West Tisbury: The many gifts of animals

—MV Times

Nine or 10 years ago, my mother-in-law asked me to accompany her to the animal shelter to see a cat she planned to adopt, a pretty, year-old calico who had already had a litter of kittens. The kittens were all adopted and Bobby liked the mama cat. She named her Katey. Would I promise to take Katey if anything happened to Bobby? Of course.

When Bobby died a couple of years ago, Mike brought Katey home to live with us. She immediately became my cat and I loved her. I still do. Sadly, we had to put Katey to sleep last Tuesday. She had cancer, had stopped eating and drinking, and spent much of her last days curled up on her blanket. She still purred when I lay beside her.

We had our funny games and habits. When Katey heard me downstairs, she would run down the staircase. Thump, thump, thump. A slender white paw would curl around the door, push it open, then twirl and twirl until I picked up her brush. She would stand or stretch out, turn side to side, as I brushed and brushed and brushed. She loved to be brushed. A similar scenario when I came upstairs, where she would jump on the bed, to turn from side to side, rub her face against the brush while I, once again, brushed and brushed and brushed her, making her fur shine, making her purr the loudest, most resonant purr of any cat we ever had.

Katey had been an indoor cat, but she learned very quickly to use the cat flap, and loved being outside. She commandeered the front steps and a spot across the lawn at the edge of the woods. I had wanted to bury her in one of those places, where I would step over her whenever I walked outside. My friend, Judy Newbold, had buried her golden retriever in a well-trodden path because she had stepped over the dog her whole life, and could continue to do so.

After much discussion Mike and I chose a myrtle-covered curve under our rhododendron hedge. It is off to the side of my drying yard, where I will see her grave and mark the changing seasons with the blooming of snowdrops and daffodils, myrtle and rhododendrons, and the delicate white flowers of the epimedium I planted there.

Animals give us so many gifts. They teach us how to love with an open heart, to be responsible and care for another being, to live in the moment, to be playful and silly. Then they teach us how to die with quiet acceptance and dignity.

My sweet Katey. I promised to give you a home should you need one. I didn’t know how much fun you would be, how connected we would become. You gave me respite in our household where the two other cats were constantly at war. They seemed to mellow toward each other somewhat, as they adapted to your presence. You were truly a balm; “something that has a soothing or restorative effect,” as my OED defines that word.

You died in my arms. I miss you. Rest in peace.

If you have any West Tisbury Town Column suggestions, email Hermine Hull, hermine.hull@gmail.com.