Her name was Annie.
You probably knew her by a different name, a name she suddenly stopped hearing months ago when you went away.
She waited for you. Perhaps you got lost and she was trying to help you find your way home by roaming just a little bit further from the home she knew. Her home with you.
Three weeks ago I found her on the front steps of my condo complex. She laid there, as open and welcoming as a surprise package left there by UPS.
I’d never seen her before. Yet she acted like she’d always been there, soaking up the warmth of the sun-drenched tiles in the absence of your warm lap to cuddle into.
She had no tags or collar, but she was no feral cat. Feral cats avoid people like the plague they were blamed for in the middle ages.
Annie was calm and serene when I sat beside her and began stroking her frail frame and matted fur. The contours of her ribs shocked my fingertips. She meowed, possibly thinking for a moment that I was you – then realizing that I wasn’t.
She followed me into the garage when I went to retrieve my cell phone and called a dear friend of mine in animal rescue. Annie squeezed through the grate of the garage door, staggered haplessly toward me and fell. It took everything she had to lift herself up and take a few steps, only to collapse at my feet. Her eyes were closed down to slits.
Annie needed medical help, immediately. So I plopped her limp being into my car and drove her to East Valley Animal Shelter where she was tended to by a vet. She was severely dehydrated and probably malnourished. East Valley would nurse her back to health and try to find her a new home. They eventually named her Annie.
Driving home that day, I entertained the idea of making Annie my own, despite the challenges my wife and I would have with our territorial dog, Lilly. Regardless, I would not let Annie die. The shelter worker who took her in promised me that I would get a call if she were “red-listed.” I could then pull her from the shelter and find her a foster home.
But Annie never got that chance.
Every week or so I checked Annie’s status on the shelter’s website. No takers. Two days ago, I got a call from my friend and co-worker who had a personal connection at East Valley who had been tracking Annie’s progress. While Annie initially responded to gentle IV hydration, the long-term stress on her kidneys was just too much for her. Last Thursday, 10-year-old Annie went into acute renal failure and the shelter vet decided to humanely euthanize her.
The news kicked my legs out from under me. I closed the door to my office at work, shouted out in blind rage and slammed my fist into the desk. My friend came into my office and hugged me. We cried together. I cried like I did the first time I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer trying to save the island of misfit toys.
For however long, Annie once had a home with you. She was your family, until, one day, she wasn’t family anymore. You chose to leave her behind for another life. A “better” life. Whatever.
You didn’t know about resources that help keep pets with their families – or you flat out didn’t care. You may have thought, “Someone will adopt her.” But no one did.
Are you happier now? Are you more at ease with one less mouth to feed, one less need calling out for you?
The only consolation to all of this is that thought that you may have found no escape in your new surroundings. There’s a good chance that your new neighbors have a vocal cat. I pray that she meows like Annie used to and that the sound haunts you into a flood of tears.
At least then, I would have hope for you.