by Kathleen Sawisky from Red Deer, AB
Apr 19, 14
My cat died last week. His name was Stew Cat -- after the feline in a book I had been reading in grade six, which was the year that the cat came into my life. He was a fluffy tuxedo cat, with disproportionately massive paws and bright green eyes. He was also the gentlest animal I have ever known.
He appeared on our deck one evening in late October. It was thirteen years ago.
It was not long after my dad had left our family, and around the same time I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis.
It was difficult enough being a regular 11-year-old girl. But I had a lumpy back, a twisted spine and my father had up and disappeared. My small, pre-teen world was in disarray.
I saw Stewie that evening; he looked rumpled – as if he had been on the road a long time. Using my 11-year-old veterinarian skills I determined that he was only minutes away from death.
I gave him a bowl of food and left him a blanket out on the deck. The next day, there he was, bowl empty, makeshift bed rumpled, staring up at me with his bright green eyes.
We went through this process for a week until one evening the cat somehow, and I can’t stress enough that I had nothing to do with it, somehow Stewie got inside the house and made himself at home.
I can only imagine what went through my mom’s mind. Another mouth to feed, another pet to look after. But she must have recognized that I had latched onto this cat and that he was here to stay.
Stew Cat began to play a vital role in my life. He seemed to know when I was upset, or lonely and he would magically appear by my side or in my lap, bury his face into my arm and purr with the strength of a Harley.
The whole act of petting him was cathartic; every bad day seemed lessened by his presence.
One evening, a few months after his arrival however, we discovered a tattoo in Stew Cat’s ear. I can’t say why we didn’t bother looking for it earlier. Maybe we didn’t want to think that there was another family out there looking for him.
My mom called the SPCA to see if they could locate his owners. That evening she relayed the news. Stew Cat’s owners had been found. His real name was Oscar and they were coming over that night.
We lived in the Rose Valley area of West Kelowna at that time and Stewie’s owners, we learned, lived on Knox Mountain. If you’re familiar with Kelowna then you know that to reach my house Stewie would had to have travelled down a mountain, through the downtown core, across the floating bridge, and up the heavily forested, mountainous Westside, all without being eaten or run over. It was an impressive feat and reinforced to eleven-year-old-me that Stewie was meant to come to my house and meant to be my cat. Nevertheless, his true owners were coming to take him back, and I was heart-broken.
I don’t know what my mom said to them, but when the owners arrived at our house that night, it wasn’t to take Stewie away. It was to say goodbye. Mom had, I gathered, told them about our situation, and how I had fallen fast and hard for this bundle of fluff.
It must have been difficult for them, but their minds were made up by the time they arrived at our house. They said their goodbyes and left, cementing Stewie in my life until last Saturday.
He went downhill quickly; he wasn’t eating, but drinking lots of water - evidence of kidney failure apparently. He was in pain and spent all his time in the basement, nestled in the blanket that I was knitting. For three days we were convinced that we would come home to find him gone, and for three days he hung on.
I have had five spinal surgeries. I live with chronic pain. I have an absent father. But I found the decision to take Stewie to the vet to be the most difficult thing I have ever faced.
But it had to be done. The sedative worked quickly and he fell asleep with his face planted in my arm, just like usual. There was no purring this time, and no drooling, but a heavy sort of silence that is still in our house and will be for some time to come.
He saw me through the greatest pains in my life, and offered me comfort.
The night before he died my mom told me that he had been a gift.
There was never any question about it. Something brought him to our door that October night; something helped him survive the amazing trek across a city, lake and forest; something told him that there was a little girl who needed a cat and he found me. He was indeed a gift, and as mom told me, it was time for me to give him back.
We don’t have the last name of the people who gave up their cat to the lonely little girl in Kelowna thirteen years ago, but if by chance they are listening I would like to thank them. Your gift was more generous, more precious and more influential than you will ever know.