My death watch for Risty

Risty with her little brother, Blue

The Mendocino Coast Writers conference starts on Thursday and the committee is in a whirl. I've spent the weekend on a death watch. My 19 year old cat is dying--gently--the way she lived.  She caught one bird in her life --by accident. It landed right in front of her, and she let it go when I told her no.

Risty was one of three kittens found living under a dumpster outside Papa Birds (locals remember PBs!) in Mendocino. A woman trapped all 3, and I gave them a home. Risty is the last.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I lost her the first time. That was also during the Writers conference and Suzanne Byerley, co-director of the conference with me, was in town for our final event together. While she was here, Risty disappeared. I searched and called, checked with Animal Control and the Humane society, but the days ticked by, then the weeks. She'd been gone for 50 days when I heard her come through the cat door. I didn't move, afraid to frighten her away but as soon as she saw me standing there, she began to purr. (She weighed only 5 pounds.)
Six or eight months ago, she put her right eye out. I have no idea how, and we tried to save it, but in the end it had to be removed.

Today, we sat first in the sun, then in the shade. I reminded her of her life: how she played with twin fawns, made friends with a wild turkey, and loved to stalk Gilbert, the Canada goose I raised. I told her how much I've loved her, and that her sisters are waiting. She'd been lying very still, which tricked me into thinking the end was near. I went inside for some cream cheese, her favorite thing and, though she can barely walk, when I came out she'd vanished. She's done this every day since taking this turn last Thursday, only to show up again in the evening. This time I saw where she was headed and tried to follow, but her trail is no more than a tunnel through the sword ferns, and the terrain is almost perpendicular to the creek below. I got as far as the first of two downed trees and had to turn around.

On one level, I'm afraid tonight she won't come back. I wonder if that's where Halley went to die four years ago. It is where I found Gooey's body. Perhaps I was right to tell her they are waiting.

I don't have any pictures of Risty when she was young. Back then I only took slides, and I don't have a way to convert them. Here she is, elderly and decayed, missing an eye, deaf as a post. and sincerely loved.

Postscript: July 23rd.
I had dozens of emails this morning, kind, caring, loving notes. I can't tell you what that means. I'm not going to make you sit this watch with me, so I'll just let you know that she's still here. She climbed back up from the creek. I found her lying in a patch of late afternoon sun, and carried her into the house. She even ate a bite or two, then slept in my arms for the next three hours. I put her on her heating pad around 11, then woke at 2 and came downstairs to check on her. This morning she is still mobile.

I am going to have to have the carpets shampooed. For a week, she's managed to get to the side of the sandbox, but not in it. I put down plastic sheeting and lots of newspapers. Now she gets as far as the doorway to the room with the sandbox. Life's best investment, when you have pets, is a portable carpet shampooer.

I got this note from Carol Lillis:
"... an extended finger of cream cheese, a head that looks then slowly turns away. Memories of happy times, then bracing oneself for what the end of life may look like. And then an hour of renewal and appetite. I call this the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD SYNDROME, when our little friends die a thousand deaths, only to pop up and live again. (Finally) when they use up 13 of their 9 lives, they offer false hope and that is when they often choose to die. Maybe it's a lesson for us to remember, life is just a series of moments, and any one of them can be our last. What matters is that we, like lucky cats, find our way into into open hearts and arms that love, support, nourish and accept us for who and what we are. And that our final hours are blessed with the kind of friends we are to our cats."

I don't know why this is centering the text against my express wishes.
I don't plan updates. There is such hideous stuff going on in the world--larger scale and small scale losses. Mine, in the scheme of things, is very small, which makes all the kind messages more meaningful. I found this quote to share. You, my friends, live up completely to these standards.

Animals are reliable, many full of love, true to their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to.
Alfred A. Montapert.
July 25th

Thank you all for your kind emails. Risty passed yesterday afternoon, the 24th. It was an overcast day. She tried to go outside, but when she saw there was no sun to lie in, I think that kind of did it for her. I'm lucky I was able to spend these last 4 days entirely with her. Now all I have to do is figure out how much to feed 3 cats with Risty's voracious appetite missing from the mix. And there's all that cream cheese.