by David McElroy
I lost my friend Charlotte Thursday evening. She was only 7 years old.
When a young feral cat gave birth to four tiny kittens seven years ago, Charlotte looked different from the beginning. It was hard to decide what color to call her. But however you described her, one thing was clear. Among the four little sisters, she was the alpha girl.
Charlotte was tiny but she was fearless. When the other cats would run or hide from unfamiliar things, she would stand her ground, typically looking on with a bored indifference that seemed to be her way of indicating lack of fear. Her only real enemy was the vacuum cleaner.
Before we knew she was a girl, an ex-girlfriend decided this kitten’s facial markings made the eyebrows look like those of a Vulcan from Star Trek, so she was initially known as Mr. Spock.
One of her sisters died very early. In the picture at the bottom of this article, they were about 6 weeks old. The gray one which was second from the left in that photo died shortly after the picture was taken. There was never any warning and I never knew the reason. The vet said it sometimes happens that there is something genetic wrong and it just catches up with them shortly after birth.
The remaining three girls seemed to love books — mostly for sleeping — so they were named for the writing Brontë sisters. As the alpha, the former Mr. Spock became Charlotte, the oldest Brontë sister. The gray one on the right in the photo was named Emily. The black one became Anne.
Charlotte was a beautiful girl — with amazing green eyes and a unique golden-colored coat of fur — but her incredible confidence made her seem much bigger than the 4.5 pounds of her body. (She and her sisters were all tiny, just like their mother Molly.)
Emily died last year. She had always had a slightly lower weight than her two surviving sisters, but she started losing weight and continued to do so. The vet couldn’t identify the problem. She was tested for feline leukemia, parasites and all sorts of other possibilities, but the tests didn’t tell us anything.
Emily ate well while she was losing weight, but there was something in her body that stopped her from absorbing enough nutrients. The vet said it was as though her body was slowly losing the ability to convert her food to usable fuel. And during the eight months or so that she was going downhill, she had persistent diarrhea. She died in my arms 17 months ago.
Close to a year ago, Charlotte started to have the same persistent diarrhea. It was my first clue that there was something seriously wrong and I immediately remembered what Emily had gone through. The vet could find nothing specific wrong with her, either. The pattern was just like Emily’s.
Although I had used steroid pills with Emily in an attempt to lengthen her life, they didn’t seem to help and it was a constant struggle to get a pill into her each morning and evening. Charlotte was even more resistant to pills and I decided I wasn’t going to put her through something so upsetting twice a day if it wasn’t going to save her anyway.
Even though she’s acted healthy and normal for the most part, I knew Charlotte had been going downhill for months. She slowly lost body weight. She was still strong. She still ate well. She was still confident — some might say arrogant — but she couldn’t keep on any weight.
Last week, I could tell that her condition had taken a turn for the worse. She didn’t look quite like herself and she had reached the point of feeling like skin and bones. I knew I didn’t have much time left with her.
How do you say goodbye to an animal you love? Do they have any understanding of what’s happening to them? Or that you even care about them? Logically, I assume not, but emotionally, I somehow believe otherwise. Thursday evening, I told her I love her and I thanked her for sharing seven years with me.
I moved her to my bed, which was her favorite place to sleep. And then before I knew it, the last bit of life left her little body. Her shallow breathing ceased and she started turning cold. I kissed her head but she was gone. I had lost her.
Charlotte was special. I’m going to miss her very much.