Today a piece of my soul is missing, a piece I never knew was there before a skinny, hungry cat, barely more than a kitten, found her way into our garage from the back alley on a September afternoon in 2003. For not quite 13 years, she became the center of our lives. Yesterday, I rushed home early from an out-of-town trip to say good-bye to our baby.
I was hosting a plant society event that early September weekend and didn't have time to deal with the cat that Dan said had run into the garage. She was dirty and starving but friendly and clearly belonged to somebody, so my main concern was getting her back to her rightful owners. We only found out several weeks later that she had escaped from a foster home, and the woman fostering her was more than happy to find a home for her. By then, we were more than happy to keep her because as more days passed, we had begun to hope that we wouldn't have to give her up.
Isabella, October 2003
This nameless little waif found us a week before Hurricane Isabel, and while we tried to avoid getting attached or naming her, the storm swirled around us. The hurricane did minimal damage in our neighborhood (it did far more in the suburbs of northern Virginia) but it seems appropriate that the storm gave us her name, because after it blew through, our lives were never the same.
Those blue, blue eyes...
Isabella was a very sweet and affectionate cat. Unlike some cats, who dislike eye contact or become aggressive, Isabella would gaze up at us with her gorgeous blue eyes with a gentle intensity that I truly believe was love. She was very people-oriented as well as beautiful, happily greeting our guests when the other cats ran and hid, and everybody who met her fell in love with her.
She was a princess, not a queen. She wore a pink collar with a red heart identification tag. More than one person commented on what a "girly" cat she was; she was a daddy's girl through and through, and was fortunate enough to have two daddies who doted on her. She always liked Dan's lap better, but we both think it's because he has longer legs and thus a bigger, more comfortable lap. I was still terribly jealous whenever she chose his lap over mine.
Naptime with Daddy Dan
Isabella loved attention. She was a lap cat and a cuddler, and would jump into bed with us, snuggle up to one of us and then turn over on her back and let us rub her belly. Her favorite spot was right in between us. When she came up during the night, if we were sleeping too close together, she would poke one of us until we rolled over and made space for her. If we didn't do it right away, she would put just a little bit of claw into it. She purred almost constantly, but she also had a special "happy purr", softer and higher-pitched, that she only made when she was snuggled in between us while we were stroking her.
She had the prettiest little white paws with pink toes, but she hated to have her feet touched. We could almost never trim her claws, so they were always very sharp. The only time she would use them was if you would rub her belly too long.
Isabella had soft, fine fur, and shed more than any cat I've ever met. She loved to be brushed, but that didn't even make a dent in it. Her light-colored hair would float on the air and end up pretty much everywhere. On a nice day in the spring or fall, when we had the windows open, the breeze would catch little tumbleweeds of cat hair that would grow bigger and bigger, sometimes reaching rather alarming sizes. Whenever Dan vacuumed, he would fill the bag with what seemed like an entire cat.
Road trip to Buffalo, 2005
Catnap (with Sage, now deceased, and Tigger)
Isabella loved the garden, and never ventured far from our own small yard. As far as she was concerned, it was her garden. She was often out there as I worked, curled up in a shady spot or lolling in the sun. I took a lot of photos of her in those early years.
In her later years, she approved greatly of our home renovation, which included a new rooftop deck that immediately became one of her new favorite places. She would always join us when we went out in the evening, having drinks or just watching the sun set.
Daddy Dan gets a kiss
Snoozing on the roof deck
A little over two weeks ago, Isabella suffered what we hoped was a stroke; hoped because the far worse alternative was a brain tumor. She seemed to get better for a few days, and we were hopeful she would recover; cats are tough animals and are reported to recover from stroke well. But while I was out of town, visiting with my family in Buffalo, something went terribly wrong and Dan rushed her back to the veterinary hospital while I frantically arranged for an earlier flight home. By the time I arrived the following morning, it was clear that there was nothing more we could do and after consulting with the hospital's neurologist, we made the difficult decision to say good-bye.
At 14, we knew she was getting older, but we thought—hoped—we had a few more years before running into any serious health issues with her. Perhaps she had another stroke; maybe it was a brain tumor after all. We'll never know for sure but I'm thankful that we had those two weeks, as difficult as they were, to adjust to the idea of losing her because losing her overnight, without any warning, would have been devastating. We've had to say good-bye to two other cats, but they were elderly and in declining health, and we had adopted them later in their lives. Those losses tore us up, but they'd had long, good lives; it was almost a relief to see their suffering end. Isabella was different. As Dan put it in his announcement of her passing, "Today John and I said goodbye to our baby girl Isabella. Having raised her for the past thirteen years she was, in a very real sense, our child. No words can express how we feel right now."
She was our little princess, our baby girl, the child we never had. I take comfort in the fact that we gave her a good home, that we had 13 happy years with her, that we did everything we possibly could for her at the end, and that all the veterinary staff we worked with were wonderfully thorough, patient, and compassionate. I take great comfort in the fact that I made it home in time to say good-bye, and that she died with both of us there, in her daddy Dan's arms. I'd like to thank JD Warford of DC MetroVet for the care she provided to Isabella (as well as our other cats) over the years, along with Dr. Kimberly Schultz at Friendship Hospital for Animals; Friendship's Dr. Christine Klippen, who provided emergency care; Dr. Michael Hickey at CVCA in Rockville, who gave us a cardiology consultation; and most of all Friendship staff neurologist Dr. Lindsay Boozer, who had to give us that terrible final news, and helped us end Isabella's suffering. I cannot say enough good things about all the staff at Friendship Hospital for Animals, who have provided such good care for all of our cats over the years.
I think I'll miss Isabella the most at bedtime, the only time she preferred to cuddle with me over Dan, probably because I'm a light sleeper and easier to wake up to give her attention. Following some gentle belly rubs, I often fell asleep with her tucked under my arm.
Sleepy bedtime Isabella
The irises looked unusually lovely this morning, but the garden will never be the same without Isabella.