This is not the usual type of post for me. It is more of a short story written in memory of our cat, Grady (7/1/2006 – 9/29/2017).
The first time I saw him he was one of four little tails standing straight up around the old Cool Whip container I used to feed his mother. Huge green eyes set in a gray and white striped face looked up periodically just to be sure his mother was still there. I named them all — Mars, Odie, Blue for his blue eyes and Grady. Martin, my husband, called him ‘Mr. Gray’.
My Snacky Cat, as I called his mother had given birth the beginning of July. I had no idea where. I just knew she was no longer pregnant. As July gave way to August and now September, Snacky spent summer days lolling on our back veranda. I wondered if her litter was still alive. My annoyance at her apparent lack of mothering skills earned her my sarcastically applied description of ‘The Mother of the Year’. I would later find out how smart and loving she really was as she stayed away from her brood in our stifling South Carolina heat, nursing them in the cooler evening hours.
I told Martin, “Stop at Lowes and pick up a trap.”
“Because. I don’t want fifty of ‘em running around here.”
The double open-ended trap proved to be useless as we watched kitten after kitten run in one access then out the other. They played with it as if it were a toy. Grady, the largest of the four, was also the fastest and still too light to spring the openings shut. Frustrated, I asked Martin to stop at Lowes to pick up a one opening trap.
He sighed. “OK.”
The second trap proved to be effective as I spent a week hearing it snap shut every morning around 6 a.m. Grady was the first to take the bait of tuna on a paper lunch plate.
Mewing on the entire ride to Animal Allies in Spartanburg, he seemed to be begging me to let him go. By the time we reached the parking lot off Asheville Highway, the towel draped over the trap, in hopes of calming him down, was tattered where Grady clawed at it.
Late that afternoon I picked him up. A sedated and dazed Grady swayed back and forth in the carrier as we made our way home in silence.
When Martin came home, he peeked into the carrier. “How long do we keep him like this?”
“I still don’t know why you’re going to all this trouble. They’re wild. It’s not like they’re going to be lap cats.”
Eleven years later tears were already floating down my cheeks as I listened to the vet’s diagnosis. Cancer. A tumor in his stomach. He was in rapid decline. As Martin watched me, he teared up. He knew it wasn’t good. I ended the call and said, “He’s dying.”
Martin let out a howl. “No! Not Grady.” I stood up, hugging him. Sobbing we clung to each other. Grady was Martin’s favorite. I knew this was going to happen someday, just not this day. Sweet and loving he came in every night to lay on Martin’s lap as they watched TV together. He wouldn’t come in for me, only Martin.
The next day we brought Grady home to say goodbye then back to the vet. Martin held him. Dr. Carol gave Grady anesthesia. She left us alone as he drifted off into a deep sleep. Then she came back with her assistant Cheryl to finish her task. As she fed the needle into Grady’s hind leg, Dr. Carol let tears waft softly around her eyes.
“Are you ok?” Cheryl asked.
“No, I’m not.”
I wondered what it felt like to be the Angel of Death. Martin and I cried. I petted Grady’s head telling him how he was going to see Blue and Odie and his mom. Dr. Carol took out her stethoscope and listened. She looked at Martin and me.
We rode home in near silence, the contents of the large box in the back seat the focus of our thoughts. In my mind I resurrected the day Martin came home with a company van filled with synthetic decking. “What’s that for?” I queried. “I’m building them a house.” It was winter. The boys were growing. The cardboard boxes on the veranda no longer adequate for holding them or keeping them warm. Martin also insulated the Kitty Kondo, as we named it, with SolarGuard, putting carpet remnants on the bottom to make a cozy nest. On nights when the temps dropped below freezing heated pads were inserted.
We fired our vet their first year. He was happy to see our two indoor cats; he wanted nothing to do with any feral. A few phone calls later I located a vet willing to give them booster vaccines. Getting still wild cats into a carrier proved a challenge. Martin and I both wear scars. Once at the vet, all but Blue were subdued. While his brothers hid in a corner, Blue bounced around the four walls like a cartoon cat knocking over displays and anything else in the way of his mania to escape, but as the years passed even Blue settled down.
Late weekday afternoons they all stretched out on the front porch in anticipation. As I came up the driveway, their eyes followed me as I pulled my Mazda into the garage. But,when Martin turned his car into the driveway, the cats bolted to the back veranda. Treats, pets and love had arrived. I loved them, too. But Martin was the giver of treats, that elixir for taming the wild beast.
Some say pets pull at our heart strings. This colony of lost boys tore our hearts wide open with their vulnerability, need and love. Like humans all they really wanted was to be loved and give love in return.
As I turned my RAV-4 into the driveway, I saw Mars on the front porch under the bench – the last man standing. We buried Grady on the back slope among the wildflowers. A hundred pound stone pulled from our woods marks his grave. We’ll miss you Grady.