(Oz and I on Saturday morning, having a silent chat)
Just over eight years ago, I volunteered to foster 5 homeless kittens through Toronto Cat Rescue. If I can remember correctly, it was during the summer going into 4th year university and most of my roommates had gone home. It was a wild couple of weeks watching 5 kittens run rampant through our 3 level townhouse while I, a clean freak, chased after them, picking up everything in their wake.
The kittens good-natured looks lead to quick homes, all except for one: the defiant little devil who orchestrated all the kitty escapes. The big eared, large-footed, ugly duckling – whom I promised my parents I wouldn’t keep because, “What will you do when you come home for Christmas, Stephanie? Your father has allergies!”
But when someone did come to adopt him a month later, a bond was formed and I just couldn’t give him up. (My father agreed to take an allergy pill. Thanks Dad).
It’s true what they say, you do learn a lot about yourself when you have a pet. You become more lenient in your day-to-day life; I mean cat hair isn’t the end of the world – those lint rollers are fabulous little inventions. You become a caretaker to a little creature who depends on you and in return they give you unconditional love.
Everyone thinks their animal is the best animal on planet earth. I too thought I had won the pet lottery. I mean, how many bad-ass cats do you know that can speak? Oz would literally say, “hello” when he was looking for me. Come when you call their name? Is soothed and put to sleep in a bumpy car ride to the sound of Paul McCarthy’s voice? Or, put their arms up in the air and demand for you to carry them around on your shoulder like a little prince? I would say, not too many.
So when I found out last Thursday that Oz had a fatal liver disease, I had an emotional breakdown in the washroom at work, whimpered on the bus, and then let the flood gates open on the subway ride home (crying in public has become a devastating flaw). When my tear ducts had been thoroughly exhausted, I dried my swollen eyes and told myself that we were going to fight this.
The two of us spent our weekend listening to The Beatles, reading stories (he loved being read to), sitting outside in the sunshine, and any opportunity that came, I played with, and took pictures of, his little paws. But in the early hours of Monday morning, I got up to put the coffee on and grab his food syringes when he walked into the kitchen and let out his famous bellowing bark and I just knew that he was too sick to continue.
Over the years, we’ve been to many different vets and every time I went to pick him up, it was always the same line, “We’ve seen and dealt with a lot of cats, Miss Payne, but we’ve never met such a strong cat as Mr. Oz”. I would then put on a big smile and wait for what came next,
“He drew blood”, “He attacked my assistant” or, (this one was the best) “Your kitty looks quite different from when you last saw him. Last night Oz bashed his face so hard against his cage that he removed most of the hair from his face!”
The two of us would always leave with our tails between our legs. Him, terribly embarrassed by his bad behaviour and I, embarrassed too, but proud. Proud that I had a cat that would fight like hell.
While the two of us waited alone in the back room at the vets office on Monday night, a woman entered the office with a kitten, and the two of us sat in silence listening to that kitten’s dainty little meow flood that dark and lonely hallway. I laughed through the tears because Oz’s meow was so very different. So distinct. Commanding, booming and brawny. As I held him in my arms with a pounding heart, I had a flashback of that first night when the last of his siblings was taken away and how he ran around my room, distraught and crying out for their return. I distinctly remember drawing his little kitten self into my bed and promising him that I would always take care of him.
We had a good little life together, Oz and I. Our connection at times bordered on a deep psychic level that left me forever changed, and for that I will always be thankful.
When I said my final goodbye to him in that back room last night, I gave him a final kiss, scratched him behind the ears and with a heavy heart, I snuck in a final tickle of those big feet.