Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Farewell to Fi

When I brought Fiona home from a pet store in Grand Junction, Colorado, she easily fit into one of my hands. She was the first pet who was all my own, a tiny, impossibly soft tortoise shell kitten who soon proved to embrace a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona – all contented, fluffy purring one minute and hissing, biting fur ball the next.  

She was the wildest baby anything I’d ever seen, a little hellion of a calico, and she stayed that way from kittenhood through old age. She scratched the couch and chewed on photographs and believed as cats seem to that the world revolved around her. She was also an incredible jumper, an expert climber, a fierce mouser, and loving toward those – human or otherwise – she considered worthy of her affections.

A few days after bringing Fi home, I returned from work to find her atop the refrigerator. How that tiny cat managed to climb up there I’ve never been able to figure, but there she sat, mewing and shivering in the high corner of the kitchen. I lived alone then, and for sport, Fiona would crouch behind doorways and attack at unexpected moments, hurling her little fuzz ball self through the air and attaching to my leg, claws and all.

As soon as Fiona was big enough to go out, she embarked on a long career of hunting. The first time she brought me a dead bird, I put a bell on her collar. She used to climb to the top of a five-foot high post in the backyard and sit next to an old bird feeder there. The feeder hadn’t held birdseed for many years, but from her perch, Fi could survey her domain. She mostly left the birds alone, but she hunted small rodents, even bringing home two bats late one night, leaving one next to my bed and the other in the bathroom, where my roommate had the misfortune of finding it on a predawn trip down the hall. We closed the cat door at night after that.

Once Fi and I finally settled into an old house in a New Hampshire field, her mousing skills were valuable in catching the critters who came in from the cold and wanted to cohabitate with us. Even in her later years, as she grew skinny with diminishing health and deaf with old age, Fi maintained a hunters’ heart. She drove herself nuts sitting in the large picture window of the living room and watching the chickadees flit from lilac bush to feeder and back. Her tail would twitch, just at the very tip, perhaps with anticipation, perhaps with memories of younger, wilder days.

Fi stuck with me through many years and all the changes time brings – several moves, new jobs, a couple of broken hearts, and a changing cast of feline, canine, and human characters.  

She forgave me, eventually, when I left her with my roommates and took off to Ireland for six months. She huddled amongst all my worldly belongings, which I crammed into the back of my Subaru when I returned from Ireland and decided to move back East, barely budging on the days-long journey from Crested Butte to Franconia. She loved me even after I subjected her to a few months of living with my mother’s cat, who was normally lovely, but stalked Fiona with a murderous vengeance, and my parents’ German shepherd mix who was as schizophrenic at Fiona and regularly tried to eat her.

She stuck with me when I brought home another kitten, then a man, then a golden retriever (whom Fiona regularly tormented), and, finally, three small human children, who demanded my constant attention and made lots of noise. While Feargus, the kitten who grew into an immensely plump, easygoing cat, allowed the children to pull on his tail, pick him up, and lie all over him, Fiona wanted nothing to do with the kids for a long time. She hissed at them regularly, glared in a way only a cat can do, and drew blood from each at least once.

But Fi had a gentler side, too. She took care of Feargus like he was her own kitten. Even after he grew to twice her size, Fiona would clean him and settle him down with a firm swat when he got out of hand. She loved to crawl under the covers and curl up by my side, purring away as I read the latest book on the nightstand. She immediately adopted my husband, who does not particularly care for cats, as her own human, usually preferring his lap to mine.

And in her old age, she mellowed considerably. A thyroid issue caused her to steadily shrink until she was a mere wisp of her former rotund self. But as she grew older and thinner, she seemed to also become content. She still ran around chasing toys and flies and whatever else was there to chase, and she terrorized the poor, gentle dog until her final days. But she would curl up on the couch with the kids at any chance, poking them gently with a dainty paw until they pet her. She even allowed stroking by my mother, a cat lover who was perplexed – and vexed – for years by Fiona’s apparent disdain of her. She purred all the time in her last months.

Near the end of last week, feisty Fi really slowed down, and by Saturday it was clear things were not right. So on Sunday, when she looked at me sadly from tired eyes and refused even to purr, I knew it was time, after nearly 16 years, to let her go. Anyone who has ever had to make the decision to euthanize a beloved pet knows the sinking feeling of that choice.

It was a sad decision, but not a hard one. After a good life, and with the help of a kind vet, Fiona’s passing was blessedly quick. I miss her and her crazy ways, but I know that little hellion of a calico will stay in my heart forever.

Original content posted by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul to her Blog: Writings From A Full Life.

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