My neighbor, Susan, loves animals. She let me take care of her brood for a week earlier this year while she went on a much-needed trip that was part vacation, part helping her friend take care of his business. How lucky for Susan that his business is fine gems and jewelry. If a friend in need is one who needs help displaying and selling his original designs comprising precious gems and metals at the nation’s largest and most prestigious gem show in sunny Arizona, well, of course you jump to his rescue. And of course, you ask someone to take care of your fur and feather children, someone who understands the urgency of the situation and who gladly helps you so you can help your friend find forever homes for his exquisitely cut and set diamonds, demantoids, tanzanites, etc.. That’s what friends are for, right?
Of course! So, I took care of the Persians for seven glorious days. And that’s how I fell in love with Ebon, a little bundle of love with a short (for a Persian) jet black coat and vivid green eyes. He’s the gentle leader of the pack. His son, an orange boy named Higgins, was twice his size but deferred to papa Ebon after just a sideways glance of annoyance from Ebon. Every time I entered the house, Ebon and the other six cats would crowd around me, eager for me to sit on the floor so they could rub themselves all over me and jockey for prime petting position. It’s a huge ego-booster to be so adored. I called it Happy Hour because everyone involved got their happy endorphins flowing.
Ebon, like the other Persians, was peke-faced: a nearly flat face like the Pekingese dog. The look is highly prized by top breeders but it results in serious health issues because the tear ducts get deformed and the cats have a difficult time, like Peke dogs, breathing. Ebon and crew all had runny eyes and trouble breathing so each day I cleaned their eyes and wiped their little noses, which they didn’t exactly love. They did love, however, being brushed and petted and carried around. Their lady-in-waiting, I dutifully obliged. Okay, I excitedly scooped them up and gave them as much petting and attention as each cat wanted.
Little Ebon was especially playful. I brought over small catnip toys and tossed them on the floor. The jumping, batting, tumbling, wrestling and pouncing that ensued looked like that scene in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town when Chris Kringle brings the children toys for the first time (remember how Burger Meister Meister Burger outlawed toys?)
Ebon raced around on fleet feet, batting a purple catnip caterpillar under the chair, out from under the chair, across the living room floor, at his daughter, Sam (an adorable grey Persian), and then at me. We batted the catnip toy back and forth, back and forth, until he walked off with it to enjoy on his own.
With their nearly flat noses, it didn’t take long to tire them. Everyone piled onto the bed and fell asleep, maybe with visions of catnip caterpillars and butterflies dancing in their heads.
During that week I marveled at Susan’s large heart. She has taken in and loved some of God’s creatures the average person would have trouble loving. The cats don’t all conform to the “cuddly cute” rule with their flat faces and runny noses. They wouldn’t win Best In Show even where the ultra-typing or hyper-breeding for Peke-face is prized. Susan loves her cats unconditionally and completely. It’s a powerful lesson for me.
Ebon went to God yesterday. Susan found him Monday morning under a chair. He was breathing and responsive but weak and listless. A day later he seemed worse so we jumped into the car and roared off to the vet, who promised to wait for us. The vet confirmed what Susan had feared: Ebon was dying. We don’t know what he developed or what killed him because he was too ill too suddenly to give the doctors time to diagnose and attempt to treat. He died with Susan holding his head and me stroking his little body. We kissed him and whispered how much we loved him and how much better it would be with God. Susan told him it was okay for him to leave her; he was a good kitty who had given her so much love and so much joy, he deserved to rest without pain and without suffering. Within an hour of our arrival, he was gone.
What a blessing and a solemn honor to be with someone as they let go of a beloved furchild, as they return their baby to God. To lose a beloved furchild is heartbreaking. Those of us who could not or did not become mothers to human children often give all our maternal love and adoration to fur children. For us, this is the loss of a child, a painful hollowing of the heart that only time and God can heal. We take comfort in knowing we gave our all, we did our best but none of us can change the course of nature: we are born, we grow, we die. There is no love powerful enough to stop death, not for humans and not for animals. It is a part of nature, part of the way of life. God loans us our animal companions; sooner or later He calls them home, just as He will call us home one day.
My friend said she didn’t want me to have to see Ebon die. She said it wasn’t fair to me. I replied that is was a blessing to be allowed to be there if and when she and Ebon needed me. Fairness, I said, is love no matter what, support no matter what, being present for her no matter what. ..just like she is for so many others.
Susan really didn’t want to be alone as she and Ebon let go of each other, although she was prepared for it. She is too good a friend to others, including me, not have the same unconditional friendship given to her. What better gift could I give my dear friend than to be there with her?
It seemed to comfort her a great deal, which is what friendship should do: comfort. It also taught me a great deal about what it means to be a friend, what it means to love, and what it means to put others’ needs far ahead of my shallow preferences. I would prefer, in the short term, not to feel pain, but then again, how will I grow and become a better person if I don’t experience pain, don’t share the burden of pain with those I claim to care for?
May sweet Ebon rest in the loving arms of His Creator. And may Susan feel the comfort of those same loving arms as she grieves her loss, and as she also continues to love and care for Stanley, Beau, Cassie, Sam, Creampuff, and Higgins.