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By Carol Hamilton
December 2008

In the grand scale of things, the death of a cat must seem insignificant, and when Stevie died this summer, I tried to console myself by thinking that she had lived a better life than most creatures on this planet.

She had always had a home, a human who loved her, and other cats to curl up with. And her time was up — she had reached the age of 15, developed high-blood pressure, kidney disease, and a heart murmur. About six months before she died, her retinas detached, and she went blind. No longer could she walk with that graceful feline swagger that my more observant human visitors admired. Her round eyes, larger than those of most cats, could not longer see those who lived with her. On the last night of her life, she hid so successfully that I could not find her, and when she emerged, she was gasping for breath. It was time for euthanasia, the vet told me, so I took her in, and she died quite literally in my arms.

Like all living creatures, Stevie was an individual — a “person” as someone I once knew said of his Irish setter. She had that beautiful walk and those big eyes. Her personality was distinct too; she was a sweet creature, good-natured, affectionate, and friendly to both humans and other cats. Even when she was blind and sick, she sought out contact — got up on my bed with piteous difficulty and snuggled against my shoulder. Of my three cats, she was the one who acted as intermediary; the other two are obviously not fond of one another, but Stevie was usually curled up with one of them or with me.

I adopted Stevie from the Humane Society in Berkeley, California, when she was about six months old. Her sister and brother were in the shelter too, and perhaps the long contact among them made Stevie more accepting of other cats. A year later, when I brought home a starving cat I had found on the Berkeley campus, Stevie was obviously happy to have a feline companion. This distinguished her from her predecessor, a jealous cat who drove off a lonely cat who had followed me home, who was distressed when I provided a foster home for some almost feral kittens, and who insisted on having me all to herself.

My Berkeley residence had a large backyard, and once she had settled in, I let Stevie explore the outdoors under my supervision. One day after a rainstorm, she came to me making excited noises and wiggling with pleasure. In front of me she dropped the source of her delight — a live earthworm. As it wriggled on the rug, Stevie squealed with pleasure, clearly saying, have you ever seen anything so wonderful in your life!

When Stevie was about two years old, I got a job in Eugene, Oregon. The cats and I settled into an apartment complex at the edge of the woods. One winter morning I awoke to Stevie’s excited meowing; she was running around the apartment, into my bedroom and out again. I got up to see what had aroused her and saw that it had snowed overnight. The cats, all natives of the California coast, had never seen snow before, but it was Stevie, the mellow one, who was most excited by this strange transformation of the natural world.

On the day that the federal building in Oklahoma blew up, I had taken Stevie to the vet for her annual shots. Something went wrong there, and she went into anaphylactic shock on the vet’s table. Thrashing, she almost died, but the vet and her assistants rallied to save her.

Stevie was a sensitive animal. When after two years in Eugene, I got a job in Pennsylvania, I packed up the cats in my car and drove east. Stevie had a couple of anxiety attacks along the way. I had to take her out of the car and soothe her, once still in Oregon, once in Iowa. I assured her that we would not be living in the car the rest of our lives, long though the trip must seem to her.

In Pittsburgh I lived in a more urban and thus dangerous area. Stevie lived the rest of her life as an indoor cat, but like her companions, she adjusted well to this. Every night she and my silver tabby, adopted when she was only 6 weeks old and still known as the Kitten, would settle onto my bed. Stevie would lick the Kitten’s head — then the Kitten would menace her with her paws and pounce on her neck — then the Kitten would flee, and Stevie would chase her through the apartment. This nightly ritual occurred as regularly as clockwork.

Stevie was a brown tiger tabby. I often see cats who resemble her, but they do not have her large eyes or her beautiful walk, her red belly or her sweet disposition. For Stevie was an individual.

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