Here Comes the Sun

16 May

Miss Abbie

The question of when always weighs on the minds of us pet lovers. My motto has always been when they can longer have fun then it’s time. Toughy, my first dog, was diagnosed with liver disease and I watched his condition deteriorate over the course of two months. He gave me good-morning licks and killed sticks up to his last day. There was no question about timing when he began to stagger and his eyes glassed over.

A kitten of mine in New Zealand born with a birth defect lived only two months before I decided it was time. She chased her tail, chased her brother’s tail, and swatted at her mom’s tail until it was time. I called her life, Short but Fun (Click to read adapted short story and view a video) and dedicated a chapter in my memoir to her. Those decisions were definitive, but what if a cat never really has a lot of fun to begin with? What if a cat is seventy percent grumpiness, twenty-nine percent sleep, and one percent purr? Our dear old Miss Abbie was this cat.

From the time Lori brought her back from a shelter fourteen years ago, Miss Abbie was a classic crotchety old lady. Lori, always the compassionate fixer, first saw Miss Abbie with her head buried under a Garfield bed at a shelter. A rare female ginger cat, with a mama bear face, Miss Abbie began purring when Lori lifted the bed to take a peek so off they went. In retrospect, Miss Abbie was probably best suited to be an only cat in a grandma’s house, enjoying long naps on creaky rocking chairs, and running to hide for days when the boisterous grandchildren visited.

Miss Abbie’s life with Lori, though not perfectly suited, was far from neglectful. Lori is aptly nicknamed, the Granny, so Miss Abbie had plenty of love over the years. Miss Abbie shared her time with another cat, Miss Sophie, who is as wide as she is long. If Miss Abbie had to share the house with another cat, a fat lap cat who moves only for food or a head rub was a perfect fit for her.

Lori with Miss Abbie, Miss Sophie, and Baetis

The union of Lori and I brought a dog and another cat into the mix. Miss Abbie showed her dislike immediately by going on a peeing spree. No coat, towel, or throw-rug was safe from her wrath. No matter how much effort I made to bond with her, she was determined to be a daytime scowler, a nocturnal moper, and found refuge behind stoves and under dressers. One time while cooking, I heard a noise behind the stove and peaked over. There was Miss Abbie next to the dusty gas line looking like a homeless person behind a dumpster. From then on we tried to prepare pleasant cave-like nooks for her. Closets with long coattails and next to toilets were some of her favorites. Our constant relocating didn’t help her nerves but when we finally bought a house, Miss Abbie settled in. Reluctantly, and with great effort she began opening up a little bit. She’d head butt our shins and hop on the couch for a few minutes at a time before trodding off to her world of grump.

Just as Miss Abbie seemed to find her stride she became too weak to be grumpy. Tests showed that her kidneys were failing. The vet taught us how to give her fluids in order to make her comfortable and we thought she’d be leaving us at that time: it’s been over three years.

At times I questioned if I was doing the right thing by giving her fluids but she got so used to it that she purred when I prepared the needle, and relaxed her muscles to make it easier.  Lori and I found it comical that we were going to such great lengths to care for a cat who ignored us the majority of the time, pissed on our belongings, and drained our bank account with her medical needs and special diet. With two non-furry kids taking up most of our time now, it was even harder to provide the care and give the necessary attention to Miss Abbie. I admit to swearing and impatience as I cleaned up after Miss Abbie, but also knew this is what we signed up for.

As pet owners it is our responsibility to choose the right time. We must ask: Are we keeping the pet alive for ourselves, or are we keeping the pet alive so they can enjoy life? Are we putting them down for our convenience, or is it really time?  These are hard questions with subjective answers.  Our pets depend on us for just about everything and sometimes this includes when they will die. In return, they give us their hearts and countless teachings. In Miss Abbie’s case, she reminded me that we must enjoy life in whatever capacity we are able.

This past summer I watched Miss Abbie drag herself across our yard. Her head hung low and her rear would sway one way to the tipping point before rocking back the other way. Occasionally her feet would stick to the matted grass because she had lost the ability to retract her claws. She was unaware of my presence so I propped myself up on a garden shovel admiring her tenacity. Upon reaching a sunny spot, she sat down and adjusted herself, tucking and kneading her front paws until she was just right. Slowly, like she was pushing her head through molasses, her head pivoted towards the sun to maximize the warmth. For me, enjoying the sun on my face was something I did in passing, but for her, it was obviously the highlight of her day. It was her goal, the top of top of her list, and possibly–the reason why she continued to live.

Maybe one day my only solace will be wheeling myself onto a porch to enjoy the sun. I will not be bitter, I will not wish for more, I will know that the sun on my face is more than some people have, and I will know that it is reason enough to go on living.

* * *

Ryan Chin is the creator of, Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir with two dozen short videos accenting the written word. Mr. Chin likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, ibooks, and locally at Powell’s Books.

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4 Responses to “Here Comes the Sun”

  1. Harry Hitzeman December 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    Good story Ryan. Sad that we can’t allow humans to decide when it is their time.

    • Ryan Chin December 17, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

      Thanks Uncle Harry. You know Oregon and Washington are the only states that allow euthanasia. Must have something to do with all the rain…I need to pop over to your site and spend some time with your Southwest picture gallery.

  2. Michele December 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    What a teander and sweet tribute to your beloved cat. I have four cats of my own and I love them all dearly, as they age it makes me sad to think that one day they will be gone, they have brought so much joy into our home. I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Kent Butler January 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    Thanks, Ryan, for an introspective and touching look at an endearing furball and a most difficult situation. RIP Miss Abbie.

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