Tag Archives: grieving

Cedric and Jamie

Cedric and meThis day, in 1997, I laid my cat and dog in their final resting place. Cedric, the cat, had cancer of the jaw.  Jamie, the dog, had arthritis so bad he could barely walk. Cedric had been with me for fifteen years and Jamie for ten. There was nothing more that could be done for them. I knew I couldn’t go through it twice so decided they’d go together. My vet – and friend – came to my house and did it quickly. I felt like it was Dr. Mengele walking in the door when he arrived with his little bag of needles. It wasn’t painless for me. Afterwards, four of us carried them to their grave. The vet, me and two friends. Cedric was wrapped in a towel and Jamie was in his bed. Four of us cried, one gave a eulogy, then we filled in the grave.

Jamie12Apr97Next day, we made a perennial bed on the top of their grave. Tiger lilies for Cedric, a tortoiseshell, and orange and yellow dahlias for Jamie. The lilies were mottled in colour and sleek, like Cedric. The dahlias looked happy, like Jamie.

A foundling cat and a determined dog

Cedric came to me soon after my boyfriend dumped me. He hadn’t wanted a cat or dog. I had. So the first thing I did when I got my own place was put out the word that I was cat-hunting.

Friends had a very pregnant cat they had found in the woods. Their own cat terrorized her and they feared what would happen when the kittens were born. I took her. I feared she was going to give birth cedric mousepad photo d stewarton the drive home. But it was a week before the kittens came. I was much more nervous than she was, and she was pretty nervous. I had my landlady come help because she was a registered nurse.

Ceddie and I had a good life in many homes. Jamie joined us when he decided he preferred our house to his own. He lived nearby, at the end of a long country lane. A very social dog, he preferred life in the village.

Jamie was a self-sufficient dog. Didn’t have a lot of dog friends but a wide circle of people friends. He’d do his visiting rounds every few days. When he got older, if he was too tired to walk home, someone would drive him or phone me to come get him. He made friends with a couple neighbour dogs. They’d come visit him or he’d go to their place. He walked along beside you, but I don’t Jamie eating a chicken pot piethink anyone ever trained him. He’d run in the woods after rabbits. Never caught one, and never lost track of you.

Neither Cedric nor Jamie were ever my ‘fur-babies’. They were my friends and, especially Cedric, my advisors.

New pets move in

Less than a month after they died, a young stray tabby and white cat turned up at my house. I wasn’t ready for a new cat, but no one claimed her. Elsie moved in and is still with me. After a year, a German Shepherd pup needed a home. So Jack joined Elsie and me.

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on April 13, 2011. Now, twenty years later, Elsie and Jack are also gone.

Arthritic Dogs

One week ago today at 7:15 pm AT, my dearly beloved Standard Poodle Leo died. He was about 14 years old. He’s been with us for eight years and leo-18-may-2009-at dan pattersons before arthritissix weeks. Since 2012, he had severe arthritis. Arthritis and old age finally took him. Took a big chunk of our hearts too.  This post was first published Jan. 30, 2013 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog in memory of Leo’s predecessor Jack.  Now it’s in honour of Leo too.

Jack

Five years ago today at 2:15 pm ET, my beautiful German Shepherd Jack died. We had his vet euthanize him before his body did it by itself. It was getting pretty close; I don’t think he would have survived another night. He had a number of physical ailments. We don’t know exactly what all. but I suspect a fast-growing cancer was involved. He was only 9 3/4 years old. He had been my best friend, teacher and “baby-dog” for 9 1/2 of those years.

flowers and Jack photo by Dorothy StewartOne problem he had in his last year was arthritis in his hips. He would get up slowly and painfully. He would shift position a lot, trying to get comfortable. I gave him Medacam for it. I don’t know how much good it did because other ailments began developing soon after. His arthritis became the least of his problems.

My dog before Jack, Jamie, had developed severe arthritis in his legs. Poor soul got so he could hardly walk at all. Lying down was almost as painful for him. At the time, the only thing I could give him for pain relief was a Bufferin once a day. He could have had cortisone shots but I didn’t want to due to the bad side effects of steroid drugs. In retrospect, I might as well have tried it.

Leo, one of my present dogs, is arthritic now. X-rays a year ago showed severe damage to his hip joints and his spine. So we are getting to know all the pain relief medications that now exist. There are a lot more than sixteen years ago when Jamie needed something so badly.

Leo’s Arthritis Medicines

Leo started on Medacam. It can work wonders but not for Leo. So he went to Deramaxx, another anti-inflammatory. Again, when it works, you can see the change and, again, there wasn’t a visible improvement. So now he’s getting shots of Cartrophen in addition to the Deramaxx. It is said to mend cartilage. His doctor said you should be able to see a difference after a couple of shots. After three shots – don’t know. We will ask about the next level of treatment. (2016: the drug combination that worked best for him was Gabapentin and Deramaxx,}

Jamie and Jack showed classic signs of arthritis; stiffness when rising, limping after exertion. Leo’s early symptoms were quite different. He began slipping even when standing. Because Jack developed severe problems with his paw pads getting paper-thin, I first checked Leo’s feet. They looked fine. We googled it: can be due to arthritis. His vet explained: even slight movement isn’t easy with stiff joints so there can be a loss of balance. Slipping, if not falling, can be the result.

I read in “A Case History of Maggie”  that the elderly Golden Retriever could no longer squat to do her business and would do it while continuing to walk. I hadn’t thought of that being connected to arthritis in the back legs but it makes sense. Restlessness, moving from place to place to sleep, can mean arthritic pain. All these may be less obvious signs of osteoarthritis.

Our present dogs came to help all of us, including the cats, fill the void created by Jack’s death. They have done that and more, but our happy, very silly boy is never forgotten.

(My Dog’s Arthritis has more. Commodity Dogs tells the story of how Leo and Charlie came to us.)

Titanic: No greater love

Among the bodies found after Titanic sank was that of a woman, clinging to the body of a Great Dane.  Ann Elizabeth Isham had a seat in a lifeboat but was told dogs on Titanic deck, including a Great Dane typeher dog was too big to come with her. So she jumped back on board the ship. They drowned together.

This is one of the stories told in a current exhibit about the people and dogs of Titanic at the Widener University Art Gallery in Chester PA. There were at least twelve dogs on board. Three survived. Small dogs, they were carried in bags or wrapped in blankets and, held on laps, they didn’t take extra space. Astonishingly, a Pomeranian was refused entry on the rescue ship Carpathia. That, after he and his mistress had survived the night on a lifeboat. Mrs. Martin Rothschild raised such a fuss that her little dog was allowed to board.

Dogs were 1st class passengers while cats were crew, on mousing detail. There is a story that one cat saved a man as well as herself and her kittens. She was on board from Belfast to Southampton where she disembarked, carrying her kittens off one by one. A man, debating whether to seek continued work on the ship’s journey, saw the cat leave and decided he too should stay ashore.

The tale of the Titanic is filled with happenstance, loyalty and sacrifice. Ida Straus was in a lifeboat when she realized her octogenarian husband wasn’t allowed on. “Where he goes, I go” she said and stepped back on the ship. They died together.

Quigg Baxter rowingQuebec Shamrock hockey player Quigg Baxter was on board with his mother and sister and, without their knowledge, so was his girlfriend Berthe Mayné, a Belgian cabaret singer. He introduced Berthe to his mother and sister as he put her in the lifeboat with them. He drowned.  Berthe later returned to Belgium and told stories of her doomed Canadian beau but nobody in her family believed her. After her death, they found a small box filled with photos of Quigg and his love letters to her.

A Canadian businessman, Capt. Arthur Peuchen, survived but later wished he hadn’t. A yachtsman, he got on a lifeboat with women and children to safely row it away. Back in Toronto, he was scorned for having survived. He retreated to a logging camp and horse farm in Alberta, haunted by survivor guilt. He died in 1929, a double survivor I think; of Titanic, then of societal opprobrium.

Titanic 100 years later

painting by Willy Stower sinking of TitanicThe Titanic specials for the 100th anniversary taught me a lot about the ship and our folklore about her. The hubris believed to be shown by the claim that she was unsinkable: the Captain and ship designers never said that, only the media did. The image of frivolity we see in the band playing as the ship listed and sunk: those musicians willingly gave their lives, knowing the value of music to keep others calm and provide solace for those facing death. Engineers accepted death to stay below trying to save the ship, then just to delay the sinking to save as many other lives as possible. The Captain hadn’t run her at full speed. He knew the danger of icebergs. On his final voyage before retirement, he went down with his ship.

Unfortunate timing of events coupled with miscommunication led to the disaster. The errors were not having Titanic ship in a bottleenough lifeboats and not enough practice at loading those they had. But, faced with disaster, people did the best they could. I hope Titanic is protected effectively now and left as the burial ground she is. Let her remain a testament to the power of the sea and the sacrifice of so many.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Apr. 19, 2012 (2 comments below) 

Heaven

When my dog Jack died, I believed in heaven. After his burial, my mother-in-law gave me a card with a little story in it. It’s about a Heaven - Doug with Jack in Outer Battery, St. John's 1998man and his dog walking along the afterlife road looking for heaven’s gates. At the beautiful golden and pearl gates with a sign saying Heaven, they’re told “sorry, no dogs allowed.” They continue walking. At a rickety gate in front of a small farm, a sign also says Heaven. The man asks if his dog can come in and is told “Of course he can.” So in they went.

It made me feel better to think of Jack in that heaven, met at the gate by my dog Jamie and cat Cedric who died before he came to me.  I knew they would recognize him as one of the family.  Doug, the German Shepherd who had ‘mothered’ him when he was a pup, would be there too.

They would take him to Heaven’s Porch, where my dad would be George Anger and Jamie dog 1991sitting with his brother and brothers-in-law.  Dad would pat his side and say, “well hello Jack, so you’ve come to join us.”  Dad’s brother would say “so you’re the sonovabitch she named after me, are you?”  Jamie would run around in front of the porch, barking and tail wagging, legs dancing.  No trace of the arthritis that had crippled him up.

That’s what I pictured the night Jack died, thanks to that story in a sympathy card.  It comforted me.

I had read the story aloud to Jack’s mourners and, of course, I cried. My mother looked askance, and said “dogs don’t have souls.” I put the card away. That was a debate I wasn’t taking on right then. Neither was my mother-in-law, a church-going woman of strong faith. But a different church.

It has famously been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole.  Of course there aren’t!  Why, when you are in danger or great despair, would you not cling to anything that gave you hope or solace?  Part of that solace is that you can make it anything you want or need.  You can picture your enemy burning in hellfire, screaming and clawing at the walls of the pit.  You can even picture it before he dies, and enjoy the anticipation.  If you reconciled yourself with him by the time of his death, perhaps you’d see him being welcomed into the arms of Jesus.  Jack at Man o' War's grave, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington KYEven if his sins hadn’t changed, you can see what you want his afterlife to be, and believe it to be reality.  You can maybe see yourself going beyond the white light to “a better place”.  If you picture yourself in the pit of hellfire, you might find yourself looking for a way to avoid that place.

The afterlife, being something we can’t know about, is pretty much whatever you believe it to be.  Different faiths have different pictures of it, some more detailed than others.  In the fundamentalist Christian belief system in which I was raised, one of the truths is that animals have no souls and therefore are incapable of sin.  Their death is final with no afterlife, either good or bad.  Heaven cannot be an option if Hell is not also a possibility.  Therefore, my dog Jack cannot be in heaven, and such thinking is misinterpretation or blasphemy.  It’s nothing personal toward the dog; it’s just the “reality” of the world we don’t yet know.

I don’t like thinking about a heaven without dogs. So I’d rather stick with my fuzzy and situational spirituality and comfort myself with the Jack beside Kettle Creek, St. Thomas winterpicture of Jack on the Porch of Heaven with my other animals and my dad and Uncle Jack and other family and friends.  That gives me comfort.  If I were in a foxhole, I’d be praying non-stop to God to keep me alive or at least ensure that I go to the Heaven where I can sit on the porch with Jack.

James Herriot wrote a lovely story about dogs’ afterlife. “Prince and the Card Above the Bed” is in a small, beautifully illustrated volume entitled James Herriot’s Favorite Dog Stories, New York:  St. Martin’s Press 1996.

If you haven’t seen this, Church Wars is a concise little debate on the question of dogs’ souls.

This was first posted July 31, 2010 in Stories on my St. Thomas Dog Blog. This Saturday, Jan. 30th, marks the eighth anniversary of Jack’s death.

Dallas, a Shepherd

Dallas was on the All Breed Canine Rescue website under “Mature Dogs.”  I had been looking through rescue sites, hoping no dog would Dallas, a Shepherd cross, at home on the couch‘speak’ to me.  This gray-muzzled, sharp-faced, squat-bodied Shepherd-type did.  It was way too soon.

Our German Shepherd Jack had just died.  He’d been with me for 9½ years, rescued at 14 weeks from neglect.  He was my friend and touchstone.  No other dog could replace him or compete for my affection.  But the house seemed so empty.  The cats missed him. My husband said no new dog, he needed time to mourn. I missed Jack and the presence of a dog. I took ‘match yourself to a dog breed’ questionnaires.  I checked ABCR’s site again – Dallas was still listed.  My husband still couldn’t think of another dog in Jack’s place.

It was a cat who changed his mind. The “boss” cat, she ceased harassing the others and just lay in Jack’s favourite spots, staring vacantly.  After a week of this, my husband said “maybe we should get a dog for that cat.”  Dallas came for a visit.  The cat ran up to her, delighted.  Then realizing this dog wasn’t Jack, she hissed violently and stalked off.

When ABCR got Dallas from the pound, she was not spayed and had arthritic or injured hind legs.  Most dramatically, she had no hair on her back.  “Her skin was like raw hamburger,” I was told.  Allergy treatment and special food had cleared up the hair loss.  Still, no one really knew what was wrong with her. We were recovering financially from vet bills for Jack and our elderly cat Henry, and emotionally from months of caring for chronically ill animals and the loss of them.  Was taking Dallas asking for more expense and sadness?  Quite possibly.  But she looked like home, like she belonged here.

After a few more visits, Dallas came to stay.  She had enjoyed visiting, but expected her foster mom to be waiting to take her home.  The day her foster family left without her, she clawed at the door howling inconsolably.  I was in tears.

A few hours later, after a good long walk, Dallas looked around and seemed to decide that, if this was now home, she’d make the best of it.  She glued herself to me and is very protective.  She doesn’t trust men, dallas and elsiebut is realizing that the one in her new house isn’t a threat to her or me.  The cats have warmed up to her.  Her extended human family welcomed her.  My sister seems resemblances to her late Shepherd/Husky.  My mother sees our old Shepherd in her.  I have taken her to Jack’s grave and to his favourite walking places.  I tell her about him and she wrinkles her nose and listens.

She takes pills for hip dysplasia and allergies. A lump on her rear end was easily removed and was benign. Sometimes her legs are creaky, but she plays and chases balls.  She’s not Jack, but she is Dallas, a dog who, like him, has adopted us for life.  My sister said, “You needed her as much as she needed you.”  It’s true.

(Part 2) Dallas died almost three months to the day after we got her.  One morning in July she threw up. She seemed ok later, but didn’t want to chase her ball and really just put up with  our walk for my sake.  That evening, she was listless.  Late at night, she was feverish and chilled.  I should have called her vet.  I didn’t.  I took her in first time in the morning.  I had to help her out of the car.  They couldn’t see anything obviously wrong, so kept her in for observation and tests.  She died in the night.  No one knows why.

Her gift to us was to fill the void left by the deaths of Jack and Henry.  I hadn’t known if I could open my heart fully again to another dog.  But Dallas showed me I could. She reminded us of Jack and other Dallas with Dorothy at Jack's grave, Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery, 2008dogs in our lives.  But she was also her own dog, with her own ways of doing things and funny habits.

I was devastated at losing her.  A friend said maybe she was a messenger whose purpose was to translate love of, and from, Jack to other dogs for us. Losing a dog is heart breaking, but the loneliness of no dog is worse. We’ll be adopting another, probably a Shepherd type, soon.

(Part 3) A few months passed. We adopted Charlie, a little terrier mix, then Leo, a weird Standard Poodle puppy mill survivor.  We didn’t so much adopt Leo as he adopted me.  He later saw his way clear to adopt Jim too.  They are absolutely nothing like Jack or Dallas or any dog that’s gone before them in our lives.  I still “see” Jack and Dallas in the house and backyard. I tell Charlie and Leo about them.  They don’t much care about my stories, but they love to run and play and snuggle.  They’re both part of my heart now.

I started this story in July 2008 for an online dog story competition but didn’t submit it after having to add Part 2. It was posted on the St. Thomas Dog Blog Nov. 19, 2010.

 

Death and Repose

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 13 2010 – in memory of Jack who died 7 years ago today

Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of my old Collie-mix Jamie and tortoiseshell cat Cedric.  They were put to sleep together, due to cancer and crippling arthritis, and they’re repose at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery Eden ONburied together behind a house I used to live in.  The present occupants of the house know they’re there, but in future no one will know the significance of that small bed of orange and white dahlias and tiger lilies. Now my animals have plots at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery just south of Eden. The first time I went there, I was in the area with a bit of time to kill.  I was driving around Calton, Richmond and Eden, looking at the places that were home to my parents’ families a century ago.  On the Plank Road (#19 Hwy), I saw a sign for the pet cemetery.

So in I went. I quickly used up all the tissues in my pockets and was using old napkins from Tim graves at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery photo Jim StewartHortons that I found in the car, then my sleeves to wipe my eyes and nose. It’s the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen.  And active!  Seasonal flowers, small toys, photographs, solar lights and notes left on beloved pets’ gravestones.  It’s lovely and gut-wrenching. There are people’s graves too, with their pets.

I looked up the website and contacted the owners, the Cowans.  I broached the subject with my husband.  He thought it was a good idea for the pets.  Then I moved on to the subject of us.  Expecting his response to discussion of our own mortality to be Jack at Sandy-Ridge- photo Dorothy Stewart “lalalala my fingers are in my ears I can’t hear you”, I was surprised that he heard me out and thought about the options. His family is from Kentucky, so the family plots are there.  My family plots are in London, Tillsonburg and Dorchester – not places with any real connection for me or him.  The scattering of ashes over a waterfall or lake is a romantic idea, but leaves no mark of your existence.  He realized that some ‘I was here’ marker mattered to him, at least for the sake of his sons.  I realized it was important to me because I do genealogical research and gravestones are a solid connection with the past.  They tell you something about individuals and families.

So we bought a family plot for us and pets.  Too soon we had to use it.  January 30th 2008, our German Shepherd Jack died.  He was buried the charlie and me at pet gravesnext day.  We, our mothers, my sister and the Cowans were in attendance.  A month later, Henry, the oldest cat, joined him.  It was a bad, sad winter.  Eventually, we’ll all be there in this plot demarcated with granite ‘S’s at the corners.*  And it feels ok, knowing that others like me will walk along the path and read names and dates and reconstruct bits of family history.  And cry.

*In 2012, the Ontario government demanded the removal of the human graves.  Human ashes only were there, but they and the gravestones had to be moved away from the spots the people had chosen for their final repose.

Jack 1998-2008

Five years ago today at 2:15 pm ET, my beautiful German Shepherd Jack died.  We had his vet euthanize him before his body did it by itself.  It was getting pretty close; I don’t think he flowers-and-photo of German Shepherd Jackwould have survived another night.  He had a number of physical ailments; we don’t know exactly what all was wrong internally but I suspect a fast-growing cancer was involved.  He was only 9 3/4 years old.  He had been my best friend, counselor and “baby-dog” for 9 1/2 of those years.

He came to me as a puppy needing a home with love and freedom.  He had been tied outside and neglected, fed irregularly and poorly.  At about 4 months, his back legs were so weak he couldn’t climb a step. He didn’t know how to play or run around.  That broke my heart.

He learned to play – quickly!  There were quirks in his personality that remained for life.  A dog trainer told me that the first three months of a pup’s life are very important for socialization.  That is when they learn from their mother and littermates how to play properly and they learn how to interact with humans.  I don’t know how long Jack was with his mother, but I do know his first couple of months on his own were literally spent on his own.

Jack-grave-stoneI had not wanted a dog at that time, but couldn’t find a good home for him.  So he stayed with me, and I am so thankful.  He taught me so much and was my constant companion.

Newtown Kids & Dogs

A lot of dogs in Newtown, Connecticut will be working overtime in the solace department.  There are children and adults who will need Victoria Soto and Roxie from USA Todaythe love of their pets to help them cope after losing a sibling, a son or daughter, a mother or wife.

The pets will need comfort themselves.  They too have lost a beloved member of their family.  Roxie, a Black Labrador, is one.  Victoria Soto, one of the teachers killed in Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was her person.  Ms Soto died protecting the children in her classroom.

Newtown Park & Bark

Trying to learn about Newtown, I went to the municipal website.  In dogpark_july newtownparkandbark.orgthe menu under the “residents” tab, I saw they have been raising money for a dog park called Park & Bark that is scheduled to open in late 2013.  It was sad, yet cheering, to look at the people looking so proud of their fundraising efforts and happy about building a place to play with their dogs.

If you wish to let the people of Newtown know in a practical way that you are thinking of them, consider donating to their dog park.  There’s a donate button newtown park-&-barkon the page.  While it’s not directly related to the tragedy they are enduring, the town and people and dogs will go on.  I hope that Park & Bark will open on schedule as a symbol that Newtown has survived this unspeakable loss.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Dec. 16, 2012 (2 comments)

That Good Night

I have always loved Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to his dying father:  Do not go gentle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Nightinto that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas on cover of poetry bookYes, I thought, “old age should burn and rage at close of day.”  But Dylan Thomas knew something I didn’t, I think, even when he wrote those words.  He was still a young man, but he knew something that becomes apparent with age:  sometimes it’s time to hang up your hat and say goodbye. Evidently, he never showed the poem to his father.  He wrote it for himself – the child pleading to, and for, the father.  He knew, maybe, that what his dad wanted was to go peacefully and quietly.

Mom holding dog Feb 2012Four weeks ago my mother, my remaining parent, died.  I know in my sensible brain that it’s good that her death was quick and peaceful.  But there’s another part of me that says no, you should have fought to stay, you can’t leave me.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you lose your final parent, you feel orphaned.  What will you do without parents?  Driving through our hometown, my brother tried to remember the name of people who used to live in a house near ours.  “There’s nobody to ask now,” he realized, “I’m the one they’ll come to now for answers and I don’t know.  Mom knew.”

You lose your family’s corporate memory when your parents die, all the little bits of information about whose house was whose, where the neighbours moved to, what their dog’s name was.  Does it matter?  Ruby-1939-Pine-StYes, in the history of a community or family.  No, in the continued existence of that community or family.  Other families become the old neighbours who moved away, the next generation become the family elders.  But, like with photocopying, with each generation there’s a loss of the depth and colour of the original.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for the past few years.  She still knew us but didn’t remember many other people.  I hated the disease.  I hated seeing her sharp mind shut down; cried, after leaving her, when she asked “who’s X?” when X was a family member.  Cried even more when she stopped asking, stopped trying to figure out who people were.

However, as she accepted her dementia and came to terms with it, so did I.  Often I’d wonder about something and think I’ll ask Mom, then would remember she wouldn’t Ruby Grace Burwell Anger obitknow any longer.  After her death, I caught myself taking pictures because “Mom will want to see this,” only to remember she was gone.  But it wasn’t the huge shock to me that it would be if she’d had her mental faculties intact.

Maybe that’s a gift that Alzheimer’s gives survivors.  You’ve had to come to terms with losing your loved one before she or he is actually gone from this life.  It is a gradual process, thereby maybe gentler at the ultimate end.  Maybe, as Dylan Thomas’ dad knew, that’s what we all wish for at the end, going gentle into that good night.  My mother went gently, and for that I’m glad.

Elsie 1997-2011

Elsie Rose died yesterday, Sept. 1st, peacefully with her family beside her. She is buried at Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery in Eden. She is mourned.  This was written last Sunday.

Elsie in car, Sept 1/11I’m writing this when I’ve realized Elsie is in pain. It’s time to phone the vet, time for her to go peacefully. She wants to, I think, but I don’t want her to.

She arrived around my house in May fourteen years ago, a month after my old cat had died. I wasn’t looking for another one. But there she was, still kittenish, but past the fluffball stage. About 5 months old, the age of coming into first heat. And she did, in my back yard. Every tom in the area camped out there too.

She wouldn’t come near me, but one night she was in the narrow lane between houses and I caught her. She had a flea collar on, so she belonged somewhere. But no response to posters I put up. I’d been planning to leave Newfoundland. One new cat was more than enough. Kittens?  No. So a quick trip to the vet.

Elsie hanging out Outer Battery house window, St. John's 1998Another cat, Spam, spent a lot of time at my house and hated her. Twice her size, he attacked and beat her unmercifully. My vet said let them sort it out.  Interfering will just make it worse. So I tried.  It didn’t get any better. Even my next-door neighbour who did not like cats came over one day to try to save poor Elsie.

I knew why he hated other cats: my previous cat Cedric had made his life a living hell when he was a kitten. So he learned from her to hate other cats. Cedric, in her turn, had been found wandering and, in her first new home, their cat bullied and terrorized her. The cycle of violence perpetuates itself, and I thought for sure it would with Elsie after what she endured from Spam.

Accepting, adaptable Elsie

But in Elsie, nature overcame nurture. She is willing to accept any person or animal – even cats. Never did she let bad experiences with an individual affect her treatment of others. She likes and dislikes based on the individual alone, not her preconceptions of them. That, in my experience, is almost as rare in a cat as it is in a person.

I stayed another year in St. John’s after getting Elsie and acquired a pup in need of a home. She was fine with him. She told him at the outset to mind his manners, and he did.

Then we moved to Ontario. She traveled easily, just zoned out in a Zen state in her carrier. She adjusted to new surroundings and to Elsie's 10th birthday notice 2007 St Thomas TJbecoming an indoor only cat. My dad, not a cat person, loved her. He played yoyo with her for hours – dangling the string for her to bat and chase. When she’d escape outside, he could get her in with the yoyo string. She fell for it every time.

She is my last living connection with St. John’s. Jack has been gone three and a half years and now it’s her turn. My lady cat, Elsie Rose.