I haven’t told many people that our family cat was hit and killed by a car last week. Part of me doesn’t want the gentle sympathy that comes with the loss of a pet. Pets become part of the family, and I’m sure there isn’t a single person I know who hasn’t had the heartbreak of a beloved pet dying. The other part of me thinks that people won’t understand just how deeply I am mourning the loss of Eisley. “It’s just a cat. There are lots of cats who need a home. Just get a new one, watch its antics and feel better.” My pastor lost his five-year-old daughter to an asthma attack a couple of years ago, and it’s been less than a year since another friend lost her one-month-old baby son. How can I even compare the loss of a cat to the loss of a child?
But you see, right now we are mourning Eisley as if she had in fact been my parents’ fourth child. She came into our family while I was living in Russia, and the reports I kept receiving along with the pictures of her intelligent little face, was that she was so personable. She was my parents’ fuzzy Black Child, a child substitute after their girls had married and left the nest, and my father would walk by me and ask if I’d seen my sister. Not my human sisters. My littlest sister. She wasn’t just a cat. She was special. She was our Eisley. Dad said sadly, “If it hurts this much to lose a silly cat, how much more must it hurt to lose a child?”
Eisley Toothless Piranha was our family’s 5th pet, following a line of cats and dogs who lived long healthy lives and all died peacefully at home near their family. We were saddened by their deaths, but we were comforted by knowing that they had had a lifetime of love and adventures. Eisley was only four years old. We had so many years of snuggles, personality, playtime and her presence at the family dinner table to enjoy. Instead of dying as an old cat, on a pillow with a blanket as her human parents stroked her head, she was delivered to us by a neighbor, for whose kindness in removing our cat from the road and placing her in a box before bringing her to our door we are so grateful.
I’ve asked my family to contribute memories from each of our pets as a way to remember our animals past and to comfort us in our present loss.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” Matthew 10:29
Eisley Toothless Piranha (Black Child, Eisel, The Girl, The Child) Dec 6, 2011 – July 30, 2015
Mom had declared that she was tired of cleaning up after animals and that after Callie died, she would be the last of the pets. The family lasted three days before they went to the shelter to pick out a new cat. Most of the cats were rubbing up against their cages and calling out for attention, but the black and white tuxedo cat with the intelligent expression sat quietly and studied the humans that had just come in. It took her a long time to develop into a lap cat, and even then she didn’t like to be held for long because there were too many adventures to be had.
Haley found the name Eisley. “Toothless” was later added because she looked just like the dragon from the film How to Train Your Dragon, and later “Piranha” because it was almost like we could hear her saying, “I’m a PIRANHA. They live in the AMAZON.” The Girl was a the quietest cat I’ve ever met. The only time I ever heard her make a sound louder than a purr was when a neighbor cat was discovered sitting in her flower bed.
Of all of our pets, Eisley loved being outside the most. She loved sitting under the branches of our pine trees or climbing up into the aspens. During the Christmas season we found her in the branches of our fake tree. A chair was set up for her by the back door so she could continue to look outside after we had her safely in. We were worried about her traveling so far away from home, you see.
Eisley had a basket full of toys, more than any of other other pets combined, but her favorite thing to play with was a spool of yellow fishing line that my dad would drag behind him. He dragged it around the back yard when he was trying to entice Eisley to come inside for the night. She’d run so fast that her legs couldn’t keep up with her, tumbling in a way that had everyone laughing. The two of them were great friends, and it was his lap that she’d most often be found in, and at night we knew that she could be found under the covers curled against his side or in his arms. When any of us kids were home, we’d take her away so that she’d sleep with us. She slept in my husband’s arms with her head on his shoulder while the two of us were dating. I told him that meant he’d been accepted into the family. Dad wanted to take her along for road trips, so he bought a harness and leash and attempted to train her. We were able to get the harness on without a fight, but we couldn’t get her to stop playing with the leash long enough to get her to walk with it.
The word my parents most used to describe Eisley was ‘personable.’ Mom had an antique wooden high chair in the kitchen, and Eisley hopped into it on her own and sat there quietly watching her family. We soon brought her high chair over to the table and she’d join us in the family meal, especially on the holidays. Her ‘human’ status allowed her to indulge in liberties that the other cats never enjoyed. We didn’t scold her when she knocked over Mom’s crystal chicken and broke it (the kids never liked it anyway) or when she tried to attack birds through the window and destroyed the curtains, or when she tried to meet Erin’s cats by leaping from the top of the deck to a second floor window. We just came out to admire the rents in the window screens and marvel at the two-story drop she’d survived.
Eisley liked to eat. She’d follow you into the bathroom first thing in the morning, and as soon as your pants were around your ankles, she’d gently bite your leg to encourage you to feed her. Dad gave us daily email updates, which always included ‘Eisley has been fed and is happy happy happy.’ One morning he wrote this: Monday morning greetings. I am sitting here watching Eisley make a pig of herself with the cat feeder. It automatically came out with the correct amount at the proper time and ever since finishing that she has been sticking her paw up getting more and has eaten probably at least 4 times the amount she normally has. no wonder she gained weight while we were in Alaska. What a pig. At least we know she will not starve while we are gone. Her taste also extended to human food. We had to watch pastries around her. We discovered that she liked them when Dad sat down to enjoy his favorite dessert and exclaimed, “Hey! She took a bite out of my pie!”
At night Eisley would curl up in our discarded clothing and rub herself with the scent of her loved ones. I think my favorite memory will be the sound of my dad laughing from bed, with his little Black Child curled up in his arms and biting his armpits in love.
We miss you so much.
Abigail Demelza (Abbie) Jan 23, 1982 – Apr 22, 1997
Abigail because it was a pretty pretty name from a book Mom had just read, Demelza added later so Dad couldn’t give that name to me, his firstborn, Abbie was a tricolor Sheltie given to my mother as a three-month anniversary gift from my father. She was a clearance puppy because her ears didn’t fold down at the tips as a proper Sheltie’s ears should do, but instead they stood straight up and made her look like a fox. She was a good-natured, sweet dog, who graciously saw her role diminish with the birth of three children and addition of two cats. We acquired our first cat on a family road trip, and the kitten kept trying to burrow under Abbie to sleep. She’d stand up until Dad told her to sit down again, and she tolerated the kitten with a look that said, “Haven’t I been a good dog? Why are you doing this to me?” Dad took her for a walk twice daily, but her moment of ecstatic glory every single day was the family prayer around the dinner table. As soon as we started praying, she would circle the room with loud happy barks, stopping when we stopped. She was a fierce defender of her home, as long as she was on her side of the fence. Dad would lift her over the fence so she could protect her family from the other dog walking down the street. It was an effective method to get her to stop barking. Every Halloween one of our neighbors made this nasty candy she called Spooky Pops. One year, Abbie got into our candy, ignored the delicious and tasty treats, and ate only the pops.
Peaches Guy (Peachie, The Peach, The Guy, Mr. Cheese) Jun 19, 1992 – Apr 22 ?
Peaches for his color, Guy added later because we kept calling him that, the little girls who picked him out at the Kansas farm didn’t know that Peaches was a name for a girl cat. Over time, the only person who called him by his original name was the vet. Peachie’s response to the vet was loud howls and eyes flaming red in anger. The trip from Kansas back to Montana was the most peaceful our parents had ever enjoyed, as we were allowed to hold the kitten for 15 minutes at a stretch as long as we kept quiet. Our only male pet, Peachie was a hunter. We babysat some guinea pigs for the neighbors, and he spent the entire week sitting on top of their cage staring down. We had a large fish tank that fascinated him. One day, we heard a crash, a splash, and then saw a wet cat streaking by. The cover was off of the fish tank, and the gravel had kitty paw prints. We were in the habit of giving him the milk from our cereal bowls, and he also loved cheese. We’d catch him on the counter and shout at him, but he’d sit there glaring in defiance until you actually strode over to knock him off. When we got a second cat, we had to hide her food. He slept with all of us, signaling his desire for us to wake up by sitting on our heads or licking our lips. If you wanted to get up but he was sleeping on your lap, he’d emit a low, dangerous growl, and then it was better just to wait until he was done sleeping. A Grumpus, he displayed his displeasure by spraying things in the basement, and Mom would continue to find his gifts long after he had gone. He enjoyed being outside, and if we couldn’t find him we knew he was probably sitting in the clump of aspen trees. Our absolute favorite thing to do with Peachie was stretch him. We’d pick him up by the armpits and lean back; his whole body extended in pleasure while making two little squeaks.
Callie Sue (Callita, Baby, Baby Fish, The Nurse, Sousaphone, Tilt-a-Whirl) July 30, 1994 – Dec 3, 2011
Little Abby (for Abyssinian) came from the neighbors, who already had a cat and they didn’t get along. Quickly changed to Callie (for ‘calico’ as we already had an Abbie), she was introduced to Peachie by shoving her under the bed where he was sleeping. The two never got over their animosity. In spite of her rude welcome, Callie Sue quickly became the darling and baby of the family. She got away with being on the counter because she was so dainty and ladylike. She had an uncanny sense for knowing when someone was in physical pain, and she would align her body with the place of hurt. When Erin broke her leg, The Nurse was there to make sure things got better. When no one had an injury she kept her skills polished by administering to a stuffed bear named Snow. Callie tried to be as adventurous as Peachie, but she was not very good at it. She tried to climb the collapsible laundry rack, and it predictably collapsed. She tried to go hunting, but only ever caught birds that Peachie had already killed. Her favorite toy was a little pink ball that she would carry around in her mouth and sit on like an egg. Haley got into the habit of keeping it hidden and only producing it on special occasions, because she lost it immediately if given free reign. She slept with a family member every night, but she would never go higher up than our legs, which was strange, because she was the pet who stayed in our arms the most. Our custom was to carry her around the house over a shoulder or tucked into one arm, and as she got older her feet touched the floor less and less. Baby had a stroke while we were gone for a weekend, and when we got back her head was tilted at an angle and she walked in circles. She never fully recovered, but earned the nickname Tilt-a-Whirl and still retained her sweetness and affection. She became Sousaphone when she went deaf, and she’d meow loudly just to hear herself or to let us know when she was lost. Haley found her crying in a dark corner because she didn’t know where she was and picked her up tenderly and took her to safety.
Avonlea Lejre Victoria (Avon, Kirby, Pogo-Stick) May 10, 1998 – July 28, 2011
We got Avon as a puppy after Abbie died, and our theories for her lifetime of naughtiness was later thought to be caused by 1.) taking her away from her mother before she had a chance to learn some manners and/or 2.) the ridiculously long and elegant name that brought on a rebellion. Her personality can best be summed up with the list of grievances compiled by Mom:
Category One: Glutton for food
-Non Food Items Eaten: soap (poop bubbles everywhere), socks, shoelaces, Christmas presents, empty Tupperware containers that once contained food, candles, used Q-tips, feminine pads, wooden spoon, coffee grounds, cat poop, dirt out of the flower boxes (Mom had to cover the soil with golf balls, as she didn’t think Avon would eat those)
-Actual Food Items Eaten: sack of flour, broccoli, asparagus ends, bagels, bread, crackers, rice cakes, huge bar of chocolate our Italian friends sent us, raspberries off of the plants in the garden, tomatoes off of the plants in the garden (Mom noted with indignation that it was the ONLY tomato that had ripened that year)
-we kept a baby gate in front of the pantry so she wouldn’t eat everything off of the shelves
-if any food was on the counter or table, it had to be pushed to the center so she couldn’t jump up and get it. That’s how we lost the Italian chocolate
-we kept barriers in front of all trash cans and litter boxes to prevent her from finding special treats
-if food landed on the floor you had to be Lightning Quick to get it because Avon was Lightning Quicker **stay tuned for a description of The Bagel Chip Incident**
-we should have waited to name her. Kirby (like the vacuum cleaner) would have fit her better
Category Two: Loving her Family
-loved to go on walks with her family. Her tail was up, she pranced, and when she was off leash she’d wait for us to catch up
-kept Mom company by lying near her while she hung up laundry
-kept Mom company by pushing open the door when she was sitting on the toilet (she wanted Mom to come downstairs and feed her, of course)
-desperate to be where we were at all times. We had to put a second baby gate off of the deck so she wouldn’t constantly scratch and jump up the sliding glass door (hence the nickname ‘Pogo Stick’)
-as a puppy, her sheep herding instincts kicked in and she would run around her stuffed bear to try to make it go where she wanted. That poor bear was shredded over time. As an adult, she would try to keep us together when we were walking
-bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark
Category Three: Hating her Neighbors
-barked at everyone, especially men with deep voices
-tried to bite everyone (some successes)
-had to be muzzled at the vet
-hated being brushed and bathed
-scooted around trying to deflate her anal glands
-when neighbors took care of her while we were away, they had to leave her outside and drop food over the fence to protect themselves
-charged the door every time the doorbell rang. We’d test her to see if food or barking at strangers/protecting her family was higher on her priority list. We put the food down and rang the doorbell at the same time. She hesitated, wolfed the food first and then ran to the door.
The Bagel Chip Incident, as related by Mom:
“This was the only time I’d ever bought bagel chips at the store. I’d been hungry while driving home and had started eating them while in the car. Once home, I put the grocery sacks on the floor in the dining room. Immediately, Avon knew ‘food’ was around and so she lunged at the sack. I, wanting to protect my stash of bagel chips, sprung into action and in the process, my foot caught on a plastic bag handle and I FLEW onto the top of the bag.” Mom and Avon simultaneously leaped for the chips, with Mom landing on top of them and Avon frantically trying to eat the chips out from under her.