My cat died on the 4th of July.
Jasper was one of those cases where I just knew. The owners of Jasper's mother, a purebred Manx, had no plans of ever breeding her. They assumed that on their large property, on a farm several hours from Edmonton, their cat couldn't possibly get pregnant. Boy, were they wrong! Male cats are always willing to travel great distances when they catch the scent of a female in heat on the wind. He was born on Thanksgiving in 2011, along with all of 6 of his brothers and sisters.
My husband didn't really want to get a cat. In fact, he told me we weren't going to get another cat. But by the next day, his resolve softened, and he agreed that we could welcome a kitten into our family if that was what I really wanted. The very next morning, we were off to pick one out. I knew exactly which kitten I wanted as soon as I laid eyes on him. He was a fluffy, apricot-colored ball of adorable, with a stump of a tail so short it was almost nonexistent. My husband said that he preferred one of his siblings with a half-tail more, but I was insistent. I knew which kitten was going home with us.
He was smaller than kittens are supposed to be when they're ready to go to homes away from their mothers. His mother was an independent and exhausted barn cat, who had had enough with the nursing nonsense when the kittens were only 5 weeks old. He was only 6.5 weeks old when he came to live with us. In those early days, Jasper would curl up in a little ball to sit on my lap or lay on my chest for hours. He always had a deep purr that was more like the rumbling of thunder than the light and flittering type of purr you'd expect to come out of a kitten that size. He was always happy with the simplest little things. Sometimes I would be looking at him scampering around on the floor, and he'd turn and start purring immediately when he saw me looking at him. It never failed to make my heart melt.
As he grew older, he became quite the gentle giant. He was 18+ lbs by adulthood. He would jump up onto my lap and attempt to lay down for a cat nap, only to find that either his rump or his head would spill over my lap. Gravity would threaten to slide him right off my lap and onto the floor, and in frustration, he'd jump off and find another place to sleep. As such, his favorite was when I was sitting on the couch. I've never been a very good couch potato, so my time spent on the couch has always been brief, and rare. But on the occasions where I have been, he'd lumber over, hop up onto the couch, and lay down with his back pressed up to my leg. The purr engine would start, and would slowly trail off as he was lulled to sleep. He became especially fond of my husband, J, too, who has always been way more fond of the couch as a sitting place than myself. This was something that they had in common! Somehow, Jasper went from being my cuddly little pal, into practically becoming my husband's cat. He loved going to sit near him, and if we were both sitting down, he'd always cuddle up to my husband. I should have been furious at this betrayal of loyalty, but how could I blame him for liking my husband? It just showed he had good taste, and I couldn't help but love him more for that.
When my husband and I officially found out we were expecting our first child, I spent hours worrying about how Jasper would adjust. You hear so many horrible stories about how pets don't take well to the new family member, and the family ends up with no other option than to find a new home for the pet or pet(s) who resented the new family member. But I needn't have worried. Jasper was always very gentle and tolerant with Baby E. In fact, when I would put Baby E down for a nap, Jasper would always jump up on the bed and want to sleep a foot away from him. I had no doubt he wanted to keep an eye on him and protect him while I wasn't there. But, out of concern, I would always pick up Jasper and take him with me to the living room, closing the door behind us. I had heard too many horror stories about babies being suffocated by well-meaning cats to be comfortable leaving him with Baby E if I wasn't watching.
Baby E started out in his early infancy looking at Jasper in awe and amazement. He was absolutely fixated by this unusual and curious creature. As he grew older, he would always go and seek Jasper out. I taught him to be gentle with him, and on the few occasions where Baby E tried Jasper's patience, he would administer a warning nip that left momentary impressions, but never broke the skin. I know that this required a lot of control on Jasper's part. Baby E even liked to help me feed Jasper in the evenings, and would demand that I had him the dish. I would lift him up, and he would put the bowl of kibble down in his cat tree, and then pet him as he began gobbling down his food.
Friday afternoon, Jasper came into the house and was acting a bit lethargic. The weather has been extremely hot, and he has a tendency to enjoy sitting in the sunlight out in our yard, so I assumed he had gotten too much sun and would feel better after hydrating himself and resting. He stretched out in the kitchen, and I sat down next to him and decided to take the opportunity to brush him. I spent half an hour sitting there with him on our tile floor, brushing him gently and stroking his back. I offered him his kibble once I noticed it was only half empty, but he turned away without interest. I took him over to the hallway where the water dish was, and he lapped it up before laying down on Copper's dog bed and going to sleep. When J came home at 4:30 pm, I told him that Jasper didn't seem quite himself, and hadn't eaten much. He shrugged it off as I had. We speculated that he may have come down with a parasite, and we made plans to pick up a dewormer the very next day. By 6 pm, Jasper still hadn't moved from the cat bed. I went over to him and he lifted his head and looked at him, and I brought him a can of wet food to try to convince him to eat. He sniffed it momentarily, and then turned away to return to napping. I told J that something must definitely be wrong if he wasn't eating. But he was drinking, so I wasn't overly concerned yet.
Thirty minutes later, I went to check on him again, and he was laying on his side, and his tongue was sticking out. I lifted him to show him the water bowl, but when I let go so he could take a drink, his body collapsed into the water bowl. I quickly grabbed him and laid him back down, but noticed that his body was entirely limp. Not a single muscle tensed or loosened beneath my hands. Now I knew something was very wrong. J and I grabbed Baby E and ran into the car with Jasper. We drove a few blocks away to an animal hospital that we thought was a 24-hour vet clinic, but they were closed. I quickly called a veterinary office that was listed online as open after-hours, and they told me to take Jasper to a clinic a little closer to me, they gave me the address. There happened to be a football game, and traffic was slowing us down. I was staring at Jasper, monitoring him, and when we were halfway to the vet... his stomach stopped rising and falling. He was still. I'd been staring at him for a minute or two when my husband said what I already knew. We drove to the animal hospital anyway, and J took him in. But of course there was nothing they could do. Jasper was gone.
I cried uncontrollably for two hours straight, horrified by what had just happened. I knew that he had somehow accessed a substance from a neighbor's yard that had poisoned him. I asked myself why I had not taken him in sooner, even though I knew the answer. I have known so many cats, and seen many sick. Generally the answer was always parasites, and everything was fixed with a routine dewormer. Until that last time I had checked on him, his behavior was exhibiting that of all the cats who I had known before him that were weak from parasites. In fact, one of my family's cats from my childhood (who is still alive and living with them today) appeared much sicker when he was within an inch of death. We had taken the poor kitten in to find out he had 3 parasites and would have probably died within 24 hours if he had not been so suspicious and had taken him in. Yet Jasper, my sweet, healthy 3-year-old cat, went from looking tired and lazy to taking his last breath, in the blink of an eye.
I sat there on the couch, several hours after he passed, closed my eyes, and let my mind go quiet. My eyes were dry and my head was aching from crying so much and for so long. I just let myself find a calm place inside my head, and thought about all of the great things about my sweet cat. It struck me how strange it was that this is the third pet loss I've experienced, and yet it had hit me the hardest. I was only 8 when my biological father had decided to put my very first pet, a hamster, out on the porch in the sun while he cleaned the house. The poor hamster, Lily, overheated and was dead by the time I got home. Not even two years later, our Pitbull/Labrador Retriever cross, Sama, one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known, caught parvo and passed away. It was through these experiences that I realized that death is inevitable, and learned to just look at the positive. But with Jasper it was just different. It was holding him as his body was limp that broke my heart.
Last week, I was on my way to the grocery story with Baby E when my new neighbors called out to me. I was reluctant to turn around, because I couldn't think of any reason why they would need to speak to me as I was on my way out for errands. I turned around, and the man was cradling a very crumpled cat in his arms. It was so awful, I never even told my husband about it. He wasn't exactly a Homer the Wonder Cat. But he was my Jasper. He was loved. And I am so thankful that he was in my life, and was able to live 3 years as each cat should. Treated with dignity, respect, kindness, and love.
Now all I can think about is how Native Americans somehow had it so right. They believed that when you died, you lived on. In the grass beneath your feet, soaring in the wings of the eagles up above, trickling in the streams. We are all made of atoms, and those atoms do not just vanish. They break apart, reconfigure, and become a part of everything else. So my sweet cat, although no longer able to continue to be a part of my life as my beloved companion, will instead go forward in my life in the earth beneath my feet, and the very air I breathe. It is this thought that I am hanging onto... No one we love every truly leaves us.
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