Musings from Home

Ode to Heidi

Seventeen years ago, I was a single graduate student living by myself in Birmingham, Alabama. Of the four apartments I had called home during my adult years, I was living in the first one that allowed pets, as long as they were under 25 lbs. and over one year old. I had determined that I was eventually going to get a cat.

That Easter, while I was visiting my brother in Georgia, we decided to stop by the Humane Society to see if they had any cats. It turned out they had a room full of them. And we just happened to show up at “social hour” during which they had opened all the cages and allowed the cats to roam free for a short period of time. So literally there were cats everywhere.

We asked about their kill policy and were told that they kept each cat for two weeks. If they weren’t adopted in that time period, they were euthanized (except for a few that were “grandfathered” because they pre-dated the policy). But at that point in time, they were not overcrowded so they had a number of cats over the two-week mark. That was all about to change, though, as one cat was about become a mama, so the extra room would be no more. Time was numbered for all of the cats over that two-week point.

We made an immediate decision that I would choose between the kitties that were about to run out of time. As the wonderful staff person pointed out which cats that included, I noticed two who were still in their cages, one with the door closed, one with it open. I was informed that the one in the closed cage had an upper respiratory infection and could not be adopted right then. But the one in the open cage was free to wander about — but chose not to.

She was a beautiful, but sad little thing. Here she was curled up in a little ball, when she could be perched upon a box with the other cats or walking around the room greeting guests, as other kitties were. I couldn’t resist the pull. I asked the sad kitty if I could pick her up and reached for her. She did not resist at all and in fact curled up on my shoulder. The Humane Society staff members were amazed. This was a cat who didn’t interact with anyone and was actually quite skittish. But not with me, not that day. I put her down and announced that she was the kitty I wanted to adopt.

The sweet kitty had scampered off immediately upon her feet touching the floor. We all saw her head for a back room, so that’s where the staff person looked for her to put a collar on her indicating she had been adopted. [Side note: If you lived in a rental, they didn’t allow you to take the cat home until your landlord sent a note indicating you were allowed to have the pet.]

But the staff person didn’t find her in the back room. Perplexed, she headed back into the main room and there among the other cats at the top of the line of boxes, was my new cat, for all the world to see. It was almost as if she were bragging that she had gotten herself a home. Or maybe she was just happy because she knew in her bones she was leaving that place. Maybe I had “SUCKA” written on my forehead. Who knows? All I knew at that point, was that that kitty appeared to all to be more comfortable than she had in the weeks they’d had her.

After her first self-guided tour around my our apartment, I hardly saw her for two weeks. She hid under a piece of furniture and emerged only at night to eat, drink, and do her business. I named her Heidi for her penchant for hiding. Finally, she started to adjust to her new home and explored every inch — including the tops of furniture pieces.

She then became the best roommate I’ve ever had, at least in terms of company and entertainment. When I was working on my qualification exam (a grant proposal I had to write), I sat on the floor surrounded by piles of research articles carefully sorted as to topic, taking notes to incorporate information into my proposal. I noticed some of the papers had the corners chewed off. I was living with a goat. Then suddenly a furball came sprinting across the room and slid across the piles of papers, as if they were an ice rink. It was so darn cute, I couldn’t be mad at her. In fact, I think that signalled it was time for a “playtime” break.

Another time I awoke in the middle of the night to a “BAM, crinkle, crinkle” sound. I sat upright in bed, terrified that someone had just broken the sliding glass door of my apartment. As my brain scrambled to figure out what had happened and what I should do about it, my eyes adjusted to the dark and I saw Heidi walking along the top of the dresser that was across from my bed. She had leapt from the ledge by the stairs to the dresser and had landed on a little china dish I’d put the jewelry I’d worn that day in. I smiled, relieved, and thanked her for the heart attack. I no longer lived alone.

She also put an end to my habit of keeping a large cup full of water on my coffee table to sip from as I read or watched TV. One evening shortly after she came to live with me, I fell asleep watching TV and awoke to a slurping sound. There standing on the coffee table drinking from my cup was my new roommate. I guess it was too far to go upstairs to her own water bowl. Or maybe the water tasted better because it was mine. 🙂

Since I lived alone and didn’t want others to know that fact, I put a message on my answering machine saying, “Andrea and Heidi can’t come to the phone right now . . .” People who didn’t know me assumed Heidi was my human roommate, which was just what I intended. A couple of people who did know me — and Heidi — meowed into the machine and then called Heidi’s name asking her to pick up the phone. To my knowledge she never did.

I credit Heidi with picking (or at least recommending) my husband for me. Heidi had met everyone who ever came over to my apartment: relatives, friends, dates. A couple of people made an effort to get Heidi to come to them. One friend even tore off bits of his roast beef and tossed them to her, with the throws getting shorter and shorter so she’d come to him. She ate every piece he tossed her way, but ran away before he could pet her. But she didn’t do that with Jim. She came close to him almost immediately and before long, let him pet her. I was so impressed. That cat has good taste!

As the years passed and Jim and I got married and added other pets to our household, Heidi reigned supreme. She was content to let others take the lead — until it was something that was important to her — and then she seized control. In 2001, when Emerald was a tiny baby just home from the hospital, our other cat Juneau (who incidentally was Heidi’s good bud), put two paws up on Emerald’s cradle to take a peak at this creature who had invaded our home. My mom mentioned that she saw Heidi run across the room and jump on Juneau. We thought they were just playing, until he tried again to get a look at the new baby. Once again, Heidi jumped on his back and chased him away. I don’t know how she knew that Emerald was our “kitten”, but she told Juneau in no uncertain terms that this little one was off-limits. I will always believe she was protecting our precious Emerald.

As Heidi got older, she mellowed quite a bit and became the only cat we have that the kids can pick up and love on. She spends most of her day, every day, on mine and Jim’s bed, only getting down to eat, drink, and visit the little cat’s box. She uses the bedside table as a step to get on and off the bed. This is the kitty who used to be able to jump from the floor to the mantle and walk along it without knocking anything over.

My Facebook friends may remember eight months ago Heidi had to have her tail docked (for the second time) to remove a tumor. The vet did not expect her to make it through the surgery (but the skin around the tumor had stretched so thin we had no choice but to try). Once again, Heidi amazed us all. At her check-up in July, the doc was astounded at how healthy she was — she still has all her teeth, her heart is strong. We all nicknamed her Heidi the Wonder Cat.

Then this past Saturday, Sapphire got up and told Jim and me that Heidi was sleeping on her floor. Sure enough she wasn’t at the foot of our bed. This was like an alarm going off for both of us. We checked on her and found that she couldn’t move well and wasn’t as warm as usual.

Heidi spent the weekend in the emergency vet hospital in “end-stage” kidney failure. She was on IV fluids all weekend and didn’t want to eat. When we visited on Sunday, bringing with us some canned food as requested by the vet, she did seem interested, momentarily, in eating for us. But that didn’t last long.

Yesterday, we moved her to her regular vet, who knows Heidi — and us — well. She knows we want to do anything we can to keep Heidi with us as long as possible — BUT we don’t want her to suffer. Today the vet will run the blood work again to see if Heidi is improving and if so, she can come home. If not, we have a hard decision to make.

I miss my Heidi so much. For the first time in many years, she is not sleeping either on my pillow or at the foot of my bed. For the first time in all those years, she is not coming to me for attention every time I enter the room. The rest of the family misses her, too. We know that even if we can bring her home, our time with her is short. She has begun her journey away from us. As the vet said yesterday, this is just what “old kitty” looks like. [She is 19, probably almost 20.]

Today, I’m praying for Heidi and I’m praying for the wisdom and words to handle this situation well with my girls. We’ve lost pets before, but I sense from the last few days, this one is going to be different. We love you, sweet Heidi. You will always be in our hearts, even when you’re not in our (your) home.

Tell me about your beloved pets, either here or in heaven.

Heidi with pal, Juneau

An older Heidi

Note: I looked up “Ode” to make sure I was using it correctly and found this courtesy of Webster: “a lyric poem typically addressed to some person or thing and characterized by lofty feeling and dignified style”. This sure isn’t a poem (although I did wax eloquently for almost 2000 words — OK at least the word count is accurate :)) and I don’t know about “dignified style”, but it is a heart-felt tribute to an old friend and beloved family member, who I hope will stick around as long as she can.

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Comments on: "Ode to Heidi" (4)

  1. What a lovely tribute to a loving cat! I had never heard the story of her adoption and was truly touched. Am also praying that the proper decision will be made and that the girls will understand and take it well when the end does come.

  2. This is so moving. I thought we were going to have to say goodbye to Hamish this weekend, so I’m especially sensitive to kitty stories right now. Big hugs from all of us to you and your sweet Heidi. We send all our love during this time.

  3. Thank you, Mary. Krista, I’m so sorry to hear you almost lost Hamish this weekend. Is he OK? Thanks for the hugs and love. We’re sending it right back.

  4. Beautifully written, Andrea. We had a cat growing up that lived to be 21 years old. He was such a funny guy – overweight and hilarious all of his life. He survived many mishaps including getting stuck in the wall of my grandmother’s house because he was too fat to squeeze out (we still don’t know how he got in the wall)! He remained a big fat cat until the day he died. Even when his fur was falling out and his kidney’s weren’t well, he loved to eat!

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