Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Lion Among Cats

I don't know whether some folks really are "cat" folks and others "dog" folks. Growing up, we had two of particular note: Emma, who patiently abided being dressed as a business man (our first, and only, transvestite pet); and Sparky, a high energy, peripatetic mutt. Emma brought the class looks and distinction of a black and white pointer to her game, Sparky brought terror whenever the front door stood open too long.

After Terri and I married, and after law school, when our first two children, Abby and James, were toddlers, and we lived in a mobile home, in Kentucky. This period was during my first years out of law school. I took a job with a small nonprofit law firm involved in First Amendment cases, typically cases resulting from pro-life speech activities near abortion businesses. Pat Monaghan, my boss, offered an overly tempting compensation package:  Thirteen thousand dollars a year, professional fees paid, the mobile home at no rent, and health insurance (except when he cancelled it without telling me).

The mobile home sat half-way into a cow pasture. Less that a stone's throw from our door there was a barn, and in the barn, there were cats. Abby and James got their first taste for cats then. They loved them. As cats in farm setting do, the Monaghan cats multiplied. At one point, after we had moved to the Washington, DC, area, the Monaghans had more than twenty cats (I know that because one of their sons told me he gathered up 21 kittens and cats, took them to the woods, and shot them dead with a .22 rifle.)

When we settled into the Northern Virginia area, Abby and James had not forgotten cats. They missed the cats. They even made friends with an ant that got into our "Florida" room or back porch. Eventually, they, and Terri, wore me down, and with our landlord's permission, we got our first cat. That first cat came from a home where the parents loved it, but had to adopt her out because of an infant with respiratory issues.

Since our first Virginia cat, we had many come through our home. Several of them won particular places in various folks' hearts. I won't list them all here, because today I am writing about the Pride of our Cats, the Lion among Cats, an animal of dignity, grace, and strength.

Our daughter, Jennifer, brought Sam into our home. Sam had a rough start in life. He had, at some point, contracted an eye infection. His prior owner apparently failed to get treatment for him, and he lost sight in one eye. When Jennifer assumed responsibility for Sam, the infection was threatening the other eye. Using her earnings, she had him treated and saved the other eye.

Sam. With one good eye, some folks would tell me they thought he should be put down. Some, when they learned of the possible loss of sight in his other eye, would tell me that he should surely be put down then. Every time I heard these remarks, I wondered to myself, "and if you were blind, would you rather be put down, or allowed to find your food using other senses, be allowed to explore your world using those same other senses?"

No, Sam was not going to be put down over a little matter of visual impairment.

Jennifer left Sam with us, although we understood at the time it was a temporary arrangement and that she might, when circumstances allow it, reclaim him. Circumstances, thankfully, never allowed it. Sam grew in our home and in our hearts.

Having monocular vision meant Sam lacked depth perception, I suppose. But those whiskers and his good sense seemed to keep him on the straight and narrow. We never lost him to a car or truck. He got his fair share of bird pecks, because he did love the outdoors. But it never stopped him from going outside.

Sam grew and got a beautiful sleek coat. A couple years ago, he had acquired quite a regal appearance.

Sam loved to spend time with various folks in the house. He was a cat of many vacations: he spent time visiting Abby, visiting Pat, visiting Terri, and even visiting me. He was also a cat of decided interests. Specifically, he decided where you would scratch him, and almost always that was just behind one ear and under his chin. Like all our cats, Sam faced one insufferable indignity, but he suffered it well. I like to turn a cat over on its back, cradled in my arm like a baby, and rub its belly. Sam let me do so.

Sam developed congestive heart failure, probably sometime last summer. He lost weight. He had a lot of trouble breathing. A veterinarian gave us the prognosis, and a couple scripts to help with water weight gain around his heart and with his breathing.

I'm sure some folks would have suggested putting Sam down then. But, to be honest, I was thinking about some one's mom, and I thought, well, if God can care for some one's mom that has congestive heart failure and extend her life beyond expectation, why should I think that killing Sam made sense. (I won't mention the someone, they know who they are, and they know how we and others in our couples' small group cared for them and prayed for their mom during that season in their lives.)

Sam fattened back up some and his labored breathing relaxed. We continued to enjoy the equanimity of his presence, whenever he deigned to share it with us. In some ways, his prognosis slipped from my mind.

Today, I came home for lunch at 3 pm. When I walked in the kitchen door, Rose told me the news. Sam had just passed away, in Pat's bedroom. Sam went to sleep and, apparently, passed peacefully in his sleep.

I am glad that Jennifer brought Sam home and into our hearts. While having him pass out from our home and life hurts, and hurts a great deal, he was, in his own right, a lion among cats.