Monday, April 21, 2014

Goodbye Kitty Kitty

My 17 year old son came into the kitchen yesterday and said, 'So when does Ruffie get a post?" I was confused. Our family cat, named Ruffie, died a week ago, after being a part of our family for a dozen years. But I was unsure what my son was talking about.

"You wrote a long post about Kylie (our poodle) when she died. And you wrote a post about Max (our new dog) when he got lost over Thanksgiving. When are you going to write a post about Ruffin's life?"

Oh. I get it. And yes, I do need to document that fluffy creature's place in our family and in our hearts. In the midst of a day I really don't have time to work on my own blog posts, here I am, writing about Ruffie.

A dozen years ago we were settled into our new house in Utah. We had moved around the country for my husband's job and finally felt like we might call this new place home, for a long time. As promised, we set out to finally get a family pet.

Or at least toddler Sam and I set out. It was going to be a surprise for Christmas.

Sam and I went to the local shelter and walked in the door, knowing what we wanted. I read off the list to the manager -

Not a kitten

Two to three years old

Potty trained (well!)

Good with lots of kids

There were about eight cats that met the requirements. We walked back to look at them. I looked at the ones on the top row while Sam took in the cages along the bottom, his eye level.

They were all sweet. There was no way to tell which one was supposed to be ours. Our first family pet. The pet my kids had waited for, and dreamed about, for years.

Then one fluffy kitty on the bottom row stepped up his game. He sat back on his haunches and batted his paws in the air, like a dog who is begging. He swiped and swiped at the air in front of Sam. And Sam was hooked.

We came back several more times, and the 'praying' kitty was still there. Finally, we put the money down and told the manager we'd be back with the rest of the family to pick him up that weekend, the weekend before Christmas.

Husband sneaked off to the store to buy a litter box, food, a dish...then hid them strategically in the garage. The big kids had no idea they were going to be pet owners soon and Sam did a great job of not mentioning our many trips to visit the kitties at the shelter. In his mind, it was just like the zoo trips we took on a regular basis.

That Saturday morning we got up early and told the kids to get ready and get in the van. We were going to find a big surprise. Before lunch time we drove the back roads that led to the shelter, roads that were not familiar to our children, so the curiosity just grew. When we pulled up to the small, unmarked building, the only clue they had was Sam, yelling out "Kitty!" as he saw the place he'd visited many times.

The kids piled out of the van and filed into the shelter, not believing they were finally getting a cat.

The manager on duty went back to find the kitty, the one I'd already paid for. He wasn't there. After all those trips and all that narrowing down of kitties, our perfect kitty was not there. He had been taken, along with a big group of other cats and dogs, to the pet fair being held at the local WalMart.

We were horrified. The kids were devastated. The manager was frantic.

She quickly called the people at the pet fair. They said our kitty had not been adopted yet. It was good news. We rushed back to the van and headed off to Walmart.

Sure enough a huge tractor trailer was in the parking lot. It was filled with cages. Only a few people could go in at a time. Hubby decided to go get our kitty.

He came out with a dirty, smelly cat with matted hair. It seems he'd been put in a cage that was too small, and not been checked on regularly. The kids didn't mind. He was a kitty and he was ours.

We talked in quiet voices on the drive home, not to scare him. Once we got him inside, Hubby got the job of putting him into a bath. It's not a myth that cats hate water. Our new kitty fought and fussed, but came out looking clean and a lot more comfortable.

We named him Ruffin. Well, we didn't name him, the shelter had. And the kids were too adamant that he keep his 'real' name. I lobbied for a name that people might understand fluffy, or powderpuff. They wouldn't have it. His name was Ruffin, a name we'd have to repeat every time we'd tell it to people. We finally came to say, " muffin with an R".

But, like most kitties, even after years of calling him Ruffin, he still only answered to 'kitty kitty', said in the right tone of voice.

Ruffie fit in our family nicely. He was potty trained and polite. He snuggled with anyone who needed it. He got passed around the family and never seemed to be rattled. This was important in our household of four kids and dozens of friends.

He religiously cleaned himself and kept his fur fluffy and soft. I never had to bathe him, even after he'd been outside, chasing grasshoppers.

When we moved from Utah to New York, he made the long drive with ease. He loved our New York house even more than our Utah house. In New York we had long grass in our backyard that led to woods. There were not only grasshoppers to chase, but endless ground hogs and chipmunks to stalk. Many times he'd bring his prize to the front door and lay it on the step. Hunting kept him happy and tolerant, when he was being hugged a bit too hard later in the day.

He never seemed to age. As the poodle showed many signs of slowing down, the kitty just lived, from year to year, like he was the two year old cat we'd adopted at that far away shelter. It was hard to realize he was getting old.

He moved with us one more time. This time from New York to Colorado. It was harder to let him out in our new backyard, because we often had wild animals come through, and many of our neighbors had lost their small animals to mountain lion attacks. Ruffie did his begging/praying routine by the back door, as we tried to say, "Not today, kitty" in our most comforting voice.

Six months ago he suddenly seemed old. He stopped grooming his fur. I had to give him weekly baths, which he hated, but seemed to feel so much better afterward. He got mats in his fur, from laying around all day. I had to shave the back half of his body, leaving him with a humiliating haircut. He soon rarely left the spot under the shower chair in our bathroom. He got frequent love, as the family members cycled through to do their business. We moved his food, water, and litter box up there, and created his own little retirement home.

The only exception to his shower chair cave was anywhere Isaac happened to be. Isaac is the 17 year old who asked me to write this post. He's the Dr. Dootlittle of our family. He's a pet whisperer. He and Ruffie have grown very close in recent years. 

I could be snuggling with a fluffy kitty on my bed, watching TV, and as soon as Ruffie heard Isaac headed downstairs to his bedroom for the night, my kitty pal was gone. Leaping off the bed, padding down the hall way, ending up curled up to his favorite person.

Isaac carried him around like a baby. He seemed to enjoy it. When the rest of us would try it, he'd squirm and jump down. Isaac could do anything to him and he'd always come back for more.

When Isaac walked into the house at night, Ruffie came running. He knew when his favorite guy was home and casually, without seeming too needy, would hang out anywhere that Isaac was. Playing video games? Ruffie was curled up on the couch behind him. Watching a movie? Ruffie walked the back edge of the couch, reminding Isaac that he was there. That cat loved my boy.

And my boy loved him back.

On Sunday, Isaac came to us and said, "Where's the cat?" I don't really keep tabs on him. He's so independent, I just wait to hear him fussing if he needs food or water. But Isaac knew where he was at all times, and he couldn't find him in his regular spots.
We weren't concerned. Ruffie liked hiding places and I assumed he was just lost in someone's bed covers, or tucked away in a closet.

Then Isaac came back in the room, crying. "He died", was all he said.

It was hard to comprehend. Especially for a boy whose time at home was spent practically attached to that kitty.

Sometime in the night, Ruffie had crawled under the bed in the guest bedroom and taken his last breath. I would assume he went peacefully. He never showed us signs of pain. It was devastating for Isaac to be the one who found him, but also appropriate.

The first person to touch him, to pet his still soft fur, and to tell him goodbye, was his favorite person. I have no doubt he was watching from kitty heaven, sitting on his haunches, doing his begging act, to say, "I loved you too, Isaac."

It's the biggest loss my boy has ever had. It hurts deeply. In the past week the rest of us have missed hearing Ruffie padding around the house. We've missed petting him every time we went into the bathroom. But Isaac has missed him in a deeper way.

His arms are empty. His bed is not quite as warm. He plays video games by himself. He's going to have to learn to come in the back door and not have his first instinct to be 'finding the cat'.

We will bury Ruffie's ashes in a hole next to our poodle's ashes, in a cozy spot under a tree in a beautiful park called Elk Meadow. We will stack rocks on his grave and say sad and loving things about him.

Then life will go on. My boy will carry around grief for his kitty for a very long time. The bigger your heart, the deeper it hurts.

Some day we will get another kitty. Because Isaac will be leaving home soon for schooling, we aren't sure what our next step should be. But for now we've put away his litter box, run his bowls through the dishwasher, and learned to live with the wide open bathroom floor that no longer contains our kitty.

Ruffie was a huge part of our family. He grew up with the kids and they will all miss him. But Ruffie knows that he was loved and he led a good life. What stray kitty wouldn't love being cuddled by a tall teenage boy?

 He was a blessed kitty indeed.