I used to be allergic to a stray bobtail cat lurking around my Granny's house. Granny's house was always a soft place to land for family and neighbors alike, and apparently stray animals found our company appealing as well.
I started kindergarten with mummified legs because I had sores between my knees and ankles. I remember my mom getting upset because the teacher wanted to discipline the entire class, but couldn't include me for an undisclosed reason.
I avoided cats from that point in my life until I relocated to the East Coast and a feline purred and cooed in and out of my legs, unbeknownst to me, as I sat in the living room of a Dominican grandmother with a Cruella de Vil white streak in her otherwise jet-black air. I jumped, certain I'd have an allergic reaction, and perhaps rushed to the emergency room. I didn't have a reaction. One childhood trauma overcome.
As I recall, I was feeling homesick, and tried to talk several grade school and college classmates back in Texas to relocate as my roommate. When that failed, my thoughts shifted to adopting a pet. I didn't have a good track record with puppies, and the thought of walking a dog in a new frigid climate wasn't on the top of my list.
I thumbed through The Village Voice, and landed on an ad from a cat rescuer in Stuyvesant Town. In my newfound allergy-free state, I wanted an orange tabby, one of the kittens she advertised.
I arrived at the apartment that undoubtedly had one too many felines, and was guided to a back bedroom with playful and meowing kittens clamoring for attention, as if they knew they were being screened for adoption. All except one. The orange tabby that I wanted, didn't want me.
Defeated. Crushed. I took my pet carrier and slinked out to the hallway. The cat lady wouldn't be outdone by a persnickety kitten. There was another litter of rescued kittens playing in the bathroom. I made my way inside and sat on the edge of the bathtub. What would it hurt to look at other kittens before I left?
My heart was set on that orange tabby, but an affectionate gray calico had other plans for me. She brushed up against me, perhaps because she was sick of auditioning for would-be adoptive parents. I scooped her up into my arms and off we went with her initial vaccination records.
Nineteen years and a second tortoise shell cat later, I was faced with the decision to euthanize Clancy after a long bout of illness. My once fat cat had lost weight, her gaunt face and hollow eyes begging me to put her out of her misery.
I procrastinated. I prayed for a miraculous recovery. Maxie, the younger cat, began avoiding her. She knew we were all preparing for a slow death march, and wanted no part of our subterfuge. Maxie did her best to keep me distracted, away from Clancy.
I accept now that it was selfish of me to prolong her pain, but I wasn't ready to let go. I logged onto the NYC Animal Shelter website weekly in attempt to steel myself for what might happen, but there'd be no way to script my emotional state and reaction. What if she died at home underneath the kitchen table? Would that be best for all involved? I'd have preferred not to have taken her to the shelter in East Harlem. I was greeted by a mixture of dying, fearful, or soon to die animals.
The shelter clerk wasn't welcoming or warm. The volunteers questioned my decision, while at the same time trying to get me to adopt a new pet before I left. I wanted to turn around. I couldn't end her life no matter how many times I had to clean up after her because she wasn't able to make it to the litter box.
I experienced an admixture of calm and uncertainty as I filled out the surrender application. Yes, I want to view the body afterward. Yes, I'm willingly ending her life. No, I won't hold anyone responsible.
I lifted her over the counter, and that was the last time I saw her alive. Forty-five minutes later, my roommate and I walked to a back room and spoke to her corpse, eyes opened, lying on her side. She looked peaceful. I tried to close her eyes with my fingers. I couldn't. They wouldn't close. I apologized. Somewhere inside me, a light turned off, a gong sounded.
No respiratory movement. No snoring this time. The Slavic vet reassured me that I'd done the right thing, that she was in pain and suffering. I picked up the soiled pet carrier, slipped on a pair of purple latex gloves, and blasted out the remaining signs of Clancy with a strong current from a water hose. It was and still remains a surreal experience. I keep waiting for someone to shake me from what seems like a nightmare or a bad joke. She was either underneath the kitchen table, lounging in the clawfoot tub, or reclining on the windowsill as I brushed her.
Empty carrier in hand, a male employee expressed his condolences as he stood cleaning out his shelter truck that I'm sure he collects abandoned and stray animals to that very location. From the bottom of my heart, he said, I'm sorry for your loss.
I'm sorry that I didn't have a backyard or pet cemetery to bury Clancy, instead of a mass cremation with other shelter kills. Everything changes from now on. I won't get a do-over, but I have an opportunity to improve Maxie's life, and when we're both ready, the life of a second kitten.