Last evening we made the decision to allow our cat Wanda go to a peaceful end. At fourteen years old, some of her vital systems were failing. It would not do to see her suffer through weeks of difficulty. Our family took time to say goodbye to the kitty that had joined the family when my wife’s girls were quite young. And so, like many such passings, this one had a tinge of both loss and transition.
A cat called Wanda
I’ve known Wanda for six years. She was one of two pets that my wife owned when I met her; a big black dog named Zack and Wanda, the tuxedo kitty with the tiny black spot on her white nose.
Before Sue and I married, she moved from a rental house on one side of our town to another because the house in which she’d been living was being sold. After all the furniture was carted over and hauled into the new house, it was time to go back and get the cat.
I volunteered to fetch the kitty even though I did not know Wanda all that well. I’d certainly never put her into a cat carrier. She wasn’t all that willing to go, especially for a relative stranger like me. But I half-coaxed and half pushed her into the carrier and hustled out to the car as quickly as I could. On the way driving over to the house, I saw two giant green eyes emerge from the carrier. Then that precocious black and white face. She had pushed her way right out of the zipper.
Something in that moment made me love that cat. Whether it was her spunk or spirit or kitty soul, I don’t know. But the moment she crawled out of that carrier making that big broken…Mee*yoo*uuw of hers I was smitten.
The more I hung out with Sue, the more time I got to spend with Wanda, and we grew closer. And yes, I meant to meld that sentence together to speak about both Sue and her cat. Love grows in ways that we don’t always understand.
Then Zack the dog moved out to live with her ex. So it was just us and Wanda and her kids for a while.
Which somewhat opened the door for Sue to accept another cat into our lives. That would be Benny, a rescue provided to us by our vet and triathlon buddy Jeff Palmer. Benny (originally named Bernie, or Burnie) was a stray that crawled up into a car engine for warmth. The little guy got burned and injured when the engine turned on. Fortunately for Benny, he recovered. Then we adopted him… only to have him escape out the back door a few months later. He lived outside for ten days before my wife’s daughters caught up with him in a neighbor’s yard. Stray Cat Strut? He ate like a hog when we brought him back home.
Up to Four Cats
Then when my wife’s eldest daughter moved back in with us we had four cats living around the house as Mercury and Apollo joined the gang. I can testify that having four cats around was often entertaining and great company, but that is too many cats to have in one house. That ultimately resolved itself when her daughter Stephanie moved out with her other daughter Sarah and boyfriend Boone. We were back down to two cats.
Plus one dog
Then my daughter and her boyfriend moved in with us to save money for a house and plan their future. That meant our dog Chuck, who was also once a stray that my son Evan found on the streets of Chicago, was coming to live with us. It took a week for the cats and the dog to work things out, but they did. They pretty much learned to ignore each other.
So it’s been largely a peaceable kingdom with two cats and one dog. Except the cats like to try to eat the dog food and the dog likes to try to eat the cat food. Neither is good for the other. And so on. So we keep them apart around feeding time. Mostly.
She loves you
The running joke around the house was that Wanda had become something of a girlfriend to me. “She looooves you,” the girls would say when Wanda came meowing around me with that split voice of hers. She’d roll over and allow me to pet her belly and nuzzle her neck.
However, when I was petting her a few years back, she gave me a warning nip with her sharp teeth. That led to a case of cellulitis in my hand that required antibiotics to cure. That treatment killed off my good gut bacteria, and I got a case of c. Diff. an infectious disease of the gut that can cause serious trouble and even death if left to its own devices.
So I had to take antibiotics to treat that condition as well. And during treatment, every training ride and run was a guessing game of when I’d have to go to the bathroom. And let me tell you, it would not wait. So I dosed up on Immodium to race in triathlons and got through the summer that way. Finally, my gut returned to somewhat normal, but I’d learned my lesson about taking a cat nip for granted.
I thought about our mostly happy history together as Wanda lay there on the table yesterday. Her feet were tipped up with pink paw pads visible between black and white fur. Something about that vision hit me deeply. All those days of walking this earth as a kitty were coming to an end. Tears flowed out of my eyes and we all hugged each other. I’ve seen so many things close to me in this life pass away, the experience gutted me in ways that are hard to explain to anyone.
For Wanda, those 14 years were loving ones. The vet’s assistant watched as we all cried and left the room. “She was lucky to have you,” she said quietly. That made me think about Wanda’s time on earth, which totaled some 5,110 days (or so). That’s been her mortal life. She even survived an attack by a dog a few years back, and she really gave it back to that, dog teeth and claws, when she spun and around and nailed him.
Wanda’s 5000 days were good in cat years, equivalent to almost 60 human years. And human beings don’t have all that much more time on earth. 85 years is considered a fairly long life for most, and that’s 31,025 days. I’ve lived 22,265 days. Talk about a gut check.
Every day is precious indeed. Yet all our anxious thoughts can have the effect of tossing these precious days aside. The Bible warns us not to worry our days away. So do psychologists, work mentors and yes, even triathlon coaches. Stop worrying so much! Let it happen! Let the training work for you! Enjoy the session, the race, the event! You only live once!
Sometimes it takes a solid reminder like the passing of something you love to appreciate the value of our mortal souls and our mortal soles. I’ll grieve the loss of our kitty because she was sweet and loving despite the bite she once gave me. That’s the nature of life itself. We get to taste the bitter with the sweet. We even invite it upon ourselves with these endurance ventures in which we engage. These runs and rides. These swims and transitions and podium wishes. The Bostons and Konas. The first time around the block after an injury. The last time around the old neighborhood before a move. The memories build and the days fly by. Try to keep up.
As for Wanda, I hope she gets to enjoy a different kind of cat nip in kitty heaven. She deserves a good life in eternity.