Nonfiction Wednesdays – Of Pets and Family

The storm here in Chicago-land has once again delayed my evening schedule, and after a busy night of catching up with bills, I didn’t get a chance to write something new. So please enjoy a piece from my past.


Originally written 4-10-2002.

Of Pets and Family

As long as I can remember my family has always included pets. When I was a baby we had a black poodle named Korky and a long- haired gray cat named Misty. When I was eleven, I got another kitten named Butterscotch. Pets have been an integral part of my life. However, they have shorter lives than me, and I had to go through times where I had to lose pets. All the pets in my life were dear to me, but some were harder to lose. Despite the fact that these were just animals, some people may not consider this important, but I cherish all these animals part of my family.

Korky, a half poodle and half terrier, would always protect me when I was a baby. Mom adopted the small, awkward looking mutt from the animal shelter before they could destroy him. Inviting Korky into our family was a good decision. Not only did my mom save his life by bringing him home from the pound, but also Korky added love and entertainment to our small family. He was the typical dog who loved to play and goof around, but he had some quirks that made him very memorable. His favorite food was pizza, and would bark like crazy when the doorbell rang. He loved to play in Mom’s vast back yard, chasing blue racquetballs until they were in pieces. Sometimes when he would fetch the balls, he’d bring us only pieces, covered in his slimy dog drool. When Korky died it was a great loss to us. He was ten years old, and he peacefully died his sleep. We buried him in our back yard with one of his racquetballs. I was so young when he died, so Mom told me not to cry because Korky would be chasing those blue balls in heaven.

Misty was one of the animals we had that I most disliked. Mainly, Misty was around when I was just starting school, and I didn’t like the attention Mom gave her instead of me. I would pick on Misty relentlessly, to the point where she hated me later in her life. Misty was a beautiful long-haired gray Himalayan cat. Mom found her as a stray on the highway when she was just a kitten. Misty was half-starved when Mom found her, and Mom nursed her back to health with eyedroppers. Mom took a special interest in Misty because she found Misty around the same time I was born. In my Mom’s eyes, she was nursing two babies. Misty and I grew up together, and she put up with my infantile outbursts and games. Somewhere before preadolescence, I started to treat Misty horribly for intentions I don’t recall. Perhaps I was just being a troublesome child, or maybe I was jealous because Mom would pay more attention to her than me.

However, Misty was getting old, and I couldn’t grasp this concept at twelve. I didn’t pick on Misty as much, I had my own kitten I paid attention too. But Misty’s health was failing. Her hair was falling out and she could barely walk anymore or control her body functions. She lost a lot of weight and looked very frail. It was difficult for Mom, but we had to put her asleep, just as we did with Korky. It was harder for Mom because she raised Misty like her own, and she had to have my Grandfather take Misty to the vet instead of her. I was relieved to get rid of Misty actually, and the whole ordeal didn’t affect me much.

When it was over Mom was reminiscing about Misty’s full life, and she said to me, “Misty always protected you and watched you when you were little. Sometimes she would sleep with you in your crib. You should be sad as well.”

Before Misty’s death, Mom had gotten me an orange tabby kitten for my 11th birthday. She even let me pick her out. That night Mom and I got into the car and took a drive outside of Freeport to a farm that belonged to a friend of hers. We drove up the gravel driveway to see a small one-story house on our left and a huge barn on our right. This was a dairy farm. But besides the cows that were on the farm, this farm had an infinite number of cats. As Mom drove up the driveway, I was afraid that she would hit some because so many were scattered and painted all over the yard leaving a trail up to the house and over to the barn. I expected to pick one of the cats outside, but I was shocked to discover that there were about fifty more cats inside that small shack!

We walked inside and the place reeked of cat urine, food, and animal smells. Cats were lounged on the tables and appliances. They ran under my feet and scattered in fear when we walked in. Cats occupied every corner and cranny in the house. They were all different colors and sizes. Some were fat and thin, and some were sick and healthy. I looked at them all, trying to make a connection with all of them. None of them appealed to me. I wanted a cat that I could have a connection with, like the connection that Mom had with Misty. I gave up and asked them to take me to the barn to check the cats out there. As we traveled to the barn, the cats seemed more wild and sickly. I felt sorry for all of them because I love cats so much. I wanted to take more than one home, but I couldn’t. I walked past the wild ones as we were led to the barn. Still no connection.

Inside the barn, it smelled of cows and fertilizers. Cats still scattered throughout the barn in frenzy, curious to whom I was, or scared that humans were entering their territory. All the cats seemed similar in the barn. I saw a family of orange tabbies, and many of them looked a like. Most of them ran from me, except one. She looked up at me with intense yellow eyes. She had dirt in her tear ducts and her left ear was brown and crusty from frostbite. She had interesting markings on her back. Amongst her light orange hair, she had thick vibrant organic shapes of a darker orange covering her back. Out of all the orange tabbies, she did not run away.

“I want this one, Mom,” I said.

I picked her up. She was shaking from the cold. I started to pet her, stroking that fascinating mark on her back. She started to purr. She looked up at me; her yellow eyes began to close in relaxation. She stayed in my arms the entire drive home. I knew I had school the next day, but I couldn’t sleep. I was so excited to finally have my own kitten. I loved her already. I laid with her under the covers and got up periodically to show her the litter box. I watched her purr, and I loved to feel her warm fur against me as she slept. I named her Butterscotch, because she had that color of fur. It was a simple name given to a well-loved kitten from an eleven year old.

Butterscotch would grow up with me during the most tumultuous time of my life, my preadolescence. She was company for me when I cried about hard times at school. If I came home from a rotten day of junior high school hell, I would bury my face into my covers and cry, but I didn’t feel alone entirely. Butterscotch would gently walk toward me, already purring without being touched. She didn’t meow. She didn’t have to. She sniffed me as I cried, rubbed against my hand, and make sure she was touching me when she laid next to me. He rhythmic purring and warmth helped to subdue my cries. I would pet her and feel her silky fur under my dry hands, and I would feel better. I didn’t know exactly how I could feel better, but Butterscotch did this for me. She was more than a pet. She was my best friend.

Butterscotch would be a constant source of support and love for me whenever I was down. I was so happy with her I forgot how fragile a cat’s life was. Most cats live long lives, sometimes as much as fifteen years. But Butterscotch was not so fortunate. When she was about 6 years old, she began to have some terrible seizures. She would spin and convulse uncontrollably for long periods of time, during which she couldn’t control her bodily functions. She would try to control them, huffing and yowling, trying to fight with her mind when her body would not listen. After such a horrific struggle, she would weakly try to stand on two legs, and she was unpleasantly soaked in her own urine. Every time she had these seizures, it would pain me to see it. These seizures, as horrible as they were initially, would get worse. The seizures that would eventually kill her were the ones that involved terrible convulsions that took most of the room, and walls and floors would be splattered in blood.

My parents did the right thing by putting Butterscotch down when I was away on a school event. I knew the entire day she wouldn’t last much longer. I woke up early to catch the bus, and I checked on her in her failing state. She was too weak to stand, and when I started to cry, she tried to be strong for me and wobbled on her two bony legs. I don’t think she wanted me to cry, I could tell. When I came home to find her gone and put to rest, I cried all afternoon into the next day. I had lost a part of myself, and it would take me awhile to get used her not being physically there. It sounds crazy, but I think sometimes she visits me in spirit, just to check on me.

Today our family still includes animals, but the ones before them will never be forgotten. Mom and I love to recall the entertaining times our late animals had given us during their lives. We tell the stories over and over again about Korky’s blue balls and Butterscotch’s silky fur. Our eyes light up and we become moist with tears just for a second. Each individual pet made an impact on us; they were family.

@ HK Rowe 2002-2015

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