One of the best gifts we can give our pets is knowing when it's time to say goodbye.
Yesterday afternoon, we said goodbye to Scout. The timing was not terrific; Mom is still recovering from surgery and will come home now to an empty house. But Scout made it clear that she wasn't doing well and was ready to go in peace.
It might have been right, but it wasn't easy. I felt I owed it to her to be in the room with her as they gave her the shot, so after Jason and Ainsley petted her gently and said their goodbyes, I stayed behind to be the familiar and hopefully comforting hand that held her head as she left us. I had no idea it would happen so fast. I had no idea how unnatural it would all seem; she didn't suffer, but it still felt like murder.
Over and over as it was happening and when it was over, I gave her the best praise I could think of:
Scout, you were such a good cat.
Good cats can be hard to come by. I've known some who are too aloof and don't make their presence known in a house except to kill the occasional rodent and leave its remains in the most startling place possible. Some never quite get the whole litterbox thing down, some shred draperies, some bite and scratch and seem possessed by inner demons. But a good cat...that is truly a rare gift.
When Jason and I decided it was time to go from being a couple to being a family, we couldn't decide whether our first step should be a dog or a cat (talk of babies could only come after we had kept an animal alive for a while, we thought.) I lobbied for a feline, but Jason had never had a good cat and didn't realize that they could be more than cold, calculated shredding machines who decorate the front window and shed all over the couch and occasionally pee in the laundry basket.
My sister's neighbor took in a pregnant stray, and the kittens were born a month before we were to move back up to northern Kentucky from Lexington. It was a sign; these babies needed homes, we knew they were being handled daily to make them loving and accepting of humans, and my sister could just walk next door and stake our claim.
"I want one of the gray females," I told her.
"Done. Do you have a name picked out? They want to go ahead and start using her name."
That was a no-brainer. At that time, I wanted to name my first-born daughter Harper Lee after the author of my favorite book; it made sense to name our first pet after my favorite character.
"Scout. I want to name her Scout."
"That fits," my sister said. "She looks like a Scout."
From the beginning, Scout was one of those cats that a dog-lover can adore. As a young cat she played fetch with her little toy mice; we would wing one across the room, she would give chase and bring it back to us and drop it at our feet over and over again until we just gave up and hid the darn thing. As an adult she greeted us every day at the top of our stairs, so happy to have her people home, meowing and following us from room to room.
Aloof, she was not.
She never met a lap or a fleece blanket she didn't like. She knew when we were sick and parked herself at the crook of our knees, occasionally coming up to our faces to make sure we were still breathing. She killed spiders (even Shelob-sized ones from the basement) and tried to chase birds through the windows. She only got snippy and hissy in old age, and that only when she was cornered and/or being boxed up for the vet. With all the medical problems she had the last couple of years, and with all the poking and prodding she dealt with at the vet, I can't really say I blame her for fighting us and the carrier with all she had.
Not to say she was perfect. She did like to sharpen her claws on the edges of couches and she was incredibly shy around strangers. It took her a month to warm up to Mom when she left us to go live over there. She could make you crazy with her neediness once she got to know you; I can't tell you the number of nights she went up and down the hall wailing for us when we were in the same bed we'd been in every night for five years.
"Scout! We're back here!" we would holler. And here she'd come at the sound of our voices, running full-tilt-boogie down the hall and onto the bed where she purred and pawed as if she hadn't seen us for a decade or so.
She could drive you nuts trying to drink water from any tap you turned on, regardess of what you might be trying to be do with that water yourself or how badly you might not want her fuzzy butt in your shaving cream.
She had...shall we say, lots of personality.
We almost lost her several times: the electrocution behind the refrigerator, the allergic reaction to the stitches used when she got fixed, the fever and infection she got after a vaccination. Her immune system problems, her bowel problems, the diabetes caused by so many cortisone shots...every time I took her to the vet the last 2 years, I was afraid she wasn't coming back.
I'm glad she had those nine lives, because Scout gave us so much joy. My mom especially; though the living arrangement Scout's had the last few years was necessitated by Ainsley's asthma, it was really a blessing for Mom, who had such a lonely little house after Dad died. Mom needed Scout's company, and Scout grew to love her even more than she had loved us. It was ideal, really, that Scout grew old with Mom; they both favored long afternoon naps on fuzzy blankets and spending most days doing little more than getting a good back rub.
Scout's memory of me faded as the years with Mom passed; sometimes she would come out and greet me and let me rub her cheeks in our old accustomed way, but mostly she ran from me and hid under the bed. After all, I was the one who took her in for the steroid shots. Monday, though, when I checked on her and realized that she was not feeling well and not eating, she came out to meet me and wouldn't let me out of her sight. She purred and waited to be petted, her little body so thin and painfully bony from her illnesses, her once beautiful fur matted and uned for, her eyes sunken in from dehydration. We had thought of putting her down a couple of months ago, but when we looked in her eyes, it was still our Scout who was there. There was still life and light.
Monday, the light was beginning to fade and when my old friend and "furry baby" looked me in the eyes, I knew she was telling me it was time to let go.
She's gone, and we miss her. Mom's house felt so empty last night; my heart did, too. When we first adopted Scout, she made us a family. She gave me something to care for and worry about that was both bigger and smaller than myself. In return, we gave her two loving homes.
In the end, I hope they were enough.