Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For the Love of Lammy...

He came from nowhere, as the best things in life often do. One day he wasn’t there, the next day he was, simple as that. But to say we got off to a rough start was an understatement…he came in like a hurricane, chasing my other three cats, battling with them at night, and hanging out on the edge of the woods, watching my son and I when we were in the yard like a predator waiting to strike.

“Go away,” I’d stomp my foot and shout when I caught him terrorizing my little female kitties. He’d bolt like lightening, his black-bottomed feet disappearing through the trees. Then one day, he stopped running. “Go away,” I’d stomp, but he’d just yawn and bathe himself. I’d walk closer, and he’d rise slowly, never taking his eyes off me, and then slink off when I got too close.

I called the Humane Society and asked to borrow a trap one spring day when he’d been particularly brazen and refused to disengage from fighting with Sage, a rescue kitty who is handicapped. Now anyone who knows me knows that to say I am an animal lover is just putting it mildly. As a child, I greatly preferred the company of animals to people to such an extent my parents were actually concerned. I’d rather have spent my day in the woods with the family dog than have a play date with a classmate; that was just me. As an adult, I still prefer the company of animals to people at times. I’ve been blessed in life with some wonderful animal experiences and connections. I’ve done wildlife rehabilitation and rescue as well as domestic animal rehab and rescue (I once heard about an abused cat, went to the owner’s house, talked loudly and articulately and demanded they give up the cat or I’d go to authorities. I walked out with the animal in hand, then got the hell out of Dodge before they had a chance to consider doing to me what had been done to a 4lb animal – malnourishment, a broken jaw, wax burn marks, and a respiratory infection that required massive doses of antibiotics.)

But I’d had enough of this big grey bully, so I made the call. I am now extremely grateful that the Humane Society doesn’t loan traps anymore. Everything I’m about to write would never have happened if they had.

In my mind, the big grey tabby was a mean, feral nuisance. That was the only side of himself that he’d shown since he appeared in my life on a cold winter day. Then, on a cool June morning, I walked outside to feed my cats, and there he was, at the dish. Just sitting.

He didn’t run. He didn’t hiss. Instead, he looked at me and meowed. Tentatively, so tentatively, I knelt down, slowly reached out, and touched his fur. Of course, he immediately pulled away, and so we began a dance that would go on for much of that week. By the end of it, he had a name – Lammy, short for Lamington Deer, and he had established himself firmly in not only our home, but our hearts.

He wasn’t feral at all. He understood simple commands and responded to kitty talk. The second week he was ‘tame’; I tricked him into the cat carrier and took him to be neutered. I worried this act would violate the trust I’d been working so hard to build; it didn’t. During his convalescence, I attempted to make him an inside cat, but he wasn’t having it. Amazingly, he was house-trained rather than litter-box trained. Each morning, he’d wake me before dawn to go outside. I would stand by the door and wait, and within a few minutes, he was back, ready for breakfast. When I pulled into my drive each afternoon, he was there by the door, waiting.

It was a beautiful thing. Each day we grew to love him more. My son called him his ‘brother,’ and I called him my ‘soul kitty’. He had the freedom to go outside, where he loved to be, but spent much of his time indoors, with us. Although he never became too chummy with my other cats, he did mellow out considerably (neutering has that effect!) and they existed in a state of feline truce, giving each other considerable space.

We, however, did not give Lammy space. We enveloped him with love, and he ate it up. He had obviously had owners, once. But what had transpired to lead him to our door, we never questioned. “He could have gone to anyone, but he came to us,” I’d tell my son. And we were so grateful. His role in our family was that of an equal member. When we went on vacations, I’d check in with my neighbor near continuously to make sure he was okay. My friends teased me about Lammy, how much I adored him. But they adored him as well; it was impossible not to.

My son would often tease me about taking Lammy with him when he grew up and moved out. “Oh no,” I’d say, “Lammy stays here.”

And in all honesty, I believed that he would stay here, forever.

But it wasn’t to be. I was at work when I got the call. My father had came by my house to drop off some kale from the garden and seen a big grey tabby cat, killed in the road. He was almost 100% sure it was Lammy, so he moved him from the road to a safe spot where I could identify the body later. My heart fell to the floor. No, I thought. No, no, no, Lammy doesn’t go to the road. He just stays around the house, or in the garden. He lies under the eggplant bushes, or by the front door. He doesn’t go to the road, ever. Quickly, I contacted my neighbor. “It doesn’t look like him,” she said. “It’s too fluffy. Like a bigger cat or animal.”

But somehow, deep down inside, I knew that my father would not have taken such care to put the body in a safe spot and contact me at work unless he believed that it was Lammy. He knew how much I loved that cat, how much my son loved that cat. When school ended, I sat Eric down, and told him what had happened. Tough as it would be, I believed he deserved to know the truth. We drove home, praying ardently that my neighbor was right and that my father was wrong.

At home, we walked to the place where the body lay. For an instant, I thought it was a raccoon, or rather, had convinced my mind to see a raccoon (as if my woodsman father would confuse a raccoon with a cat!) but the black bottomed feet ruled out all doubt. And in that moment, our hearts broke wide open. I carried him to the back yard, my son in tears beside me. I did not try to hide my own. My only solace was that the injuries were ‘clean’, there was no external damage and death would have been instantaneous. Still, I’d rather someone else have been there to lift him up, carry him back across the road, to my yard, and dig the hole for burial. I wanted to be in the house, distancing myself from this reality, the way my mother used to do when we lost a family pet. My life, however, has been nothing like my mother’s. With my son weeping beside me, I dug the hole, and then placed the body in the ground.

When our dog died two years before, my son took total part in the burial process, helping to dig the hole and cover the body with dirt. His tears came later, when we got home and the emptiness of the house was too much. But he is older now; he understands better now both the depths of loving another creature and the finality of death. His grief was overwhelming, as was mine. The house, again, seems empty.

Now an angel cat statue and a flower pot sit atop the spot of ground where Lammy rests. Nearly a week later, I still shed tears at some point every day. I miss him the most at night, and on lazy mornings. Lammy brought us so much joy, and so many lessons about the unexpected. His surly demeanor I discovered was merely a front for fear; it melted completely with a little love and affection, and he became one of the dearest animals I’ve ever had the privilege to love. His time with us was short, only a year and a half, but the memories we made will last a lifetime. He taught me to look beyond first impressions and surly demeanors, to be careful what assumptions I might make, to give something a chance to come around to kindness in it's own time, and to remember almost every creature simply needs to feel safe before it can feel loved. Lammy came to us, when he could have went to anyone. I'll not forget that blessing. Nothing happens without purpose.

“My heart is starting to heal back again,” my son says to me this morning. “When I think of Lammy now, I can do it and not cry.”

“Good,” I say. “That’s the place you want to be in.”

I’m hoping I get there soon.

No comments: