Saturday, July 15, 2006

End of an era

When I was five, our old dog Jenny died. I cried for ten broken-hearted minutes, then realised that without the cat-hating terrier, my parents would finally have to make good on their promise to get me a kitten. I don't know where this obsession with cats came from, but it's been there since I was old enough to speak coherent one-syllable words. It's still there. Every birthday, at least half of my cards and presents are cat-themed.

Anyway. After a suitable greiving period, we picked up two adorable little black and white kittens, a pair of girls called Tinkerbell and Willow (come on, I was six. My brother wanted to call her Princess Willow). After the first trip to the vets, however, we discovered that Tinkerbell was actually a boy...biologically, anyway. He was never large with the butch. Officially shortened to Tinker, he remained a sweet, affectionate, delicate and entirely cowardly little cat. And a definite fairy. Most of the time, I call him Tinkerbell anyway.

Four years later we adopted a new baby, a manic ginger furball called Meu, who was adored by everybody. Clearly, 1992 was a good year for animals, since we also acquired Honey, the most gorgeous, flirtatious, adoring dog there ever was. A year later, we added tiny, terrified Candy to the family, an abused tabby kitten so highly strung that even after years of affection she still ran like crazy if one of us made a sudden movement.

But all good things come to an end. I used to count off the years on my hands and think that in the far-off days when I would be in my twenties, it would be time to start saying goodbye to these animals. It started three years ago when my beautiful, queen-like Meu suddenly had to be put down after thrombosis got the better of her. A shock, not least because she was only eleven, which is mid-sixties in human terms.

I prepared myself for Tinker and Willow to go next. But it was Honey who had a heart attack last summer and scared us all to death. So engrossed were we with her that it was with some shock that we realised our odd duck Willow, the Amazing Quacking Cat, had deteriorated badly over the course of the summer. She died of cancer in September, aged seventeen, in my arms on the way to the vet to be put down.

When, five months later, Candy stopped running away from every loud noise or quick movement, my heart sank. I wanted the vet to tell me it was something else, something requiring expensive medication and frequent trips to the surgery for astronomical blood tests, but of course it wasn't. It was cancer too, and in an almost identical fashion to Willow, my tiny tabby died shortly after, at home. She was less than thirteen.

From five down to two, and both Honey and Tinker showed signs of slowing down. Since his litter-mate died, he'd been confused, but it was after Candy stopped following him everywhere, slavishly adoring, that poor Tinker really started to look hurt and confused. And old. Like Gus the Theatre Cat, his coat became shabby, he was thin as a rake. The vet took a blood sample and told us that his overactive thyroid was now very underactive, so he ought to be piling on weight. He wasn't. Tumours in his stomach were taking care of that.

While Tinker staggered around like the old man he was, Honey got slower, and slower. She stopped eating. She stopped barking. She just lay around, looking apologetic. For a dog who lived to please her family, she was causing too much trouble to be happy with herself. We eventually called the vet to put her to sleep in the back garden, two days after her fourteenth birthday.

And then there was one. And not for much longer: Tinker woke me this morning lying on my chest, breathing badly and hardly able to lift his head. He's made it downstairs, out into the garden and now back to the kitchen where he's just lying there, looking sad. I don't think he'll see Monday. I'd be surprised if he sees Sunday.

So. Sugar and Spike are tearing around, fluffily beautiful, four and a half months old and the start of a new era. But I'll miss the old one. Four cats and a dog, which I learned to say in Italian and French at school, a phrase I still say now without quite realising, an unchanging situation for ten years. An important ten years. I'm really not a kid any more, because if I was I'd still have my fab five.

Those kittens are going to suffer far more cuddles than they can bear in the next few days.


  1. Oh. That's sad. Like he got to 18 and then thought, 'OK, that's it, time to go now'...


  2. Oh, hon. You made me cry. What a lovely rememberance. I fell in love with Tinker and Honey when I visited, and it's hard to imagine them gone. I'm so very sorry. {{{hugs}}}