Over the past several months, I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will soon have to make an end of life decision for my eldest cat, Penelope.

She will be 17 this year… her actual birth date is unknown as I adopted her when she was nine months old from a rescue, but I remember it was early summer when I got her, therefore it must be around October. Plus, she does behave like a Libra.

Allow me tell you a few stories so you can get to know her and see how absolutely brilliant she is.

I brought her home in 2005, a few months after my beloved Molly died in March of that year. Molly was my black standard poodle whom I still miss and talk about with such reverence I’m sure my partner thinks I’m bananas. She was one of a kind though, a true gem, and I was grieving her horribly.

I found Penelope through Abbey Cat Adoptions; her name back then was Pearlina. She was listed as a Calico Oriental cross, which appealed to me because I do love Siams, and I had a Calico growing up called Miss Mew. When I saw her picture, well, that was that. She was white with these perfect patches of ginger and black, and the coolest alternating triangles on her head that made her look like a harlequin clown. I knew she was meant for me, so I brought her home one day in May or June and albeit a bit skittish at first, she soon slipped easily into our household.

I quickly discovered she was also the most agile cat I’d ever had. We would play the game “Hide the Cat Nip”, and it wouldn’t take her long to source it out. She loved to get into the cupboards, searching for her prize, and would not only open the door, but also slink her way onto the shelf, pushing the cans out of the way. I still don’t know how she managed it, but here’s a pic:

Penelope has never been an overly cuddly cat. She’s very independent, preferring to come for a head scratch or belly rub, then leave after a few minutes. What she does love, is our bedtime ritual. Once I’m ready for sleep, (and I don’t know how she knows this), she will jump up, circle round a few times, and lay down beside me, usually tight against my shoulder. Many nights I would fall asleep curled against her, her head beneath my chin, and my hand holding one paw. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but this is when she’s the most affectionate and I loved the time with her. Listening to the sound of her purring as she fell asleep was the best sleeping pill.
Of late, she hasn’t been doing this anymore.

Another really funny story is when her and Silver, a cat I adopted the following year, got up to no good with, again, a bag of cat nip. I think all good cat stories must involve cat nip.

Silver, her partner in crime,
waiting for morning tea.

I was in the bedroom one day when I heard what sounded like this bang and clinking coming from the kitchen. I went downstairs and there was Penelope sitting ontop of the counter, just over the cutlery drawer. Silver was directly below, on the floor, and they both looked at me when I asked them what they were up to. “Nothing happening here,” came Silver’s innocent trill. Penelope was a mute.

So I went back upstairs, and sure enough, the sound started again. Thump, clink. Thump, clink. Exactly the sound of cutlery sliding against the tray in the drawer when you close it. I think I was folding laundry at the time, so I was occupied and when I finally went back down, the scene was one I’ll never forget.

Penelope and Silver were high as kites. I had forgotten I had put the cat nip in the top drawer, so they wouldn’t get it. It had been in the fridge, but every time I opened the door Penelope would be in there trying to grab it. So, thinking I would outsmart her, I had moved it to the drawer.

Here’s what I pictured had happened: Penelope on the counter, waiting for Silver to open the drawer from the bottom. He would pull open the drawer enough for her to slide her paw in and snag the bag. It obviously took them a bit to get their timing down, but those two cats worked together like pros. Silly pot heads.

When I went downstairs, she was draped across a kitchen chair, gazing at me non-plussed. Silver was on the floor, on his back, belly in the air, his head flat against the ground. His saucer-eyes were the funniest part. They darted from me, to Penelope, and back to me again, as if to say, “The jig is up sweet-cheeks” and I broke into hysterical laughter. Cat nip was everywhere, the bag torn open and empty on the floor. Penelope, with help from her partner in crime, had outsmarted me instead. I wish I’d had a camera ready, because hands down, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I still chuckle when I think of their antics.

My Gentle Girl

So I think you can understand, it is with great difficulty, that I prepare myself to say goodbye. She is slowing down, her coat isn’t glossy anymore, she’s howling at night, and there are other signs of impending kidney failure. I believe I have done my due dilgence as a good cat Mom. I had blood work run last year and recently, checking on her levels. She has been the healthiest animal I’ve ever had, never sick, never an ounce of worry. The vet has told me I’m not taking too long, and I’ve tried a few things to make her days more comfortable. Like pepto bismol to relieve her upset tummy (yes! it does work), and pain meds for her arthritis. But lately, the upset tummy is worse, she moves like she’s in more pain, and she’s quiet with me. She will still come for her face to be touched, and in her eyes I still see the sweetest girl who eased me through my months of grief over Molly; who has been my companion for 16 wonderful years. She’s been with me through three relationships, job changes, and ten moves. She’s never ever bitten me; even when I’m like Coco and mauling her for love, she’s never scratched. Just tolerated my silliness, patient as always. She’s been this constant, gentle soul her entire life.

She Will Tell Me When

I think the hardest part for me on letting go of Penelope is knowing when she is ready. I’ve been waiting for a sign, for her to tell me she’s tired, or done, or something…. but nothing yet. There is a conflict between her mind and her body that she needs to move through, and after everything she’s given me, there is no way I will rush her.

I suppose not everyone will undertand what I mean by that, but I’ve spent my life listening to animals; feeling their pain and happiness, and I trust in what I know. Surviving extreme trauma as a child I believe gave me compassion and an empathy that I would not otherwise have. Animals saved me during those years. Loving them absolutely rescued me. The times spent giving back to them have been some of the most rewarding moments of my life.

So when she is ready, and not a moment sooner, I will let go with a gratitude you only ever really learn through knowing them.

Harlequin Head ♥