One of the hardest things about being a pet parent is saying goodbye. For those of us who love animals, our fur babies become part of the family, and an integral part of our lives.
I adopted my tortoise shell cat, Penny, from an organisation called Toronto Cat Rescue in 2008. She was 9 months old and every bit as feisty as a tortie should be.
She had been rescued from a shelter where she was to be euthanized – and fostered into a home with lots of other cats.
Like many humans, Penny didn’t like cats.
It took her a while to open up, and be affectionate with me, but over time I would often find her pressed up against me, or sleeping on top of the other pillow.
In fact when she was sleeping on me, I dared not move because Penny did not like to be woken from her beauty sleep.
She was quite mischievous as a kitten, seeing no good reason why she should let me sleep past 5:30 am, why she shouldn’t jump on the dresser and knock items off, or she should let me finish my food all by myself.
She was bright and curious, and had a unique way of commuting. If she ran out of water in her bowl, she would either stand in the bathtub and glare at me, or she was start pushing her bowl around to make a racket.
She would get fascinated by human things like toilet flushes and sinks and lightbulbs.
She would sit with her back up against the back of the couch like a person, and one time even put her elbow on the arm rest.
I always joked that Penny wanted to be a human.
She was totally dysfunctional but adorably so.
When I made the decision to come back to India in November 2013, I brought her with me. She was super cranky through the vaccinations and microchipping (recommended when you are flying with pets).
Also as she saw my furniture disappearing bit by bit.
I remember doing so much research into which airline I should fly that would be safest for her. I picked a KLM flight w a 5 hour layover because they apparently had a pressurized pet cabin and a pet “hotel” in Amsterdam.
When I was reunited with her in Delhi I felt this extreme sense of relief. The hard part was over. Or so I thought.
Her first few weeks in Delhi were comic. She growled at everyone except me – especially my parents’ well – intentioned, if rather dopey Persian cat Felix. The whole house was terrified of her.
I don’t know if it was being approached by an orange ball of fluff or she was just confused and disoriented by the jetlag.
Slowly (largely through food) the rest of the household also won her over. They spoiled her rotten, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
She went on to develop an odd friendship with Felix.
In the hot summer months, when my mother would get Felix a “lion cut” which is something I have mixed feelings about to this day. He would come back, half drunk on anaesthetic, and looking a lot like one of those hairless hypoallergenic cats.
Penny would get really angry at him when he would turn up like that, as if to say, “you’re such a moron! Something like this would only happen to YOU!”
But they still had an odd harmony. She would like to touch his tail because it fascinated her that something could be so fluffy.
When he was in his final days she was first angry, at his lack of ability to walk properly, but then mourned him deeply after his passing.
Even though animals can’t speak, you can tell with these things.
We had a health scare with her in 2015, when she got fatty liver disease – and she had to spend a week in the hospital. At that time, when the doctor hinted we might need to look at putting her down, I was distraught.
Luckily, she made a full recovery.
A year and a half later, when I was moving to Mumbai, Penny’s staying in Delhi with my parents was non-negotiable. My parents insisted on it.
Penny was not pleased with this back and forth I started between Delhi and Mumbai – and would often ignore me for the first little bit after I arrived and then again when she saw the suitcase come out again.
A few years ago, Penny developed a lump on her belly. The vet initially told us to leave it, and by the time we realized it was cancer, it was quite serious.
It was 2020, and impossible to travel.
They operated on the lump, and she seemed to recover for some time.
When I came back to Delhi for a 5 day trip and stayed for a month (thanks COVID) I got to make up for lost time. She seemed to be getting stronger.
She would sleep in my bed with me, a much better sleeping partner than my puppy, Angel, in Mumbai, who tries to steal my side of the bed. Penny always made room when I needed to adjust my position.
When I left last time, as was custom, Penny was pissed. Instead of a farewell, I got a few angry bites on my ankle.
That was in November.
In the last few weeks her condition started to worsen. She often kept my parents up at night because she would be gasping for breath.
The worst had happened. The cancer had spread.
For some reason or another, I was unable to travel to Delhi to see her until Monday.
On Monday after I arrived, relieved that I had made it on time, she ate a little from my finger. She hadn’t eaten from my hand in years.
But that was the last I saw her eat.
Every night the past week I woke up in darkness to hear her hyperventilating in some corner. I’ve gone to sit with her and stroked her, hoping that the love would remind her that we were by her side in her most difficult of days.
She developed a smell about her, which was also difficult to take. I didn’t know if it was because disease was eating her body from the inside out.
But I can still smell it now, even though she’s gone and I’m in another city. It feels like it is lingering on me.
Since yesterday, we have had 2-3 times where we thought it was the end. And somehow she would always pull through, either starting to breathe normally, or standing and moving.
Yesterday evening I sat with her head on my hand for 45 minutes. She kept shifting positions, sometimes placing her paw on my hand, sometimes her head. I am hoping I was able to give her a little comfort.
What’s amazing is how much she fought. She was struggling so much, but she refused to give up.
She was a stubborn little thing, and much like my grandmother, almost 2 years ago, did not want to let death get the better of her so fast.
This morning, in the hour before I had to leave for the airport, her condition deteriorated rapidly. She was in visible distress, gasping out loud to breathe, and foaming at the mouth.
My parents and I sat with her, until the last possible moment I could leave.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do – walking away to leave for my flight, knowing she was going to go any moment. Yet some part of me felt that perhaps she wanted to wait till I left.
Whatever the truth was, she was gone within five minutes of my leaving. She suffered greatly in her last days, but the only comfort I have is that when she passed, in her final moments, she was with my parents, whom she loved most after me.
I’m sleep deprived and devastated, but I’m also grateful and relieved. Grateful that she chose me to spend her life with, and for all the love she gave me. Relieved that she is no longer in pain.
If you’ve never had pets you may think this display of emotion excessive. But for those of you who have, I think you’ll get what I’m saying.
The end is harder than anything, but is always worth all the unconditional love they give you in their short little lives.
Penny: I love you forever and I’m really going to miss you. I hope you’re getting lots of tuna in kitty heaven and that you’re reunited with Felix.
Rest In Peace Penny.
June 1, 2007 – February 13, 2021