When it comes to cats, I have a slight tendency to act upon impulses.
When it comes to my cat-related impulses, my instincts have not done wrong by me.
I’ve had the opportunity to foster for Tabby’s Place three times so far. The first was Ebony, a goofy little soot sprite of a kitten. She was all hisses and attitude when she first came to my home. By the end of our preset two week run, she was gleefully rubbing against my legs and stealing the hair ties out of my hair.
My second – and ongoing – fostering experience is Patches, the slender, big-eyed doll that follows me into the kitchen and yells while I putter about. Her birthday falls sometime during the month of May; this year, she is twenty years old – officially the oldest cat at Tabby’s Place.
And finally… Abby.
Hers was a story riddled with sadness. She must have been someone’s cat at some point; when and for how long, we do not know. We know she was spayed at some point; we know she was declawed on all four paws. She ended up at a shelter and eventually came to Tabby’s Place.
The joy of welcoming Abby to Tabby’s Place was, much too quickly, pockmarked with uncertainty. Strange symptoms showed up – and rapidly accelerated. Detailed testing revealed devastating results; Abby had Effusive FIP, an incurable, fatal disease.
Shortly after her diagnoses, I had come to Tabby’s Place for something unrelated and learned of her terrible news. I spoke briefly with staff and learned that she would need to be largely isolated from other cats due to the potential to spread the disease. Impulse kicked in: I immediately suggested a foster – and then volunteered to do so.
It was within that same day that my offer was accepted; on April 8th, I brought her home. Abby meowed softly in the crate as we made the drive; I stuck my fingers through the grated door and she leaned her chin on them. Abby quieted and closed her eyes.
I set up her room with towels, beds, a litter pan, and her food area. I made sure she had lots of cozy spots to snooze in, especially in the line of the window to catch the afternoon sunshine. Abby didn’t much care for the beds but was happy to curl up on the towels beside her water bowl.
Abby and I had ten days together. I quickly adopted a routine for her medications, using a whiteboard to keep track of doses and to make notes of her status each day. Her back legs were weak, either from the disease, some pre-existing condition, or a combination; despite not making it into the litter pan, she’d still reach in and dig in the litter. (Pee pads are a marvelous invention.)
As the days went by, I would sit and love on Abby, smitten with her brilliant blue eyes and wild fur coat. She was a beautiful muppet, raggy and elegant at the same time. The uneven stripe down her forehead and nose was adorable; her squeaky purr would fill the quiet of the room as we sat together.
Though I did not know when the final day would arrive, I did know it was going to come. On our eighth day together, Abby began to show signs of slowing. On the ninth day, she was deteriorating. On the tenth, I brought her to Tabby’s Place. We all knew what Abby was communicating to us: I am ready.
Whether we were ready or not, Abby was ready.
Logically, the correct choice to make was not a difficult one. Abby’s weight was down and the swelling in her belly from fluid buildup was becoming more visible. She was not as bright and alert. She seemed tired, the all-encompassing sort of tired that conveys more than just a need for rest. Abby needed the kind of rest that would not come from a good night’s sleep. The difficulty came from a place of emotion, from the child-like want to throw your body to the floor and kick and scream and wail.
The staff gathered and each one took a quick moment to say goodbye to Abby. It was the first time since becoming a volunteer for Tabby’s Place a couple of years ago that I was to witness this intimate ritual. The true heart of the sanctuary’s mission was placed out in the open, raw and honest. This great act of love – the things we do for these cats – can be painful. It will be painful. But the rewards are paid in mountains. Though we grieve, our hearts are full to bursting.
I said goodbye to Abby, my love of ten days, and whispered to that sweet little muppet of a girl that she will be with me forever. My heart bears the pawprints of many kitties, some I held and loved for many years, and her pawprint now lives there, too.
I was thanked – many times – by the staffers that day. The impact of the meaning of their gratitude did not truly hit me until a couple of weeks later when a card arrived in the mail:
“Thank you so much for being the kind of person who opened her heart and home to Abby, knowing she would break your heart.”
Abby left my heart more mended than when she arrived. I am thankful for her, for the opportunity to give her a home to call her own, even if it was for a brief time. When I walked into her room on that tenth and final day, I found her stretched out in a sunbeam, dozing peacefully. The look on her face in that moment was all I needed to know that she had finally found happiness.