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Fall Letter 2014

Our Cat Cleo

Our beautiful black cat, Cleo, would have celebrated her ninth birthday this fall – if she hadn’t gotten into some sort of toxin. I adopted Cleo at my mother’s behest. She suggested that because my son was an only child, he at least needed a pet. So, about eight years ago, Will and I started visiting shelters in search of a kitty.

We met a lot of cats – some didn’t like kids, some didn’t like boys, some needed to be adopted with a brother or sister. Then we spotted Cleo. A one-year-old with a beautiful, shiny coat, she walked up to us and boldly meowed. We took that as, “Stop searching. I’m the one.”

Pets are supposed to teach children a sense of responsibility and empathy, as well as help them develop nurturing skills. While Will never cleaned the litter box or helped dispense the pet food, he loved the cat and Cleo loved him. She was very affectionate – always purring and snuggling up close. Will loved petting her and talking to her about whatever was on his mind.

The shelter recommended that we keep Cleo indoors because of all the dangers lurking outside. I tried, but she broke through our screened porch door the first day. Cleo was, after all, a hunter. And she was very good at it. When Cleo moved in, the mice we had seen about disappeared.

When I explained the difficulty of keeping Cleo indoors to our vet, he gave me permission to let her go outside. He warned, though, she might be happy and healthy but likely would live a shorter life. He was right.

At her annual checkups, Cleo was always the perfect weight and in great health. She was a happy cat who even managed to win over our 109-pound golden retriever. When they first met, Tucker thought it was great fun to bat Cleo around like a tennis ball or chase her under the furniture. She took this once or twice before hissing at him and swatting his huge face with her claws. She may have weighed only eight pounds, but Tucker respected her. Eventually, Cleo’s favorite place to sleep was on the dog’s broad back.

Cleo was a tough cookie, but a few weeks ago she ingested a pesticide or toxin. My son found her hiding in the basement with one eye twitching. He knew something was wrong, but I convinced him to let her rest and get on with his day. Later that afternoon, my husband called to report Cleo was having a seizure. Will and I rushed home to find her foaming at the mouth, growling and trying to bite her body. Somehow, I got her to the vet. After a few days, the toxin cleared her system, but the seizure left her blind, incontinent and unable to use her hind legs. It was so sad. She was alive but would never run or chase a mouse again. She had a fever and was starting to growl again. The vet let us know they could try to keep her alive – or peacefully put her to sleep. I made a tough decision.

Later that day, I picked up Will from camp. After a few minutes, he asked me how the cat was doing. As I answered, I broke into tears. We both loved the cat. Will said he wasn’t going to be sad about it. He didn’t want to talk about her or be like those people who get sad for months when someone dies.

It’s been a few weeks and, finally, Will is talking about it. We are sad, but the talking helps. Will’s first pet taught him many lessons. The hardest of all is that life doesn’t last forever and sometimes ends quickly. Cleo should have lived until Will went off to college, and I should be writing about something else. But we are grateful for the eight years we had with our beautiful black cat. We will miss you always, Cleo.

Warm Regards,

Linda Ciampa, RN