The first time I saw her, I had just signed up as a volunteer at the SPCA to help care for the cats that were housed at our local Pet Smart store. She sat in her cage playing with a small yellow ball with a bell hidden inside, seemingly as happy as could be. She’d already been there for several months and only left her cage when one of us volunteers would let her out for twenty minutes or so. She rubbed up against my leg, purring like a miniature motorcycle, her perfect moon-face tilted to her right, forever looking as if she might have a question or two for me. On her records I noted she’d been rescued from a woman who had been keeping some thirty cats in her home and I knew from one the notes left by another volunteer that he was considering adopting her.
I went every Monday morning at eight to feed the cats and clean cages. It was a way for me to get some kitty time and have time out of my house where my mom was slowly succumbing to lung cancer. My best cat friend, Hannah, had died only a few months earlier and I was missing the soft, gentle love that only a lap cat can provide.
Several months later I decided that being around homeless cats living in cages was not making me any happier that being at home with my dying mom. I gave notice that I would be leaving my post. Peppermint was still there, waiting for the right person to come along and take her home. On my last day, a young family came in looking for a cat to adopt. They had three children who seemed a bit wild, but I didn’t think much of it until they wanted me to let Pepper out of her cage so they could see if she would be the cat for them. As I put her down on the floor, the kids lunged at her, squeezing her and fighting over who would get to hold her next. Pepper was not happy and I found myself in rescue mode, saying that I had forgotten that she had already been spoken for. The family considered a couple of the other cats and I sighed, very relieved, when they walked away without one. That night Peppermint, Peps, Pepperoni, or sometimes just Pepper, went home to live with me and my pack of two dogs and another cat I’d recently rescued.
She was my sweetheart, never learning how to stalk birds or squirrels, simply running toward them with all of her might as they fled way before she could reach them. She loved to play with anything that rolled across the floor and took to stealing pens from tables and desktops. Meowing loudly, as if she was bringing me a mouse, she’d deposit her treasures in the same place every day. I often watched her walk down the hallway from my office with a pen sticking out of her mouth, dangling like a cigarette, until she got to the place where she stored them. The only times she ever meowed was when she was carrying a pen or when I’d force her into a crate to take her to the vet.
About a year ago, she started having difficult walking at times and looking at all of her test results and her head tilt, the Doc thought that she might have some kind of brain difficulty. We dosed her with Prednisone and she got better. Just a week ago she went missing in the house for a full day and I finally found her hiding in the dark basement, not feeling very good. Bill and I took her to the Emergency Vet, and they could find nothing wrong with her, saying that it was likely her brain condition, and that they would only be able to diagnose it with a brain scan. We were unwilling to put her through that. The odds were that most likely it would be something that was untreatable.
We brought her home, checked in with her regular Vet, Richard, on Monday. He told us to just watch her and get back to him on Friday with a report. She started getting better, no longer hiding in the dark, eating well and using her litter pan. On Friday morning I called Richard and he felt she’d probably be fine.
Later in the afternoon she went outside and immediately got hung up in a shrub, unable to walk. We rushed her to the clinic. Within the hour she had four seizures and bit one of the technicians, something she had never done before. We all decided that there was nothing to be done but to gently and quietly put her to sleep. She died in my arms with Bill and Richard mourning along with me.
It’s been a big year for losses at my house. Molly, my little Maltese mix, died suddenly last Thanksgiving of cancer and just a month or so ago, Cleo, originally my mother’s cat, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, at age seventeen. They leave behind super dog, Sam, and Lilliput, a crazy tuxedo cat who spends most of her time outside, threatening and often succeeding in murdering the local wildlife.
We’re hoping and praying that this string of losses will end for a while. It is so difficult to part with these special creatures that come into our lives. In the meantime, I take solace in the fact that they were all once homeless animals to whom we gave their second chances. They lived out their lives in comfort, surrounded with love.
Just a year ago I complained that with the five animals we kept, the house often felt like a daycare center. Today, it’s very quiet and somewhat empty. I wish they were all back sharing their lives with me.