Grady

 

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).  

 

Grady

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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“Overnight.”

“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.
“He’s gone.”

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.

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The Pettie Pets

Portia finds a comfy spot

Portia finds a comfy spot courtesy of a visitor’s suitcase

May is National Pet Month. As the owners of six (yes six!) cats we’re pet lovers at our house. We also like dogs, but I’m highly allergic, so we stick with cats, to which I’m just a little allergic. I love cats that much. We call them the pettie pets.

While it’s not always easy to have a pet in retirement, especially if you are a frequent traveler, it is well worth the effort to add one of these companions to your life. Like humans, what they really want is love and care. In return they give us love and care.

I wake every morning to a dark gray tabby named Portia greeting me with a soft “mrump mrump” as she butts my head and paws at my covers. She loves to have her hunches scratched. Then she snuggles in the crook of my arm as she purrs contentedly listening with perked ears for a certain sound from the kitchen. While this is going on Martin is letting the outdoor cats in from their night in the garage and preparing to feed everyone. The second he pops open a can of cat food, Portia leaps off the bed running to the kitchen. That’s the sound she waits for every morning.

According to Dr. Marty Becker of the American Humane Society, “Dogs and cats have broken down the walls of our hearts. There haven’t been comparable domesticated species in 5,000 years. When you’re petting them, you both get this massive release of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine, and a decrease in cortisol. It’s a reciprocal biochemical spa treatment.” (quoted from the article on purina.com 11 Ways To Be The Best Pet Owner).

This is just one of the benefits of having a pet. I’ve known for a long time that petting a cat or dog can lower your blood pressure. Having a companion at any age that is a de-stressor is beneficial. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows I also call our cats the Zen Masters for their calm attitude and calming influence.

Trio likes the tubes

Trio likes the tubes

Since loneliness is one of the potential scourges of aging, it may be a plus to add a furry companion as we age. When I come home, the three indoor cats come out of their hiding places to welcome me. Out in the garden, the outside cats show up to laze around under a bush or soak up the sun on a path as they watch me work. In return for belly rubs and scratching under the chin (known at our house as chiny-chin) , I enjoy more head butts, kneading and purring from my loving companions.

Oftentimes, retirees miss the daily structure work provided. Owning a pet can replace some of structure you lost when you gave up your job. We’ve found it takes no time at all for our cats to adapt to a routine. And they have an internal clock that is spot on. Every morning at precisely 6:30 a.m. our diluted orange named Carmen is at the door with our wake up meow. Occasionally, she tests the waters with an earlier weak little mew. Otherwise, she knows what time to get us out of bed. They also know when it’s snack time, dinner time, time for an outside walk. Pets have our number. And our hearts.

Carmen sporting pink nail covers so she won't scratch the furniture

Carmen sporting pink nail covers so she won’t scratch the furniture

While cats aren’t usually pets to put on a leash and take for a walk, owning a dog can help keep you in shape. If you tend to be sedentary, your dog won’t let you make excuses for staying on the couch. I’ve known dogs who got their leash between their teeth and brought it to their owner with a ‘it’s time to get up and out and walk me’ look in their eyes. Fido can be a very good exercise coach. He or she may even help you meet some people.

There are many reasons to own a pet. We never expected to have six cats _ sounds a little like having kids, but two were planned, the other four just showed up at our house. Our cats are a lot of work and an extra expense, but they are also a source of great joy. They put smiles on our faces. And that alone is a great reason to have pets.

THE GREAT ZEN MASTER

When I was working and had a particularly stressful day, I used to joke about running away in my retirement to Tibet or Nepal or someplace very exotic and becoming a Zen Master. There, I would scrub floors and meditate all day as I attained a relaxed state of calm and enlightenment, peace and tranquility. For starters, this idea was far-fetched because the monks are all men. Women need not apply. Although they might let me scrub the floors. And, though the scenery may be spectacular, living in the Himalayas or under China’s rule isn’t my idea of a fun retirement. Lastly, being a child of the ’60s, my exposure to Zen was the U.S. version, which first appeared on my radar, well, in the ’60’s. So, I wasn’t even sure if Tibet and Nepal is where Zen Masters really resided. But, when stress came knocking, it was fun to think of living in a meditative state of mind in some far off land.

Then, one day, as I watched one of my cats stretch into a yoga-like pose with paws way out front and her back elongated in a sort of exaggerated arch, I realized I live with Zen Masters. Seven of them to be exact. They spend their days either sleeping or meditating, especially if the warmth of the sun is involved. They wake slowly from their long naps, pulling themselves upright to a sitting position as they look about blink-eyed before they start their meditation. Sometimes, a little cleaning of the face is in order post meditation and before they slowly stroll toward their food dishes, tails held high in a slow dance. Yes, cats are masters at the art of Zen.

To find out how we acquired seven, you’ll have to read “The Story of Cats”, which I have yet to write. But, the very short version is this. Four of them actually acquired us. Ferals who arrived as kittens, they took us in with their tiny furry faces filled up by big, curious eyes. Three of them are part of the original Snacky Rudy Baker Project started seven years ago. Trapped one by one in January 2007, they were “fixed” and received first vaccinations at a low cost spay/neuter clinic, which willingly took feral cats. Now, once a year, we upset their Zen days of sunning themselves on the banks behind our house to take them one by one to our vet for a yearly check-up and booster shots.

This morning it’s the turn of Zen Master Grady, aka Mr. Gray, affectionately called Grady Bear by me. A beautiful soft gray with tabby stripes, white feet and big green eyes, he weighs in at about 18 pounds. So, although the Masters now trust us to a point, it’s no easy feat to get Grady into a carrier. Martin and I are both tense as he goes out onto the veranda to set out their breakfast while I hide at the kitchen door holding an open carrier. As Grady and the others gather around Martin in anticipation of their morning meal, purring and rubbing against his legs in their Zen-like morning prayer, Martin reaches down and picks Grady up, petting as he walks hurriedly toward the door. As I come through the door frame, suddenly Grady realizes what’s happening, stiffens his body, but to no avail, as Martin drops him through the top of the carrier and closes the door. This part of the trauma is over. Zen no more, Master Grady puts out tiny, frightened mews for the next hour and a half before his appointment.

Our vet is our vet because she welcomes all the Zen Masters. We fired the last guy as feral cats need not show up at his office. Too snooty for the downtrodden, we looked for a more Zen-like vet. So, today, Dr. Silver sits cross-legged on the floor, gently coaxing Grady from his hiding place between Martin, also sitting on the floor, and the bright orange wall splashed with cat paw prints. As Grady slowly emerges from his hiding place, Martin slides off to the side so Dr. Silver can exam Grady. She coos softly to him as she checks his vital signs, talks to us about his condition and expertly delivers his shots. Whew! All done for another year.

Back home after a short ten minute ride, Martin releases Grady from the carrier. He quickly meets up with one of the other Masters, happily butts heads in a “Hey, I’m back!” motion and runs off into the woods. A few minutes later, as we look through the trees to a sunlit spot, we see three of the cats walking slowly, one behind the other. As they look for meditation nooks among the rocks, Grady is in the lead. Finding just the right place to soak up some rays, Grady settles down into the leaves and blinks his green eyes at the sunlight sifting through the trees. Ahhh…calm and enlightenment. The relaxed state of peace and tranquility has returned to the great Zen Master Grady Bear.

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