I was so engrossed in my book that the ringing made me jump. I glared at the phone but it continued to ring anyways. By the 8 th ring I figured I may as well answer it. I reluctantly set aside Canterbury Tales and, using my best “I’m annoyed” voice said a curt hello.
“Hey babe. It’s me. You sound ticked…still reading Chaucer?” asked my boyfriend, Dan.
“Yeah, well you should have known better than to introduce me to his works. What’s up?”
“I’ll regret this too…but we have a situation here and I need your help. One of the newest inmates escaped and no one has been able to catch him. Can you come down?” Dan had a 2 nd job part time over at PetSmart. Every once in a while a cat or bird or other creature would escape its confines and I seemed to have a knack for luring them into a catchable location.
“Why would you regret it? I help you with that all the time” I said while looking longingly at my book. This was supposed to be a couch day for me. I never should have answered the phone.
“You’ll understand when you get here. See you soon.”
I arrived to find the typical scenario. It never seemed to matter what type of creature it was. The escapee would be hiding out of arms reach, usually under the raised stack of cages (why they didn’t just set the cages on the floor directly was beyond me) and ignoring the pleas of the employee trying to get at them.
“Hey Shauna,” I said to the frustrated employee of the day, “who we after this time?”
“Well thank god. Cat lady is here. Good luck, this is the kitten from hell. Little brat won’t move an inch. I even tried a broom and he deftly stepped over every pass. I was supposed to leave 20 minutes ago. Not to mention we had 3 families that probably would have taken him home if I’d been able to catch him. His loss.”
Shauna closed the glass door behind her. I watched her head towards the front doors past the cash register. Dan was working one of them and he gave me a salute and I saw him mouth the word “Babe.” I gave a half hearted wave back (things between us were not going well) and turned back towards my task. I said a quick hello to the other inhabitants of the room, sitting quietly in their cages and longing for new homes. Only one cage was empty. Right. Time to fill it back up.
Kneeling down, I peered into the darkness at a pair of glowing golden eyes.After my own eyes adjusted I could see that it was a black kitten, incredibly small and incredibly scared. “Rough day, huh?” I asked while considering the best tactic.
“Yeah, I hear ya. My day hasn’t turned out how I thought it would either. See I’m supposed to be at home enjoying a rare day alone. You weren’t on the agenda little one. So if you don’t mind, could you just stomp on back to your cage and we can both call it a day?”
I’ve always had a great connection with animals, an ability to calm them and coax them, but this was unexpected. The kitten came directly out (and I swear those paws actually were stomping) and jumped up into the cage. Well then. Go me. I scooted over to shut the door and the tag with the inmate’s information caught my eye.
Age: 6-9 weeks
Breed: Domestic shorthair
Chaucer? I glanced into the cage and we made eye contact. Whoa. Ever feel déjà vu? Ever meet someone for the first time and you could swear you know them? That’s what I felt when we made eye contact. “Are you feeling weirded out too?” I asked.
Okey dokey then. I opened up the door and he climbed up onto my shoulders, wrapped himself around my neck and began to purr.
“I knew it” said a male voice behind me.
“The name. Your doing?” I asked while nuzzling the little face hanging over my shoulder on the right.
“Nope. I’ve got the intake papers to prove it.”
And so began what would be the most incredible friendship I’ve ever had.We were inseparable.As a kitten he would gain squeals of delight from my daughter and her friends as he’d do back flips over strings and pounce at them playfully from under the couch.He’d patiently endure the little outfits they’d put him in.He’d sit for as much as an hour at a time next to my daughter as co-pilot of the cardboard rocket ship she’d made.I swear he acted out the parts as I’d make up another story about him for Krista at bedtime.“Do the Chaucie voice mama” was a regular request.
He was the man of the house. Each night he’d patrol the perimeter with me as I locked the doors and turned out the lights. He’d wake me with a stern meow and a paw in the face every time one of the gerbils or hamsters or chinchillas or ferrets or various other critters we had escaped their cage. He regularly snoozed on my shoulders as I washed the dishes…folded the laundry…talked on the phone…or read yet another book.
He slept under the covers and at times draped himself over my forehead in the night. He never broke eye contact as I’d tell him about my day. He graciously absorbed my tears into his fur when life brought me down, even reaching a paw up to catch a falling tear on many occasions. He’d greet me at the door every day after work, extending his paw straight out (always the left one) and letting out a hilariously long “meeeeyoooooooow.” He never got indignant at the many nicknames bestowed upon him. “Long paw of the law,” “Chauce vader,” “Chaucinator”, “Chauska” and “Chauce the boss.”
Not having him in my life was unimaginable. When I arrived home from a 4 day vacation on the North Shore on the 4 th of July something seemed wrong. I’d checked in regularly with my Dad (always a favorite pet sitter with my animals) and he’d said everything was fine. Chauce greeted me with the paw-n-meow as always, but the meow wasn’t quite right. His face looked puffy and the rest of him looked thin.
He howled the whole car ride to the vets as usual, and immediately jumped out of his box to race around the exam room.Probably just a cold, he sure was acting normal now.The usual questions and tests were completed, and as Chaucie attacked my purse the vet said all the wrong things.
“I’m sorry. It’s not good. He’s got Squamous cell carcinoma. It’s a terribly fast growing and invasive cancer. As you can see, he’s swollen on the right side of his jaw. The tumor is in his mouth, jaw and nasal cavity. It will grow alarmingly fast and I’m afraid there is nothing we can do. It’s ok to take him home, he doesn’t seem to be too uncomfortable yet.”
“A couple weeks at the most.”
It did grow alarmingly fast.Chaucie became (if possible) cuddlier than ever.He would mash his little body up against me and stare into my eyes.He listened to me beg him not to leave me, and reached his paw up many times to touch the tears.
Yesterday his breathing was labored, but he was still cuddly! Still eating! Still begging for treats! Still whapping at the dog with a paw! It couldn’t be time. Not yet. He looked at me and said “meow.” It wasn’t a usual meow, it was sad. He jumped to my lap, put a paw on either side of my neck and rested his head on my chin. Krista sat next to us and we both pet him and cried for the next hour.
The vet was so good to us.They took him away to put a catheter in his leg and then they gave us a room for some final time together and said they’d come back in 20 minutes.Chaucie didn’t try to jump down and scope out the room.He just laid in my lap and let me pet him.I thanked him.For everything.All the years, the laughs, the conversations and the love…and then I held him as they injected the euthanasia into the catheter and the wheezing breath silenced.He was no longer in pain, he was at peace.
The house is silent.His presence is so desperately missed.The other 2 cats are still looking for him.The pillow in the corner (that he stole from the dog) remains empty, but the impression from the last time he laid there remains.
His ashes will be returned to me next week. The vet said the urn will have an imprint they will take of his paw. I will be burying him with his favorite mouse, his favorite blanket and a copy of the story I wrote in his honor years ago, “Canterbury Tails.”
Goodbye Chauce. I will miss you forever, and I love you with every piece of my broken heart.