Our cat Puff just died.
About 16 years ago, a Persian Himalayan cat had just had kittens, and one was very small and friendly. So we got a 5 week old kitten, a little blob of fur that immediately got the name Puff. She was a timid little cat, prone to hiding in places like closets or under sofa pillows.
Puff adored our 7 year old daughter Caroline. Caroline could pick her up and twirl her around, and Puff didn’t complain because she knew that she would get cuddled and hugged and stroked afterwords. At times, Puff was a fierce little kitten who never learned how to retract her claws (hence one of her nicknames, “Little Miss Slice and Dice”). When she was tired, she would curl up, and accept the strokes of her adoring family (as she would put it).
When Caroline went away to school, Puff missed her and was always delighted to see her when she came home. Of course, cats can’t show that — and Puff was all cat. She would act standoffish for a bit, but after at most a day would be back in Caroline's arms, purring as she snuggled up with Caroline in bed.
When Caroline moved to Oregon to go to college, Puff more or less adopted me. When Caroline came home, Puff played her standoffish game a bit, and then was back with her buddy. But when Caroline was gone, Puff hung around with me during the day, and curl up with me in the evenings. She loved to have her chin scratched and rubbed. And she became quite moody when I was gone.
We took good care of Puff, and she was happy. Holly planted some catnip in the garden and, when Puff went outside, she found it promptly and enjoyed rubbing it on her chin. Puff loved to venture outside, but never left the yard. She hung out by the chicken coop and watched the chickens, and made a nightly visit to the garden.
As Puff grew older, she developed problems seeing. We took her to the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Small Animal Clinic. They found that cataracts made her nearly blind. She could no longer see the walls, and kept bumping into them as she walked around. Finally, for her own safety, we created a 5′×3′ playpen, with a tarp and a tablecloth with a plastic liner, and put a towel, a litterbox, and food in there. She slept in there, and we took her out as often as we could. Holly would take her out for her daily airing in the back yard, and watch her try to memorize the patterns of cement and where the grass was, so she would not wander out of a safe area. Puff loved to feel the sun and the breeze and smell the air.
Sometimes we would put her in a clothes basket with a towel at the bottom, and bring her with us as we moved around the house. We would reach in and stroke her, scratch her cheeks or jawbones, and she would show how happy she was by moving her head so we would scratch where she wanted, and purring very loudly. When she tired of that, she would curl up and rest. We would read, watch TV, talk, or do something else. Every so often we'd reach into the basket, stroke her, and be rewarded with a lick or a purr.
Then one day she began to meow differently, and at that point we knew she was in pain. She settled into the basket less and less. But she still purred when she got a good neck scratching, and sometimes purred when she knew we were there as she fell asleep in the basket.
We took her back to the UC Davis Vet Med clinic. The veterinarians there said her kidneys failed and nothing could be done. So we called Caroline in Oregon. She said good-bye to Puff, and thanked her for everything. The vets then administered a sedative and Puff began to purr as she drifted off to sleep. She quickly, and very peacefully, passed away.
I miss Puff. Sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, or in my living room chair, with the table I would put the basket on right next to me, I reach over to pat her in her basket, then realize there is no basket, no Puff. I still see Puff’s big eyes looking at me, feel her jumping up on me, feel her fur under my hand, and hear the loud purr as I rub her chin and cheeks.
There is an afterlife, even if only in the memories of those who are left behind. I know that Puff’s afterlife began with her being greeted by Fur, and Stripe, and Baby Windsor, and all the other pets we loved, who passed away before her. They will take Puff in hand, and play with her, and love her the way we did, and fill her afterlife with joy.
A paraphrase of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s closing words from his epic book Crime and Punishment seems particularly fitting:
“But that is the beginning of a new story — the story of the gradual renewal of a friend, the story of her gradual regeneration, of her passing from one world into another, of her initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”