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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

Coming and Going

A few months ago, we lost our sweet old red kitty, Kelli, to lymphoma. She was 18. Kelli came to us as a kitten from Animal Allies, a rescue in the Washington, DC, area, not long after we adopted our second child. Kelli quickly became our nanny, tucking our (then two) children into bed at night and helping wake them in the mornings. She was 3 when Daisy and Charlie joined the family as 9-week-old kittens (also from Animal Allies), and the trio, more often than not, spent their days curled up together on our bed while we were at work. The picture shows Daisy and Kelli in their favorite position, with Charlie snoozing nearby. For 13 years, cuddles and contentment reigned. Well, almost. A couple of years ago, our son adopted a cat who we think must have been feral. At any rate, she assaulted the other cats (although she played great with the dogs), and was soon confined to the kitchen, family room and basement, where our son lives. All was well.

And then Kelli began losing weight. Daisy became snappish with Charlie and the dogs. Kelli began having a little trouble breathing ... and then, all too soon, she was gone. And Daisy lost her anchor. She became less secure and would even hiss at Charlie. She was grieving.

Having had multiple cats for decades, and with two 13-year-olds in their waning years, we decided to adopt another, younger cat who we hoped would bond with Daisy. We had overlapped before, with no problem. So we brought a sweet little calico into the house, a 6-year-old rescue from Pets Bring Joy. She was FIV positive, but as long as no fighting was going on, that was no problem. And we did everything the way we were supposed to: keeping the new cat in a separate room for a few days, feeding on both sides of a closed door so everyone would learn everyone's smell, then on either side of a gate, then slow intros. And at first, things seemed to be going okay, but before long, there were fights. Daisy, ever the victim (probably because of her small size and a mild disability) developed a heart murmer from stress. We were torn.

I was raised that adoption is a lifetime commitment. My mother was adopted. We adopted all four of our kids, and have weatherd some serious challenges (but been blessed with far more wonderful gifts). We have survived some difficult pets, including a beagle mix who chewed the corner off every cushion, pillow and quilt in the house and hated other dogs (until she met Magic, and it was magic). We took on a feral cat our vet gave us who bit and scratched for the first six months and was never fully housebroken, but he ended up sleeping wrapped around my head until he died at about 19. We understood the challenges. But I could not threaten my old girl's health, nor Charlie's, and after discussions with the rescue, we tearfully took the calico back (she's doing great in another home). Knowing we really wanted to add a cat, they asked if we would try fostering a gentle male--two queens in a house don't usually work--and we agreed. If it worked out, fine; if not, also fine. And so we brought home a wonderful, handsome white boy with a salt-and-pepper tail tipped in white. At first, he was polite and deferential to the older cats, and they were becoming tolerant of him. We fell in love, named him Romeo because he was such a lover, and told the rescue we thought this was going to work. But ...

As he trusted us more and began to bond, his relationship with the older cats deteriorated, especially when we weren't right there. They would eat peacefully side-by-side, but at other times, Romeo couldn't resist goading Daisy, and would challenge or even chase Charlie. We tried Felliway. They fought anyway. For the second time, adopting was failing.

We are broken-hearted and frustrated. We already restrict our son's cat because she picks on the other cats. Now we are living in a house with even more barriers to keep the peace. As a last-ditch effort, we ordered the Jackson Galaxy Solutions Ultimate Peacemaker kit. We can only hope his potions work.

And then yesterday happened.

Our vet told us that Charlie--my sweet, sweet Charlie, who has slept beside me for over a decade and nursed me through illnesses, surgeries and the loss of my parents--my Charlie is dying. The doctor's best guess: we might have a couple of weeks. This is too much heartbreak all at once. That old quote comes to mind (no, it wasn't Mother Teresa), “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” Oh, how I wish God didn't trust us so much ... This is so hard!

What I do know is that somehow, God will give us the strength to get through this, to hold Charlie when the time comes and send him peacefully home. Somehow. And that life will go on, and that eventually, there will be more cats in the house to love and give love. That whatever challengs life throws at us, we are never truly on our own, if we just let go and let God.

And that sometimes, God puts angels in our midst, often from the least-expected places. Our son's cat, the bully of the household, has recently stopped picking on Charlie. She is, at this moment, curled up with him on the sofa. She, oddly enough, is the one offering comfort in his last days.

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