Friday, July 23, 2010

Feline Honorable Mentions

Meet Ronan, Amanda, and Enkil & Akasha (pictured in that order), four cats who almost won the Blessings contest. I'm telling you, these choices were tough! I thank each and every person who entered the contest and shared the story of their animal companion. From the number of entries alone, much less the heartfelt essays, it's obvious that animals do indeed bless our lives. Enjoy!

"We can't have a cat, we've discussed this before," my husband said when I told him that the neighbours had found a kitten on the road near our house. "I just want to have a look at him, nothing more, OK?" I said, believing myself. This little black ball of fluff meowed ferociously when we appeared, as if to say, "What took you so long?" He was so friendly and cute I couldn't believe he didn't have a home. I persuaded my husband that we'd only take him until we found his real owners. The kitten meowed and purred in our arms all the way to our house. The next day, we put up posters. The second day, we were shopping and bought some cute cat bowls. "Don't you think Ronan is a good name for him?" I suggested to my husband on the third day when we were out walking. "I know it's Irish, and I like how it sounds like the Japanese 'ronin', he's feisty enough." My husband agreed. A telephone message awaited our return: the kitten's owner. My husband looked despairingly at me. He made the call. I was too upset. Ronan had been found a couple of weeks earlier, and the woman who called had also been trying to find his 'real' home. The kitten had stowed away on her husband's truck, and had obviously fallen off near our house. I listened in on the other phone and scrawled a note to my husband: ask her if we can keep him! We could.

Ronan is now ten months old and we dote on him. My husband travels a lot and when he telephones, the first thing he asks is, "How is the little boy?" We smile and coo over his every move and look sheepish when we realise we have been talking to our friends for twenty minutes straight about how wonderful our cat is.

Ronan's entry into my life has been a gift. We live in a remote country area, I am a writer, my husband is often away, and because of health reasons I don't drive. Sometimes two weeks can go by without me seeing anyone other than the postman (and he's not that cute). Now I have Ronan. Just as I believe I am part cat, Ronan believes he is part human. He talks all the time; he has learned to use the human toilet, he will play 'fetch' with me when I'm not well enough to chase him around the house (we take it in turns to do the chasing); he will curl up against my chest in bed and lay his head on my pillow, his little body stretched out underneath the duvet, paws entwined in mine, his eyes gazing lovingly at my husband. Not long after we had him for keeps, I discovered that Rónán in Gaelic means "little seal". I remember the selkies, who are able to become human... I think Ronan meant to fall off that truck."
—Sandra Jensen, Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork, Ireland


She could have fit in a tea cup when I got her in 1993. I had recently moved from an apartment to a 100-year-old fixer-upper house and decided maybe I would like some company. I was in a local play, and a fellow cast member had kittens to unload. So, I picked a cute little gray female. I decided to wait and observe her personality before naming her.

That didn’t take long. The first evening as I was watching TV, she started whining and yapping so loud I could hardly hear the program. She had a lot to say and insisted that I was going to listen. That was it! I had played Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” the previous year and that woman never shuts up. Teacup cat was immediately dubbed “Amanda.”

Night was her busiest time. Between her constant monolog and her walking on my face, I was getting no sleep. My bedroom door had a gap under it, so I borrowed a 2’x 4’ from the construction and blocked the opening to keep her out. An hour later she was back on my face. She was small, but mighty, and had pushed the board out of the way. “Ok, Miss Amanda, I’ll show you who’s boss.” I got a brick and put it on top of the board to weigh it down. That took her about 20 minutes to move and I remember that she had a lot to say about the incident. After she moved 3 bricks, I gave up. She finally learned to settle down at night and I eventually got some rest.

We both lived through the remodeling, of course I was always concerned that she would get lost in the wall, or get stuck under a loose floorboard. She had the strength of a mule and the determination of an ant, so there was no way to keep her from going anywhere she wanted to go. Our house eventually became our home and I’m pretty sure she felt that she was somehow responsible for the improvements.

Amanda was never a cuddler, but then neither was Amanda Wingfield. My Amanda had a nervous streak that set her pacing at the slightest sound; even a light rainfall on the metal porch roof. Her nerves convinced me constantly that there was a mouse in the house, even though that turned out to be a very rare occurrence.

She was always there; never leaving the house except to go to the veterinarian once or twice a year. Her resistance to those outings set off so much drama that I often wondered if it was in either of our best interests for her to have health check-ups.

She stayed tiny, but always made an unbelievable amount of noise going up the stairs and jumping in the bathtub. I still hear her doing those things, even though she passed several months ago. We had 17 years together. I still call out “goodbye” when I leave. She likes that.
—Dodie Lockwood, Dayton, OH


Over the years, I have found myself daydreaming about becoming a father. This reality seemed continually overshadowed by fears and worries surrounding whether I would be able to provide a stable environment to a child and sacrifice all that is required to care for another. Would this responsibility bring me to my knees? Would I harvest the stamina to manage unseen challenges that would surely arise? The immense weight of such questions would settle over me like a smothering blanket.

Since late adolescence, I have lived independently, caring only for myself. At the age of 29, however, I made the decision to adopt 16-week old Bengal siblings (Enkil and Akasha) mostly for companionship, but also to liven my surroundings. The thought of caring for these exotic furry felines initially caused me pause as I refused to relinquish already mentioned insecurities; nonetheless, I took a leap.

It became evident within their first year that Enkil intermittently would become lame, especially after hefty periods of tumultuous kitty wrestling with his sister. Even so, he did not appear to be in pain, which allowed me to tuck away any overly cautious concern regarding long-term illness. As their first birthday approached, however, Enkil started having trouble walking, and what is worse, I began to see pain in his dark eyes. A blur of rotating medical appointments and interactions with orthopedic specialists ultimately led to a diagnosis of an organic knee deficiency that carried a poor prognosis. Decisions of risking an invasive knee reconstruction (on a young cat, no less), versus the alternative that inevitably involved chronic pain and potential disability, quickly emerged.

I found myself catapulted into unfamiliar territory, negotiating between logic, medicine, and most of all, my heart. Standing in front of radiographs, being forced to make difficult decisions regarding the one who snuggled close to me each night seemed impossible at best. Despite the risk, I moved forward with the full knee reconstruction. Although surgically successful, the knee’s recovery was sure to be grueling. Keeping Enkil sedated, “comfortable,” and most of all still, for many weeks was next to impossible. Managing this unbelievable feat required many things: missed work, lost wages, excessive worry, countless tears, and angry punching of pillows, all while feeling my heart break slowly in the wake of his pain and drug-induced confusion.

In the end, Enkil rallied his strength and recovered. Looking back on those torturous months showed me several things; it illuminated what it felt like to sacrifice everything—sleep, work, sanity—for another. It reminded me how painful loving attachment can be and how fiercely one responds in the face of crisis when the object of their affection is suffering. Many people consider their companion animals as children; I am one of them. Having Enkil (and his sister) in my life has been a blessing and although I am now 32 and single, I feel confident that I will one day be able to father a child. I know this because I am already a father to them.
—Raymond Sheets, Jr., MI

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