Paws and Purrs: How to Be Loved by a Cat



Yes, They Make Their Own Decisions

It goes without saying that admiring her incomparable beauty is the first step toward getting any cat to love you. Next, you might try some respectful adoration. And it’s advisable to bear in mind at all times that cats are not dogs. One hesitates to make generalizations about any species, but cats are not slavishly motivated to please you, as dogs often are. They don’t necessarily like to ride in cars or fetch your slippers. A lot of cats don’t even like to be picked up and hugged. When they choose to love you, they do, in their own way. But they don’t, as a rule, jump up to greet you and lick your face. There are exceptions, of course. Once, when I visited my friend who runs the local animal shelter, I ended up adopting a cat who, upon my opening his crate to say hello, stood up on his hind legs, put his front paws around my neck, and licked my face. I wasn’t planning to adopt a cat just then, but what choice did I have after such a greeting? However, that is another story for another post.

This post is about Fiona. I first met Fiona in 2009, about a year after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, Fiona was eight years old, and was, I was told, a dilute, or muted, tortoiseshell, something I never knew existed. She lived with a neighbor who had herself recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. My neighbor was already disabled and was trying to simplify her rather chaotic home. She had three small dogs who were adorable, but not particularly well-behaved or nice to cats. She also had three cats, who had established a strict pecking order, with poor Fiona at the bottom. Between the yappy, aggressive dogs who chased her, and the other two cats who bullied her, Fiona was a very frightened, unhappy girl who spent most of her time hiding in a small storage room. My neighbor had a heart of gold, but not necessarily the wisdom to realize that she ought perhaps to have stopped adopting pets at one of each. She did, however, realize that Fiona was miserable and asked me if I would adopt her. At the time, I had one cat, a shy, inoffensive black Persian male named Jett, and Foxy, a gentle, old, Nordic mix dog who happened to love cats. So, I agreed to take Fiona home.

Fiona emerges from under the bed.

The first thing I did was to let poor Fiona have her own room until she felt equal to meeting any new animals. She spent the first several hours of that first day hiding under the guest room bed, but by the afternoon, she began to emerge when I visited her. It took a few days for her to brave the rest of the house, but when she did, she soon discovered that Jett only wanted a mother substitute for my cat Chloe, who’d fulfilled that role until she died earlier that year. And Foxy was savvy enough to keep his distance, and approach gradually, until Fiona realized he wouldn’t bark at her or chase her.

Within weeks, Fiona was relaxed and happy. Her amazingly soft fur was even fluffier, and she now slept with the rest of us on the bed at night. She and Jett would usually bracket me while I slept, with Foxy at the foot of the bed, facing the door as he always did at night to guard us against potential marauders. Eventually, Fiona even snuggled up with Foxy for the odd nap.

Five weeks after Fiona moved in, I ended up adopting another cat, a gray and white tail-less Manx named Teddy, who was twice as big as Fiona and Jett. It wasn’t the best timing ever, but I’d promised another friend that, if she ended up having to live in a nursing home, I would take Teddy in. Well, she did, and I did. I was worried about how Fiona would react, but she clearly felt she had the upper hand, since she was there first. Poor Teddy, on the other hand, had never lived with any other animals before, so he won the guest room for a while until he learned that it was not acceptable to boss around the other cats, and that it wasn’t entirely horrifying to live with a dog. It all worked out. After all, I was the human, it was my house, and my rules. Everyone got loved, and I didn’t put up with any nonsense. If Teddy needed any further convincing, Fiona flipped all twenty pounds of him on his back one day right into the water dish when he got a bit rambunctious. He behaved himself after that.

Shy little Jett preferred to sit beside me, but not on my lap. Teddy liked to be picked up and hugged when I came home, but mostly, he liked to lie on his back, displaying his white tummy in hopes that someone, anyone, would rub it. Fiona became my lap cat. She hated being picked up, but if I left her to her own advances, she would hop into my lap or onto the table whenever I was using a computer. Thus, she appointed herself my blogging assistant. A close-up from this photo became my Gravatar icon, and shows up whenever I comment on a blog. Indeed, she became an all-around champion snuggler, attaching herself to some part of my body when I was sleeping, reading, having my morning coffee, or checking my email. She had a particularly endearing habit of draping herself on my arm in bed, and tucking her face into my hand. My Facebook friends have seen ample evidence over the years of her snuggling talents. Here are a few illustrative photos.

Change Happens

Early in 2010, sweet little Jett died of an abscessed tooth combined with old age. Later that year, in November, I had to make the awful choice to let Foxy go, after watching him suffer with advancing arthritis, increasingly painful mobility, and confusion caused by dementia. A few years later, Teddy succumbed to feline infectious peritonitis. It was heartbreaking to lose each one of them, but it helped that I still had a fur baby or two to comfort me after each loss.

I was worried that Fiona would now be lonely at home while I was out at work, but she rose to the occasion and reveled in having me all to herself. She began to talk more, in her slightly raspy, expressive voice. She had never been very sociable when humans came to visit, but now she became Miss Congeniality, greeting friends and contractors alike. She was particularly fond of my electrician. I did finally realize that she missed her big, fluffy cuddle-buddy Foxy, when she took to sleeping on the guest room bed during the day, curled up with a toy horsie who was about Foxy’s size. Still, she was happy, healthy, and gracefully approaching her old age. Until she wasn’t.

The first crisis occurred a few years ago, when she developed hyperthyroidism, a common ailment in older cats. After fiddling with oral medication for a year, I had her treated with radioactive iodine in August of 2015. It worked. No more pills, and she was once again robust. A year later, she started to have a few brief bouts of vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, but they cleared up in a day or two. Until they didn’t anymore. A few weeks ago, she began having these episodes every other day. Her regular vet was maddeningly passive. Fiona was not getting better, she was not getting enough nutrition, and she was becoming dehydrated. I got the vet to order full labs and an abdominal ultrasound, all with inconclusive results. Not once did the vet offer relief for Fiona’s symptoms, until I insisted on it. Finally, I’d had enough, found another, much better vet, and took Fiona to see him this past Tuesday. We came up with a provisional diagnosis and a treatment plan. If I wanted further diagnostics, he suggested I take her to the specialty emergency vet hospital. I decided I’d see how she responded to treatment and go from there. Later that day, she became exhausted and weak, and by nightfall, she developed labored breathing. I was scared now. I drove through the pouring rain at nine o’clock that night to the emergency hospital. The vet on duty was kind, persistent, and worked hard to assess her as quickly as he could, with a minimum of misery to Fiona, to come up with some answers. The answers he arrived at were that she had extensive cancer of the small intestine and sepsis. He did say that surgery was possible, but given her current weakened state, I felt it would be risky and that she had suffered enough. He agreed. At 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, he gave her the appropriate injections, and Fiona died while I kissed her forehead.

I can’t begin to describe how shattered I have felt this week. I have not been without at least one pet since 1981, and usually, I’ve had two or three. The house is so empty, so still. Sometimes, I imagine I hear little paws pattering on the floor or seem to feel the pressure of four feet landing on the bed to keep me company. I never can seem to get warm enough at night, no matter how many blankets I pile on or how high I turn up the thermostat. For thirty-six years, there has always been a furry face or three waiting to greet me at my door when I came home. I grieve mightily for sweet Fiona, but also for every pet I’ve lost. I’ve never set out to adopt any of the strays or rescued pets I’ve loved. They’ve always appeared, on their own, or at the instigation of someone else, when they needed me. Eventually, I am sure that another will arrive when I’m ready. But for now, I need to sit with this enormous grief that I know is just the flipside of the enormous love that all these fur babies have shown me over the years. People who think that animals do not love are fools.

So, I feel heartsick and blessed at the same time. I will admit that I often prefer animals to humans, but the outpouring of concern and affection I’ve received from so many friends, in person and on social media, has touched me and given me much comfort. More than that, it is a needed balm at a time when many of us are flabbergasted and concerned about our present political climate. It’s a reminder, when I very much need one, that there is still decency in this world. Thank you all for the love, and not only just this week, but over the years. And especially, I thank those of you who’ve loved Fiona, too.

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 10:01 pm, filed under Life & Mortality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

35 Responses to “Paws and Purrs: How to Be Loved by a Cat”

  1. Dear, dear friend~ I love your loving story about your furrbabies. Nothing can replace them, nor should you. One day, your heart and home will once again have romping little feet following you throughout your day. Hang in there friend. It’s not something we can wish away, this hole they leave in our hearts~

    Many {{hugs}} dear~


  2. Thank you, Jane. I know you understand, and that helps so much. When the time is right, there will be another fur baby who needs a safe, loving home. xo

  3. Awwhhhh KAK I’m so sorry about the loss of all your fur babies. I hope you’re able to get another soon . ❤️❤️❤️

  4. Coonie! Thank you, dear one. If anyone gets it, I know you do. <3

  5. Dear Fiona was known and loved by many. It’s like she was “our” cat. I am so sorry for your loss Kathi and may your sweet Fiona be content to be with her fur family for now until you meet again.

  6. What a sweet thing to say, Sharon. I used to tell Fiona that she had lots of friends & fans on my Facebook page. And of course, she’d say, “What’s this ‘your page’ business? That’s my page.”

  7. Beautiful. ♡♡♡♡♡

  8. <3 <3, Katie.

  9. Sweet friend, I’m so sorry for your broken heart. I have adored all of your fur babies over the years, and with each passing I send you psychic hugs. The passing of Miss F is harder, because I know the grief that comes with an all too quiet house. Thank you for being such a good friend, mom, protector, and loyal pet parent. They were all so fortunate to have had you.

  10. Oh, Bonnie, the quiet is awful. It’s so wonderful, though, how many of us know each other’s pets almost like they were our own. Hugs to you for being such a wonderful & exemplary fur baby rescuer. xoxo

  11. I understand the broken heart. I love your words “…enormous grief that I know is just the flipside of the enormous love that all these fur babies have shown me over the years.” So very true. The grief sucks. But not having their love would suck more. I took a break from animals in the house when we put 2 dogs down in 2 years (very old, very sick, very loved dogs). I’ve been pining for pups ever since and adopted yesterday. Nice to have a snoring pooch by my side again. I’m sure your next baby will find you. All in good time. <3

  12. I’m so delighted for you, Julie, that you found your new fur baby. He looks adorable. And may he assist you with your writing as well as Fiona assisted me with mine. xoxo

  13. Kathi, Your pets have had the good fortune to find their way to you and be loved and respected and cared for and thrive. I’m so sorry for your loss. I currently share my house with an aging dog and on our walks I ran into a lovely neighbor who was patiently assisting her very old dog and she said “If they were really our best friends, why couldn’t they live longer?” I still miss my previous dogs and even my horse, who expressed his love in a very subtle horse way–a soft snuffle at the back of my neck and charging to put himself between me and a rambunctious pasture mate. They enrich us and we love them so much. So sorry.

  14. Oh, horses, Judy! I love horses, too, although never had my own. They are so lovely and special when you get to understand them. It’s so hard that most of our fur babies can only share our lives for a short time. Thank you for your kindness.

  15. Six cats right now, and in 58 years, the longest I’ve ever been without a cat is 4 months. All but two of them picked me, which is another way to say they were abandoned by someone before I came along.

    “I know how you feel” is neither helpful nor entirely true, because our grief is unique to each of us. But like you (and perhaps more so), I prefer cat companionship to that of humans–thankfully, my husband feels the same way–and a large part of the reason I bulled my way through triple positive breast cancer is that someone had to take care of the cats.

    I found your blog through AnneMarie–five years out, the chemobrain is still strong with me–but I’ve never felt compelled to comment before. This time, though…you know…cats.

    So…all that just to say I’m so very sorry about Fiona. What a beautiful girl she was. And how very fortunate you both were that you happened to be at the right place in the right time to rescue her.

  16. Thank you, Rhonda. It’s so kind that you commented. Yes, cats are so special. I was so lucky Fiona came into my life. She was the sweetest girl. xo

  17. Fiona was so beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss, Kathi. Love and hugs to you.

  18. Thank you, Eileen. All hugs are welcome. xo

  19. Oh Kathi – my condolences on the death of your sweet little Fiona and your other kitties. Fiona’s photos look like she may have been a dilute calico (that was also my late kitty Lily’s breed: incredibly soft and, even though a longhair, remarkably considerate about not shedding pesky individual hairs, instead preferring to leave little puffs of soft white fluff in her wake). Our Lily was THE most affectionate cat ever. It’s lovely that your fur baby was able to “gracefully approach her old age”, giving you so much pleasure all that time! Take good care…

  20. Yes, Carolyn, Fiona was indeed a dilute, or ‘muted,’ tortoiseshell. And now I must go back and update my post to repair such a grievous omission! I’d never heard of nor seen such a cat before I met her. She was utterly lovely, and yes, so blissfully soft (and, yes, there are still many of her little puffs of white fluff around — almost hate to clean them up) that petting her was one of the best things ever. You are a lucky women indeed to have been loved by one, and I’m sorry you don’t still have your Lily. What a sweetheart Fiona was. I feel so lucky to have been the one to rescue her and receive all that boundless affection.

  21. Fiona was gorgeous. I understand the pain of losing an animal. Maybe the universe is giving you space to remember all those sweet faces you’ve loved over the years. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  22. Thank you, Tasha. It really hurts, but I have been so blessed.

  23. I was finally able to read your beautiful tribute to Fiona and the other animals you have shared your life with. You gave Fiona a beautiful last few years, and I know she appreciated it. It’s really all we can do – to love them until the end. Sending you love and hugs.

  24. Arlyn, this is one of the reasons why I love to adopt rescued and adult pets. They are so grateful for what we can give them. Fiona so much just wanted someone to love who loved her back. And I was the lucky recipient. xoxo

  25. Hi Kathi,

    I am truly sorry. It’s so incredibly hard to watch our dear pets’ health decline before our eyes and eventually have to make that tough call. I still miss our sweet golden so much and our Sophie is almost eleven. I’m already worried about that day that is coming. Luckily, Ninja is still relatively young. Our first cat, btw. I’m still learning about the differences between cats and dogs.

    You are wise to sit with your grief. But I hope you know you do not “sit” alone.

    As they say, grief is another form of love. I know it to be true. Thank you for sharing about your special pets. How wonderful they were all so deeply loved. Take care of yourself and again, I’m sorry, my friend. xo

  26. Thank you, Nancy. It’s been an exhausting month. I know how awful it was for you to say goodbye to your dear golden. I felt the same about Foxy. I hope your current fur babies remain healthy for a long time to come. xo

  27. This is a beautiful tribute, Kathi. I am so sorry about your furry baby, Fiona. She was very lucky to have you. I wish every animal received the same kind of love you’ve given to yours. But sadly, that’s not always the case. Love hurts but it’s all worth it. Allow yourself the time you need to heal and remember all the good memories. Sending you much love. xoxo

  28. Thanks, Rebecca. I’m hanging in there, but the past month has been quite a trial, in more ways than one. And I do have wonderful memories of Fiona and all my fur babies. xo

  29. Oh my, just recently stumbled upon your blog. I guess that’s what it’s called!! Getting up there in years not so savvy about these things The beautiful story of your furry friends is just so touching and tears roll down my cheeks as I type this. I’ve had few animals in my life, moving, rental restrictions,etc. I know they have all touched my soul very deeply. First marriage to a farming man. I had traveled searching for something I didn’t find and decided the simple life might be my calling. Everything I’d fled from a small Iowa town. Two dogs, Jake, a German Shepard that would protect and love like nobody’s business. Luke, a hunting dog, kept outside looking forward to hunting every chance he got. Somewhat of a city girl, hence my travels. I simply couldn’t stand the thought of his being left alone out there. I began to bring him inside each day, where he promptly curled up in our well worn brown chair. I hugged him, loved him, spoke quietly to him and cooked for him. At day’s end I would take him back outside, vaguely recalling something to the effect , if you tame a hunting dog they will no longer hunt. The next hunting expedition my husband came home and said ” Luke seemed not interested in hunting. Had I ever brought him inside and domesticated him. Hmmm… Why would you ask? He knew and from that day forward I had a new INSIDE pal!!!

  30. Kathi,

    Fiona was simply beautiful, and you did the right thing by choosing to end her suffering. Still, it is not easy. It is so worthwhile to have a fur baby in one’s life, and as much as it hurts to let them go, our lives are enriched for having known them. I’m sorry that you are going through all this pain. It’s clear Fiona loved you and gave you so much.

    As you know, I lost my dear 17-year-old cat Cosette in November. Cancer. That sucky disease. I have another cat and cannot imagine life without pets. Interestingly, my parents and sibling hate animals. I can’t understand them for this.

    Once again, I’m so sorry for your loss. Tennyson once said, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” These words really ring true. xoxo

  31. Thanks, Beth. It’s always heart-breaking. xoxo

  32. I am so sorry. I understand what it feels like to lose a pet.

  33. […] couple of bombs about to go off in my personal life. One was that my elderly and much beloved cat, Fiona, was dying of cancer, but I didn’t know it yet. The other was that I was rapidly developing symptoms that, being a […]

  34. […] I got to stroke her head and kiss her face before the vet started the IV that ended her suffering. [How to Be Loved by a Cat] But I was shattered. After 35 years, I had no more fur babies in my home, a chasm I eventually […]

  35. […] one on top was for the day she died, when she was finally diagnosed with abdominal cancer and sepsis, and I had to let her go. All of the sorrow and agony of those weeks came back to me, all the heartache of watching her […]

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