I am said to be an incarnation of Dr. Doolittle. Although I don't speak to animals, they nevertheless seem to like me. A cat sitting outside a house will run up to me when I walk by on the sidewalk, cry "meow, meow" and insist on rubbing against my legs. Meeting a dog, well, it comes with that hip-swaying, tail wagging sideways and toothy grin that dogs call a smile and translates to "I am so pleased to meet you" - rarely anything unfriendly. I love most critters, and dogs and cats seem to be attuned to my attraction and fondness. With such a pedigree, it wasn't too difficult to convince me that my six-year-old daughter needed a kitten for Christmas. That was in 1977.
The cutest little black, mostly Siamese she-fur-ball came to be a pal to Snoopy, our Beagle; a dog that believed in the peace and love of the days and enjoyed cuddles with a cat. Loved and spoiled by the family, they provided many Norman Rockwellish photo ops.
Naming the cat was surprisingly easy. My little girl liked "Skana," the name of the then new baby orca at the Vancouver Aquarium. To prevent confusion between the cat and the whale, we suggested a one-letter change to Shana - even better!
Shana grew from kitten to cat, but was still just a compact little thing, somewhat shortish but higher on the rump, jacked up like a hot-rod with large rear wheels.
She was not into shredding upholstery, but climbing up on a carpet wall hanging was considered legal. Fur black and shiny like a freshly polished boot, a small white patch on her chest, she would stare and give an insolent swish of her tail when reprimanded, as in "come and make me, big boy!"
Although free to roam outside, she never pulled disappearing stunts and didn't provide us with offerings of dead birds or mice. Often she would just sit in the backyard, watching birds pecking the ground, without that typical tiger-crouch slithering of a real carnivore. But then again, she had unusual tastes for a cat: almost anything given by hand, she would eat with relish. Bits of carrots, green peppers, peas, grapes cut in half, apples; our friends had to see to believe it.
The years went by. My little girl grew; we moved twice, her mom died, I remarried and moved house once more. Big girl, then 18, left home in 1989 for school in England, and Shana became our cat.
Cats live 14-16 years, on average. But Shana, 10 years later in 1999, was still with us, albeit slowed by age, quite frail and so thin that when lying on her side she looked flat, like roadkill. Her life included a bit of kidney problem, special diet and lots of sleep, the usual for a 22-year-old feline.
Whenever my wife and I left to travel, either a family member or a hired house-sitter stayed at our place and cared for Shana. For a trip to Australia in early 2000, however, we had no luck finding anyone to house-sit and decided to kennel Shana at our local vet's clinic, accommodating only a few cats and providing veterinary care as needed.
We left several phone numbers where we could be reached by the kennel and some people caregivers. We were the mainstay of not just an old cat but also several similarly aged and frail humans as well - my mother, aunt, mother and father-in-law.
A couple of weeks after landing in Sydney, we had a message left to call Dr. so-and-so, and not immediately recognizing the name, we were certain it had to do with my mom or aunt.
It was Shana's vet; sorry to tell us that she was in bad shape, he could perform some heroics, but it would be a kindness to help her into cat heaven. We gave him permission to euthanize and then cremate the remains, and cried shamelessly over the loss of this old friend. But my God, 23 years old, nine lives rolled into a long one. What did we expect?
Returning home, we were presented with a small box containing Shana's ashes and a statement of $580 for "services rendered."
Now, 10 years later, the box of ashes still sits on our bookshelf: far too valuable to bury!
DECEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
DECEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND