Dolores was more than a pet. She was capable of profound love (or burning hatred), and that loyalty made her feel more like a little person than a companion. With the ability to recognize people through windows, I’d often find her sitting on the sill at the front of the house, waiting to greet me with a chorus of raspy meows when I came home from work; a ritual only special guests may be privy to, if they’ve presented the princess with enough presents.
I adopted her in university, and she was a constant presence through many residences, housemates, girlfriends — we even shared our space with other cats for years at a time. When finding me after a few moments apart, she’d come lean against me with an arched back, inviting me to scoop her up, and I’d make a point of spending a bit of time to cradling her like a baby, even if I was just passing through. Sometimes we’d lie in the blankets and stare into each other’s eyes; there was as much comfort to be found in her purring as my warmth and attention.
I could tell our bond was special from the start, and being fearful that I’d never share anything like it with another cat again, always made sure to cherish every second.
Her portly shape was part of her personality, until she grew thin and frail in recent years, with ribs protruding prominently from her back1. By the end of her life, she became an old lady who lost much of her spark and didn’t adjust well to being shacked up with a rowdy teenager.
Then one day, I woke up to find her wobbling uncontrollably, with eyes constantly darting from side to side as if watching passing scenery, even if in the middle of an empty room. With the suddenness of the symptoms, Heather and I were almost certain she had a stroke. We knew it was time to put her down, and didn’t want to prolong her life just to avoid the pain of such a decision. By that point, she was already suffering daily digestive problems, and too weak to defend herself from Byron’s antics. Just landing safely on short surfaces became a struggle.
Heather offered to go through the process as a way of saving me the anguish, but I knew that if I could make Dolly’s final moments any easier, it was a small price to pay. So I did my best to temper my quavering voice, calm my gasping breaths, and repeat her name reassuringly. She was purring until the first shot sedated her, and almost immediately after the second shot, the drooping of her tiny ear told me she was gone forever2.
It’s been a few weeks, and the house feels empty and still without my little honey garlic pork chop. At least having Heather through the whole experience has made it more bearable; I needed someone to understand exactly how hard the loss has been, and for a while we took turns crying and holding each other.
It’s impossible to say what I cherished most about my relationship with Dolly, but being part of her routine is something I started to miss right away. No matter her changing habits through the years, she always made sure I was involved, most often to claim some part of my body while she groomed herself. I can only hope to be so important to other cats, or even people, in my life.
- After his surgery, Byron ended up gaining a ton of weight, so for a while they were wearing each others costumes. [↩]
- In the moment between, when the nurse briefly took her out of the room to insert the catheter, I had the clarity to know that the experience I was going through was agonizing, but I’d survive it. And knowing that the pain wouldn’t stop me from meeting more cats and falling in love again felt like an important step towards maturity. [↩]