Occasionally, a well-meaning person-who-hasn’t-really-known-a-cat will ask, “do cats really notice when somebody dies?”
I am convinced that cats mourn as deeply, and in nearly as many different ways, as we do. Some bounce back from change and loss fairly quickly, while others react in quiet ways we can recognize if we only pay attention. But, for some cats, the loss of a friend brings a deep and soul-wrenching, world-shaking grief after which nothing can ever be the same.
So it was for Webster.
We don’t know everything about Webster’s pre-Tabby’s-Place life, but what we do know tells us volumes. Webster was one of the lucky ones: he was adopted, and loved, for a decade of joy. Then, all too soon, Webster’s person passed away.
And nothing would ever be the same.
During his initial intake exam, we saw one side of Webster. Preternaturally quiet, our big-eyed tabby sat frozen, his paws wrapped around Ginny’s arm as Denise took all the needed blood samples. This all fit quite well with what we’d heard about Webster’s life with his late owner; he’d been a love-bug, a snuggler, the consummate “people cat.” One look at that big round head and scared, too-wise eyes and I was gone. Gentle, bereaved Webster was already the owner of a piece of my heart.
But “gentle” Webster had another side yet to reveal, and this shadow of Webster howled with pain. Literally.
I have never heard a cat scream as Webster screamed that night, hurling his entire solid self full-force into the crate bars in his quarantine area any time a human approached. The stereotypical banshee has nothing on Webster when it comes to shriek volume. With all his might, Webster howled out his grief and anger and ache, rattling the world that had so rattled him. Day after day, it was the same, screaming story.
Our sanctuary associates, the brave souls who comprise the first line of defense against our newest and scarediest cats, have seen a lot of tough kitties through the years. From mad Max to quivering Cupcake, one might say they’ve “seen it all.”
But Webster was something entirely new. From those haunting screams to his willingness to bite and scratch anyone who entered his world of pain, Webster was a challenge…and then some.
So, it was time for the Cutie Plan. As you may recall, Cutie was a horror (an adorable horror, but a horror) and a constant danger to life and limb when she was crated in Quarantine. But, once we moved her to a “private suite” (the bedroom in the sanctuary apartment), she was a different girl – especially with her BFF Jonathan. Spending her quarantine period in such homelike, spacious digs had given Cutie what she needed to make a smooth, happy transition to life in a cat suite…could the same help our grieving tabby?
Could it ever!
Clearly I remember the looks on everyone’s faces as Danielle triumphantly announced one day, “Webster sat on my lap this morning…and purred!”
Such reports of sweetness became more and more frequent, interspersed with the usual groans, “he screamed and kicked his food bowl at me this morning.” Or, “he went crazy when I tried to sweep the room. I don’t think he likes brooms.”
Personally, I don’t think Webster’s rage had anything to do with brooms, or his cage, or even any of us.
I think it was all about his own human bean, and the fact that he wasn’t coming back.
Just like people, I think that some cats are deeply, painfully sensitive. It’s a gift or a curse, depending on the circumstances and how you choose to look at it. Personally, I’d rather have to deal with the deep hurt from time to time than to never know the deep joy that comes with being sensitive. I can’t believe I’m quoting mid-90s music here, but, as Jewel sang, “I’m sensitive, and I’d like to stay that way.” Though it means he may feel life’s knocks harder, I think Webster is gifted – because he’ll also know the greatest heights of joy.
I’m grateful to report that, this week, Webster cleared from his quarantine and moved into Suite A, the land of the large. His purry, lap-sitting, people-loving days have increasingly trumped his fits of sorrow, and the tide seems to have turned towards joy. I won’t pretend that Webster’s pain is over, or that he will be a snuggle-bug at all times now, but I do believe he’s learning to be loved by his new human beans.
And, I do believe, he will be one of the lucky ones – a chosen one, an adopted one – again. Weeping may last for the night, but joy does come in the morning, and the dawn is breaking in Websterville.