For the love of a cat

I woke up this morning feeling sick with a thick heavy head and fatigue that has been threatening for weeks. I couldn’t just get on with it like I usually do on a weekday having to work, so today since it’s Saturday I decided to rest. 

Of course, Thando didn’t very much like this idea. He wants me up and out of bed, not just to feed him, but he wants me in the lounge or the rest of the house. He wants me to get on with my day. I didn’t have it in me. I still don’t. But I needed to write. Something special happened and I wanted to remember it forever. 

If I want peace I need to do a couple things – feed Thando and let him outside. I want to add here that the window to the patio lives open all night, meaning that Thando can technically let himself out. Recently, after a few days of me seeing him sigh heavily at the window but not hoisting himself up and scooting out, I discovered he was too fat to fit through the burglar bars. A few weeks ago, it was funny (not funny) watching him hoist up and scoot ever so slowly as he got the full bulk of himself through the bars. Imagine a moment where the seesaw isn’t quite sure which side is heavier then suddenly he gets enough of himself out the window for gravity to do the rest of the work. The thought occurred, imagine if he gets too fat to fit through there. It’s really not funny when that comes true. So “letting him out” now consists of me opening the sliding door and its security gate. Thando is a chonky boy.

Of course, you’ll say that I’m feeding him too much but I don’t. He gets fed twice a day – roughly 6am and 6pm. If his bowl is completely empty I give him 3 scoops of dry cat food which is the equivalent of about 3 tablespoons. If his bowl still has some food left he gets 2 scoops. Since I’ve noticed his chonkiness prevents him from squeezing through the bars, he strictly only gets 2 scoops or less if there’s still food. I hardly ever find his bowl completely empty. He is going to the vet soon for his annuals so I’ll check his weight situation but he’s not unable to do his crazy post-shit zoomies so I think he’s good. He’s just a big boy.

Anyway, back in bed (after taking a flu muti) I dosed a bit then eventually got onto my Instagram and doom-scrolled through reels. I found a home-hitting ADHD reel which I intend to unpack further but most of it was just the mindless stuff I needed to allow myself to stay in bed a couple more hours. 

Finally, I got up seeking food, and there they were. Both Thando and Freya were on the bed with me. Only then did I notice that while I rested they didn’t fight, didn’t chase each other around the house, there was no hissing, and they didn’t use my body as a springboard. Instead, they took up a spot on either side of my feet, as if to protect me, while I took time for myself. 

Whatever their intention, I felt incredibly loved. So of course I cried and gave them both loves. Even Freya. If you’ve had a conversation with me lately you’ll know that Freya drives me crazy. She is needy AF. She knocks things over for attention. She attempts middle of the night escapes – leading to all the windows except the aforementioned being closed at night (I die of heat because of this). Freya lies down behind my feet when I’m standing anywhere leading to acrobatics to avoid stepping on her when I need to back up and instead I almost knock my teeth out. She’s like a puppy that demands attention and will get too close, making muffins of the side of my leg until you pet her. I’ve been counting down the days until my daughter returns to save me from this demon-child, but in that moment I totally appreciated her. 

In my teary state, I remembered why I got Thando in the first place, and before him Noah. And I thought it was time to share what the love of an animal means to me. 

Firstly, let me be clear. I’m not an animal lover. I don’t coo over anyone else’s pets. I’ve taken my kids to the zoo for their pleasure, not for any actual interest in the animals. Funny enough I have good stories to tell about zoo trips – but they have nothing to do with the animals. I’m the same on game drives. I don’t care about the animals but the drive itself is an adventure to me. 

Secondly, I do not like being touched. Whether its origin is an actual sensory condition like tactile defensiveness, or just an aversion to physical touch, I don’t know – but it’s safe to say I don’t like it, don’t want it, and get real agitated when this is violated without solicitation. I should add here I do give physical affection but only when I want to – it has to be on my terms and I don’t necessarily need it reciprocated.

Thirdly, I’m not a dog person because they do not respect this boundary of not touching me. They’ll lick my toes, boop their noses against my legs, and even worse the bigger dogs love to do a crotch check. FFS. Basically, they are needy and want almost constant physical contact. So when I say I don’t like dogs – this is what I mean – it has nothing to do with the actual dogness of the creature. I’ve only ever met 1 dog that didn’t crowd me and make me feel like I have to be in a stress response state all the time. His name is Chorizo and he’s a pug. He let me give him attention in my way and we had an understanding. (No he’s not dead just left South Africa with his mom so I probably won’t see him again, thus the past tense.)  I do have this fantasy about having a Samoyed. This big cuddly teddy bear of a dog to take on walks and snuggle with but realistically I couldn’t if I didn’t also have a partner that would be willing to take on most of the attention it needs (or maybe a full-time live-in dog nanny would work too – and for that, I need to be rich!) because I would feel overwhelmed most of the time. (This ties back in with that one reel on IG that I mentioned earlier and I have every intention of unpacking it further for you when I better understand it.)

Lastly, I’ll also say that I don’t love ALL cats. I won’t pet a cat that isn’t mine – even Freya living in my house only gets pets when I feel bad for ignoring her all day. Thando and I have an understanding. When he wants attention he comes and checks if I am able to give him some, if his nudging doesn’t spark a reaction, because in that moment I can’t give him anything, he leaves. Most of the time he gets what he wants because he doesn’t want it often or too much. Back to the sensory stuff, I do have some tactile issues because I can’t stand the feel of some fur types on my hands (or a wooden spoon, or sweeping crumbs from a counter to my other hand, or dust on paper, OMG I’m busy cringing myself out here so let’s stop listing the things I hate touching). For instance, I could give Chori ear rubs and let him sit on my lap, but I couldn’t rub his fur down his body. The only cat that I can remember petting regularly that isn’t mine is a patched tortoiseshell named Ninja, who I affectionately call Fatty, cause she has the softest fur – kinda like Thando’s.

Anyway, after having a full house of pets (Yorkies and cats with the occasional hamster) and kids for so long, I got used to the peace of not having anyone to take care of for a couple of years. Then cancer hit in 2019, and with it getting myself onto a medical aid that I had to pay for a whole year before I could use it (the fuckers and their exclusion policies) – to cover any future needs. Covid hit in March of 2020 and by the middle of that year, I was lonely and feeling overwhelmed by the news that I would be needing chemo. I naively thought my cancer journey was over. I did the ops, I couldn’t do the radiation due to funds and then too much time passed for that to be effective anyway. Meantime it was just a matter of waiting for the medical aid to pay for it and I found out by them notifying me they approved five years worth of non-infusional chemotherapy. I had a panic attack over a phone call with my sister in the US thinking that the notification that I was going to do this chemo was because the tests I just did (the results of which I hadn’t received yet but were sent to my doctor for them to prompt this treatment program application) must have shown I still have cancer. Luckily, it is precautionary treatment that I undergo and my tests have continued to come back negative. 

Cancer is hard to do alone. Yes, you just get on with it like anything else because you have to. But some days I just wanted someone around so I could collapse and cry and not try to be strong and said person would not only tell me it would be OK but also make it so. 

And that’s when Noah came into my life. An ex-colleague of mine suggested a particular rescue and I spent a couple of hours sitting with different cats until I found the one. I have a thing for Gingers. After reading the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon I even had a thing for the human gingers, until I “had” one. I’m not dissing all gingers, but let’s just say I learned to separate the absolute crush I had on Jamie Fraser from real-life men. 

Noah was a special boy. The full history of his life wasn’t clear because what they knew was that he was one of four cats surrendered from a home that had to downsize due to Covid. His “siblings” had all been adopted but he wasn’t friendly enough or attention-seeking so he didn’t do himself any favours. I sat on the floor of his enclosure and soon he came to get some love. He walked in circles around me letting me pet him, which became his signature later even in much bigger spaces where he wanted me to walk around after him to pet him. But only much much later, after many months of being patient with him and showing him love and giving him a safe home. 

I spent a lot of time lying on the floor in my bedroom with one hand stretched out to him under the bed, but not touching him, just showing him I was there. I talked to him kindly and eased my way closer to him. Little by little he came out from under the bed and eventually would sit on my lap and sleep on top of me. It was amazing to watch that transformation but sad to still see him run with any sudden noise or movement. He may have lived in a home with other cats but he was never treated with kindness, suffering with severe anxiety that I tried to calm, and he had no idea how to just be a cat. 

He didn’t chase things or scratch anything. It took living with Freya for him to learn those things although he was stubborn about getting to like her (I’m just saying seeing as Thando is also hesitant about Freya, she’s the problem, despite being tiny and non-threatening).

The best thing about Noah was that I had someone to give my love to, to focus on instead of cancer and the perils of the world (Covid before you think I’m talking about world peace and famine – cause the billionaires could fix that but don’t and it’s probably something for another day), and the loneliness that comes with embarking on a healing journey. Earlier in 2020 I started therapy, focusing on repeated patterns in relationships. Noah helped me focus my energy on him while I worked on myself.

Everything was beautiful and going well until February of 2021 when he suddenly was lethargic and not eating. Off to the vet we went and it turned out he was in full kidney failure. To this day we do not know the exact cause. Either he was poisoned somehow, as an indoor cat with only me around that made me question everything I had in the house even thinking what if I dropped one of my meds on the floor and didn’t realise he ate it? or he was born with the condition and it had finally reached the point where it was killing him. 

It was a bad time after only a few months together but we got him to a reasonable state of health maintained with regular checkups and daily meds, with the occasional short stint at the vet for a dialysis treatment. 

Then I took him to Cape Town and he got sick. The vet reckoned that the stress of the drive, despite him being medicated with anxiety meds, stressed him out too much putting strain on his kidneys. Again we treated him, but now he was receiving dialysis, administered at home by my brave daughter, once a week. Six months later when I had my fill of Cape Town, I wanted to bring him back home with me, and the vet wouldn’t let me. 

I was heartbroken to leave him behind. He was staying with his human-sister and Freya, so not abandoned, but as that is one of my deeper wounds I felt terrible. I hated leaving him behind, I hated that I promised him a forever with me and I couldn’t give it to him. 

Sadly a mere five months later, following a steady deterioration of his health where he was receiving dialysis several times a week, we found ourselves having to make the toughest decision. He had been grumpy, keeping to himself, had zero tolerance of Freya, and it was clear he wasn’t happy anymore. He was suffering and it would have been selfish of us to keep him around for our sake. 

On the 26th of April 2023, over a WhatsApp video call, I said goodbye to my sweet Noah. I comfort myself believing that he left this world feeling loved. That is, after all, the true measure of a good life. 

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