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Saturday, June 15, 2024


Notes to my Neighbors 4.19.2006

By Rick Racela

I’ve written about my cats here before. But what I didn’t tell you is that, had it been up to me, I would never own a pet.
Taking care of myself was a full-time job. Then, from the time the kids were born, I’ve lived in a clenched state, always worried about their health and their safety and their little psyches. The last thing I needed was another charge.
But one lovely Sunday afternoon, when I was chin-deep in papers that needed marking, Art and our daughter Elizabeth came home from the mall with our first kitten.
Sure, she was cute, all fuzzy, black-and-white fur, with eyes that screamed “I’m terrified!”
Elizabeth and her father were all bubbly, explaining that they’d chosen this one because she was hanging upside down by her claws in the cage. This seemed to make them think she had lots of personality. It made me think she was neurotic. I was right, by the way.
At first I was stunned. Soon I put words to it: “I know nothing about cats. Good heavens – I don’t even know what these things eat!”
 I learned quickly enough, and Elizabeth named the tiny beast Macavity, after the most mischievous feline in the show “Cats.”
There was no getting out of this one. We would be “cat people” from then on, and a short time later, a friend gave us Micki’s playmate, Tibby, a beautiful gray cat with a white ascot and matching boots.
Between the two of them, we enjoyed years of affectionate rubs and kneading and hairballs. We got used to having our posteriors covered with a layer of cat hair, being ignored on a regular basis, and being purred to only when our little ones wanted something.
It’s been about 10 years since we had to put Micki down. Unless you have pets, you can’t know how devastating it is to make that decision and carry it through.
Elizabeth was studying in Madrid at the time, and we decided not to tell her until she came home weeks later.
We still lived in Philadelphia then, and my friend had recommended a woman who turned out to be the gentlest veterinarian I could ever have found.
Mary Pat didn’t know me or Micki from a couple of rare hamburgers, yet after she did what needed to be done, she came out of the examining room with tears in her eyes.
Three weeks later, Mary Pat called. She had captured a pregnant feral cat and now had three beautiful black kittens that needed homes.
Did I need to go through this again?
But Elizabeth was ready to start over even if I wasn’t, so we chose one of the triplets, the one that danced and leapt all over the office, as if to say, “Oo, oo! Pick me!”
Just what we needed, more personality.
Three-year-old Tibby was not amused by the new baby, occasionally deigning to play with him, but more often we’d catch them just napping side-by-side.
Since then, Chip has grown, and grown, and grown. Today he’s a solid, shiny-black 25-pounder who thinks he’s a dog, who usually likes stalking birds just outside the window.
But as I write this, Chip is sleeping in the sunbeam that streams in through the front door. He’s a little out-of-sorts, unsure of what’s going on.
Just a few hours ago, we took Tibby to the Parkway Veterinary Hospital. She didn’t come home.
Art and I knew that the morning would play out just as it has, although neither of us said it out loud.
Dr. Irene reminded me so much of Mary Pat, having that wonderful combination of professionalism and compassion. In seconds, she had my trust.
Her assistant, Debbie, was equally sensitive and invaluable in helping us get through it.
From the time we walked in, until it was all over, only 30 minutes had elapsed, 30 brutal minutes.
I’m glad it’s over. Tibby no longer feels pain. The pain is ours, for now. 
Chip rouses himself, stretches and looks around, probably wondering where his playmate is.
Now he’s curled up again, asleep on the rocker.
I think I’ll get him a present tomorrow. Maybe a toy or an expensive snack.
But one thing’s for sure: I won’t be getting him a playmate.

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