Saturday, June 28, 2014
Remembering Sage, queen of the world
Tonight I'm thinking about Sage, our sweet, fierce little bundle of love. Sage was never a large cat--barely more than 5 pounds when we took her in--but when she died today she was 19 years old (maybe older; we never knew her precise age) and down to 3.5 pounds, all skin and bones and unkempt fur and almost completely deaf. We'd rather remember her as she came to us: absolutely beautiful, with soft rabbit-like fur and bright green eyes, and a dark heart-shaped nose.
Sage, February 2008
We adopted Sage in January 2008 from friends who'd had her for several years but were unable to keep her. They had rescued her, lost or abandoned, in 1995 from a community garden in Washington, DC. When they asked us to take her we accepted in part because she seemed like a sweet cat and in part because we didn't want our other cat, Isabella, to be alone in the house when we traveled. (That part didn't quite work out as we had planned.)
Sage took a while to warm up to us, and us to her. When our friends brought her over, she was frightened and traumatized and hid for two days. It didn't help that just a couple of months later, our house was turned upside-down by a major renovation, when we moved into our basement for 8 months. Meanwhile, Sage had never been around other cats and didn't get along with Isabella. You wouldn't think that such a tiny cat could be so fearless and aggressive; she showed the neighbors' dog who was boss when he poked his nose across the fence, just to investigate this tiny creature on the other side. Isabella was twice her size, and terrified of her. It took a couple of years before they would do much more than tolerate each other, and even then they never quite became friends, just sniffing each other suspiciously now and then. Oddly enough, when a new cat, Tigger, came into our house a few years later he fit right in, and nobody had any problems with anybody. This is especially odd because Tigger is just as territorial as Sage, and will attack and chase away any other cats that come near our property.
Most cats spend most of their lives sleeping. Sage was an exception. It seemed Sage was always awake, always alert, always ready to get up and follow us. When she did sleep, she often looked like she was dead. As she got older, it was occasionally so convincing that we got in the habit of checking to see whether she was still breathing.
Enjoying a warm radiator
She loved being on our laps but rarely slept there. At night, her favorite spot was right in the middle of your chest, face to face, but if you woke up, she was usually already awake and looking at you. In her later years she grew increasingly needy, following us so closely that we had to be careful not to step on or trip over her.
Sage was an odd little kitty. She liked to lick people, which could be a bit of a nuisance, especially when you were trying to sleep. She loved water, and would come into the shower with us in the morning. Cantaloupe was one of the few things she would beg for (the others being sliced lunch meat and ice cream). She never meowed or made any other noise, except occasionally when she would let out a loud, spooky yowl--always when she was alone in another room--and we never quite figured out what that was about. Perhaps it was simply loneliness. Sage was never playful, but was always affectionate and followed us everywhere around the house.
Sage and ice cream
Sage was a good jumper and liked being in high places. One day I found her on top of the kitchen cabinets above our refrigerator, and she seemed very pleased with herself although she never did it again. When we moved back upstairs after the renovation, Sage greatly approved of the new roof deck, primarily because it gave her access to the other rooftops. It didn't take her long to figure out how to get outside the deck railing and I just about had a heart attack the first time she went exploring. I was helpless to do anything but watch and hope she didn't fall off. She didn't, and this established a pattern of Sage escaping whenever she could, and her favorite place was up on our own porch roof, looking down on us. Sage may not have been playful, but we think she had her own peculiar sense of humor and enjoyed taunting us in this way.
Sage's favorite perch, up on the roof
In the porch rafters
About two years ago, Sage started getting a bit less sure-footed and a bit more clumsy. She hadn't gone off the roof deck in a while, but we left her unattended until we noticed a thunderstorm brewing. Sure enough she was outside the deck when it started pouring, but this time she couldn't quite figure out how to get back in. She went all the way around the edge of the roof, coming back in from the other side, while we watched apprehensively and did our best to coax her. She never went off the roof deck again after that. That was the beginning of a slow and gradual decline, and she started spending less time outdoors and more time on the heated bathroom floor (another renovation she approved of).
Last September, I came home from work to find Sage lying on the floor on her side and unable to get up. When I helped her up, she was unsteady on her feet and immediately fell over. She couldn't walk and could barely stand, let alone get up or down the stairs. We spent 4 hours at the animal hospital, only to be told they couldn't find anything obviously wrong with her. For an 18 year old cat, she was in surprisingly good health. They suggested either a stroke or a blood clot; we took her home to keep an eye on her and began to think about final arrangements. Much to our surprise, she had recovered a bit by the next day and the morning after that, I woke up to find her snuggled under my arm. She continued to improve although she often limped after that. I think she used up a couple of her 9 lives during those 2 days, and probably borrowed a few weeks off of mine as well, but Sage was a tough little kitty and she was a fighter. We had our regular vet come to examine her and Sage put up quite a struggle; it took 3 of us to hold her down before they could get blood or urine samples! The vet confirmed that Sage's kidneys were failing, which may or may not have contributed to her immediate health problems but didn't bode well in the long run. She lasted 10 more months, giving us a couple more scares but she always recovered.
Sage was doing poorly the last few days, limping and having trouble walking, but she was still following us around the house and getting up and down the stairs. We couldn't have guessed just how quickly she would go downhill. Right up until yesterday morning, she woke us up at first light--this time of year, usually between 5 and 5:30 am--by jumping up on the bed and walking on us. This morning I woke up on my own at 5:30, half-expecting Sage to jump up because she had certainly fooled me before, but when I went downstairs to check on her she was still curled up in her favorite spot next to the water fountain, right where we had left her the night before, unable to get up and uninterested in food. It seems her kidneys had finally given out, and there was nothing more we could do. The fight was over, and we called our wonderful vet who does house calls. Sage died peacefully at home at 1:00 pm today.
This is how Dan and I will remember her: up on the roof and queen of the world, looking down on all of us and laughing inside.
Sage, queen of the world