Sunday, June 5, 2011


“Yesterday I was put to sleep.” Kitty memoir

It shouldn’t hurt this much, but it’s like the death of a person. I wish I’d waited one more day. And one more day. I retrace the past week, I examine and wonder, and see the days through a different lens every time I look at them. One minute I think I waited too long, years too long. Another, I think I didn’t wait long enough. I wish he were with me right now. That’s all I know.

He was old. Almost twenty.

The princess and Latoya, St. Paul 2003

The last animal from what I call our old life, the life on the farm.

“He’s so charming,” people always said.

He loved it when a group of people got together and sat around talking and laughing. He loved the sound of laughter.

It’s like the death of a person.

He showed up on our farm as a kitten, probably a dump.
“Don’t touch it,” I told my daughter, who was already mentally cuddling the animal. “It might have some disease.”
“It has devil eyes,” my husband said. “Look at how it’s looking at me. Making eye contact.” There was fear in his voice. “Don’t feed it and it’ll leave.”

But the cat didn't leave, and we began calling him Latoya, thinking he was a female.

He hung around the corncrib and caught mice.

One day I found him there, sick. I took him to the vet.
“Pneumonia,” the vet said. “Never seen a case this bad. If he lives, he’ll always be in bad health.” I found out he was a boy, not a girl.

So I took him home and put him in a box in the basement.
“I don’t want that devil cat in the house,” my husband said.
“What is he going to do? Put a spell on you?”
The cat recovered and he was returned to the outdoors. I got him neutered, but we continued to call him Latoya.
He was always around. In the field near the house. In the evenings, when I went for a jog, he would follow me, get tired, and wait in the roadside ditch for me to return, then follow me home. I fed him, and he became my cat.

In 1994, I went on a trip.
“Don’t forget to feed Latoya,” I told my son and husband. “I don’t want him roaming, searching for food.”
While I was gone, my husband accidentally ran over Latoya with a sickle mower, a mower used to trim ditches. He was so mangled that he should have been put to sleep, but my son coaxed him out of the culvert where he’d gone to die. The vet did what he could. “I don’t think he’ll live, and he’ll never walk or use the litter box. Take him home, but you’ll probably need to have him put down.” Poor Latoya had two and a half legs, and half a tail. They’d shaved him, and he was as naked as a mole rat.

Over the next month, pieces of him fell off, but he slowly recovered, and the devil cat became a housecat. My constant companion.

St. Paul, 2005

He had no trouble getting around, and could even run and climb a tree if taken outside. Like the vet said, he had respiratory issues off and on his whole life. But he lived and lived and lived.

Two years ago, he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, but he couldn’t tolerate the medication. And as time passed, he got so he could no longer go up and down the stairs to sleep with me in my bed. His weight dropped from sixteen pounds to five.

Church house, 2009

I would spend evenings downstairs in the living room with him, watching television. He lost his hearing, and began to yowl if he thought he was alone. The social butterfly. A few days ago, my daughter came by and we realized he could hear us, and he enjoyed sitting with us as we talked and laughed. He still loved the sound of laughter.

This day has been coming for a long time, but I didn’t know it would hurt so much. He was a cat. A cat. But it feels like the death of a person. I don’t understand how humans bond so strongly with their pets, but it’s something profound and crazy and painful and maybe beautiful. I’m not sure about the beautiful. It hurts too much for beautiful.

Twenty years. He was with me through the death of my husband, my move from the farm to Iowa, my move to St. Paul, my move to Wisconsin. In the past several years, he required constant care. Because of that, my adult children and I took him with us when we went up north and stayed at a cabin for a week. I’m not sure if he enjoyed it, but he took it all in stride, the way he did everything.

Me and Latoya at cabin, 2010

I’ve had a lot of cats in my life, but he was special. Unique and almost human. I can’t believe he’s gone. The house is so empty. There’s a giant hole in my heart that I don’t think any other pet could ever fill.


  1. Oh, my dear. My heart goes out to you and I am so sorry for your loss. Latoya was definitely a special cat, a survivor, and now he's gone on to receive his reward. My beloved Indya was with me for twenty years as well and it felt like my heart had been ripped out when she passed on.

    It is amazing how strongly we bond with our pets, our furry family. They are with us through the highs and lows of our life, our loyal companions. Latoya hung around through it all for you and was blessed by you as you were by him.

    Please know that I'm thinking of you and praying you receive peace and comfort, and that your pain will ease into loving memories.



  2. My heart is breaking for you. Mine is only three, my first cat since I was a child. I had no idea how much and how well they creep into our hearts on little kitty feet. Like a person. I'm so sorry.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to Latoya. Grieving is definitely the hardest thing we do.

  4. Linda, thanks so much.

    MJ. what a huge truth in one simple sentence. i never really thought about that, but it's so true.

  5. I feeeeeeel your pain. My cat is probably that old (she was a stray) and is experiencing symptoms as you describe. I don't know if I'll know the "right" time, can't say it. It's a beautiful tribute.

  6. Muse, the guilt that goes with it is hard to deal with. because you don't know if it's the right time. i heard a vet on NPR say it's better to be a month too early than a day too late. and do they have more bad days that good days? it's weird, but i don't remember ever experiencing such an acute sense of loss. maybe you forget. but it's like my senses are supercharged and tuned to him. like maybe the subconscious mind is constantly trolling for him even though my conscious knows he's gone. or maybe it's because he required constant care for so many years. going through doorways is hard. like stepping out of one room to another room. where he isn't.

  7. What an amazing Latoya. I'm so sorry, T. :(

  8. Thanks so much, Kelly. I hesitated to post about this, but it's been nice to get everyone's comments.

  9. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I love that you are not one bit hesitant to claim Latoya as a valued member of your family. This post is not just about how beautiful a soul he has but it tells me a lot about the beauty of your soul, too.

  10. Theresa, sorry for your loss. Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is tough. We share so much with them. I've lost cats myself, one in 2010 from pancreatic cancer. Now I do elder cat care. My Maine Coon will turn nineteen in a few months. He has arthritis in his back legs and limps when he walks. He gets tired easily and wants hand-poured water, which we indulged him because it's the highlight of his day. We know his time is coming. Yes, the house is so empty without our special friends.

  11. Bonnie, thank you so much for your kind words.

    Michael, I've heard Maine Coons are wonderful cats. Smart, and kind of like a cross between a cat a dog. As far drinks, I did the same thing with my cat. I actually starting lifting him into the kitchen sink up to twenty times a day. I think you'll understand.

  12. So sorry, Theresa. I understand that he was something solid when so many things weren't.


    (For some reason, Google won't let me be me.)

  13. Oh my gosh, I am so, so sorry. I know how special these little souls with fur become. I had to put my beloved dog down last year and it about killed me. :( Wish there was some way to heal it faster for you.

  14. Lauren, thanks so much for the condolences. I did something weird. I'd put all of his bedding, food, and bowls in the trash. Then i dug everything out and brought it back in the house, putting everything back where it had been. It makes me feel better.

  15. He sounds like an amazing friend. I hope as you creep up on the anniversary of his death that the pain has eased and the memories are mostly of the good times.

  16. thank you, Wyndes.