our souls. She brought us so much joy and love over the past 17 years, it’s hard to believe she won’t come walking around the corner from the bedroom at any minute. That she won’t be demanding drip every time we walk into the bathroom. Or that she won’t be sleeping at the foot of the bed tonight.
For the first time in 22 years, there is no physical cat presence here in Claudia’s house. While Milly will always be with us in spirit, she is now free to frolic with her step-sister Snowy and all the other kitties that have made the journey to the world beyond.
As stated at the top, I didn’t want another cat. But boy, did I ever have a special one for the past 17 years. It’s hard to believe that she is gone, but sadly, our furry friends are only with us for too short a time.
Will there be more four-legged felines in the future? I have no doubt. But not for a while. I just need some time to take comfort in the fact that my little orange angel has landed peacefully somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge…