The proper time to tell some stories is when they have come to an end. Our beautiful, tortoise shell, feral house guest, Annie, is gone. Our intention, and the vet's, had been that this very wild kitty should check out on her own terms. It proved to be impossible. Her decline had accelerated so much in the last fortnight that prolonging her life was just prolonging her pain.
The best estimate of her age is 24; 112 in human years. She first appeared in our lives in 1989, when a neighbour who fostered cats took in this youthful rescue cat. All any of us ever knew of her background was that Annie had had an exceptionally bad kittenhood. Beautiful as she was, Annie was totally wild, and remained so all her life. Our neighbour, who was very talented at gentling such animals, didn't succeed with Annie. A house with three young children, two dogs, and a traveling circus of smaller animals was not entirely to Annie's taste. She took off. She would take food and water from our neighbour's porch, but otherwise lived in the open space in the midst of our block. My daughter, who was friends with the daughter of that house, got to know Annie from these furtive porch visits. We would see her occasionally, crossing the back yard, and got used to her as a neighbourhood fixture.
Early in the winter of 2000-01, Annie began hanging out on our deck. We put out food and water, and I built her a small foam shelter. Our other cat, Spike, was still a kitten then. Bit by bit, the two cats bonded through the glass of our back slider. Finally, when a March snowstorm came, she looked interested in life on the other side of the glass. We opened the door, stepped quietly back, and Annie walked in. For a cat in her twelfth year, this was something like retirement.
Except for a day or two when we had a new furnace installed, she has been our guest ever since. As far as she was concerned, this was a strictly business proposition with the humans. For the first several years, with her joints and faculties intact, she wouldn't allow any human closer than about six feet. Any attempt to violate that space, and we learnt very fast how wild she really was. As Annie's eyesight and hearing began to fail, her perimeter of safety shrank, but contact remained off-limits.
The relationship with Spike was different. She had somehow established herself as dominant cat in their interactions through the glass. Although Spike could be macho, territorial and boorish, she still drew lines that he could not cross. Still, it was not until a few weeks ago that she had the satisfaction of knowing that he had finally figured out how to mouse.
Annie's world shrank with the decline in her faculties. For years, she had two vantage points: the cellar window of our front bay, and one of the ground floor windows of the same bay. For several years, she was such a fixture there that she developed a neighbourhood reputation as "the kitty in the window." Having come into the house when Em was already at college, she took Em's bedroom as her own, save when Em came home. As her eyesight, joints and coordination failed, she retreated one by one from her favourite spots, giving up the ground-floor windows only a few weeks ago.
Since then, she chiefly lived on the few square feet of floor inside the slider, the first view she had had of the home she chose. When she couldn't negotiate the cellar stairs, we brought up a litter box. When she couldn't climb into the litter box, we bought puppy pads. By then, it looked like it was time to take the exit decision out of Annie's paws.
She kept a measure of control to the end. Weak as she had become, she fought us when, for the first time in her life here, we put her into the cat box. She resisted the vet and the tech when it was time for the first, relaxing, shot, then leaped off the table when it had been administered. But her end came quietly and peacefully. Whatever in her first months had driven her to a lifetime of distance from the human race, fear that almost never yielded to love and care, was gone. We were finally able to pet this little lady in her final moments.
Recent studies in feline psychology have tended to the belief that cats experience something like grief when a companion is gone. This seems to be going on now. Spike has shown what seems to be the first stage of this: a restless prowling, mitigated somewhat by his understanding that he now gets all the food.
Spike is likely to remain an only cat. His welcome to strangers, ever since Annie came, has been rather sparse. That doesn't seem like a good thing to inflict on any shelter kitty.