I’m sensing the time is close now for my elderly cat Red. I instinctively felt it early this morning that Red is close to the end of his life, and could even be in the early stages of the dying process. He is getting weaker, slower, more feeble and fragile, losing weight and appearing more gaunt.
He came to me in bed this morning seeking to be close—very close, nosing to get under the covers for warmth and safety. He gently plows his head into mine messaging me he wants to lie next to me. I cuddle him, hold him, embrace his frail, skeletal body. As he lies stretched out along the length of my body, I cuddle him to comfort him. I gently run my hand over his thin body. He purrs loudly, strongly, breathing and purring. I can’t sleep to his constant machine of a purr, but somehow it comforts me. I will miss this purr, this beautiful soul, this survivor, this brave cat that has endured so much.
Every morning—early, Red climbs up on the bed and waits for us to awake, to show signs of life again. He watches me intently, his eyes open wide, staring into my face—I can feel his warm breath, patiently waiting for my eyes to open and acknowledge him. He nudges my face, pushes my chin with his chin, in an effort to wake me. Failing, he climbs inside my sheets for warmth, comfort, and closeness. I hold him tight, knowing that these moments will eventually pass one day soon and I want to hold onto them. This is our routine every morning, faithfully, never failing.
As Red has aged in the past few years he has sought more and more comfort and closeness with us. He wants to be with us, near us, lying beside us. His fear of people, of feet, of shoes approaching him, of movement—has all dissipated now. His fear of us is long gone, but it took years. In the autumn of his life, he’s slowed down, lost his robust muscular body and strength, but he has gained a beautiful grace, wisdom, confidence, and above all trust—something that took him many years to gain.
Red was abandoned at the Oakland Airport before he was trapped by a wonderful local cat rescue group called Feral Cat Foundation (FCF) in the San Francisco East Bay. Red was originally a domestic cat that had been dumped at the Oakland Airport at a very young age. He learned to survive there with the horrific noise of planes arriving and departing. He had being chased constantly by workers, because he had developed a profound, deep, consuming and overwhelming fear of people and feet and men. Shoes and men were the enemy. For Red, the fear was so overpowering that when he was finally held in human arms—ours—he shook, buried his tail deeply between his legs and buried his head so that no one could see him. He wrapped himself in a ball to protect his body, but didn’t fight to get away from us. He curled onto my shoulder and held on for dear life when I met him at adoptions. Scared beyond belief, he was a cat that had been abused, before being abandoned. He didn’t unwind from his tight ball of fear for years. We learned later from our vet when we did X-rays, that his hind leg joints had been pulled out of the hip sockets, and painfully healed to allow him to walk with a stiff gait. The muscles healed over the bones, holding the leg joint to the hip bones, but walking became more and more painful for him as he aged.
Back in 2001, while house hunting in the Oakland hills with my fiancé at the time, we encountered Feral Cat Foundation who was holding their weekly cat adoptions outside a local petfood store. My fiancé and I had been thinking about adopting a cat for our only cat Pumpkin, who was showing signs of being lonely with our very long work hours and commute. As we approached the adoption site, we saw Red curled in a ball, then climb the cage walls as we approached. Our hearts broke. His stress was palpable. The woman managing the site gave us his history and said he was on his way to the “cat sanctuary” if he wasn’t adopted in the next week, because he had already been up for adoption for nine months. Immediately we felt deep compassion for Big Red, and although he wasn’t the cat we imagined adopting, we knew our fate was sealed. For the next week, we could not stop thinking about him. We knew he was ours from the moment we held him. We knew this was a kitty that needed a second chance at life. He deserved this chance. He deserved so much better than he had experienced. We wanted to give this to him—for the rest of his life—one full of love, dignity, trust, peace, safety, comfort and healing.
So Red became ours. Ours to see the magical transformation of a cat that had been abandoned and tormented into the beautiful soul he has become today and always was. Red, may you live many more weeks or even months with us, we will be with you to the last moment, the last breath, loving you as you have loved us. Bless you my beloved boy.