My animals and other family (Part 4)

ArtemisWhen Artemis came to join us, I had not shared my home with a cat since Toby had died in my early teens. My knowledge of cats was poor and my understanding of them even poorer. Why did I decide to take Artemis in, especially as I had tidily passed her on to an animal charity? I cannot answer that question: I simply do not know. Perhaps there was something special about her or perhaps it was one of those moments in life when you do something different.

Artemis herself showed no surprise at being brought back from the RSPCA. At an estimated age of 6 weeks, I suppose that is understandable. On the other hand, she showed great enthusiasm for the flat and everything in it. She explored every nook and cranny, relieved herself in the flower pots and climbed determinedly into my lap every time I sat down. When night fell, we shut her out of the bedroom but decided after a while to let her in: a tiny kitten can make an astonishing amount of noise. As soon as I opened the door she climbed onto the bed. “No, no,” I said. I made her a nice bed with a drawer and some clothes and plonked her in it. She climbed straight out of it and onto the bed. Round one to Artemis. And all the other rounds. From then on, she slept on the bed except when she took it into her head to sleep on top of the wardrobe or in one of my clothes drawers.

From the first, she decided she was my cat or, alternatively, that I was her human. She spent hours playing with me or sleeping on my lap. Whenever I sat down, I took a book with me as I knew I was going to be there some time. The others tried to tempt her away, even resorting to such tricks as wearing my clothes but Artemis would just say “You’re kidding” and make a bee-line for my lap.

When we thought it safe to let her out, the only way we could think to do it was to set a catflap in the bathroom window with a plank on the bath as a landing pad and a ladder outside to come and go. To prevent other cats coming in, we bought a catflap with a lock controlled by a magnetic key in Artemis’s collar. I remember lying awake at night, wondering where she was and whether she was safe and how reassuring the “clonk!” of the cat flap lock would be. I would smile, turn over and go to sleep.

Artemis taught me a lot about cats and about animals in general. I hadn’t realized that cats were semi-social creatures and engaged in all sorts of little rituals. Nor did I expect the way she used to “show off” to me. For a long time I refused to believe it but in the end the evidence was too obvious: if I went into the garden she would start climbing trees, all the while fixing me with her big yellow eyes. Or she would run around wildly performing all sorts of mad games. When I went indoors and looked out, she would be sitting calmly on a wall: the show had all been for my benefit.

Whenever we went on holiday, Artemis would have to go into the cattery. As soon as we got her home after the holiday, she would race around inside and out, exploring her haunts and expressing extreme satisfaction to be home again. Inevitably, she had disputes with other cats. One male in particular gave her a lot of trouble. I used to chase him, to give hi a taste of his own medicine, whenever I saw him but I couldn’t be there all the time. I remember once standing at the window and seeing him goes across the lawn. Artemis was on the windw sill and saw him too. She emitted a growl, just like a dog. I had been unaware that cats can growl but I heard her do this on several occasions.

One day I mentioned to the vet that she seemed to be drinking rather a lot. He did some tests and said she was suffering renal failure, a common ailment of older cats. He gave her 18 months to live. In fact, she lived on several years. We would go to the vet’s every four weeks for steroid injections and that seemed to stabilize her. In compensation for the trip to the vet’s we would give her boiled cod on her return.

Despite the treatment and her tough character, Artemis began to decline. I think her mind became affected because she started behaving oddly. She neglected herself and her coat became knotted. When she became very unwell on one occasion, I took her to the vet who put her on a drip and treated her for a couple of days. When she came home she was almost the old Artemis but after a few days, she started going downhill again.

In the next days, Artemis became very ill. She just lay on a clump of grass under a dripping overflow pipe without moving. I took her to the vet’s for advice and they confirmed what I thought: she had reached the end of the road and the body was shutting itself down. I gave permission to end her suffering. The tears were running down my face as they got ready. I held her as they gave her the injection. Feeling her grow limp and heavy in my arms was one of the worst moments of my life and it haunts me still.

I am not ashamed to say I loved Artemis, that I grieved for her and that I miss her still. She changed my life in many ways during a relationship that lasted 20 years. The relationship was unique: I never experienced anything like it before and never expect to experience anything like it again. I can give only the merest glimpse of it here and there would be so much more to tell.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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3 Responses to My animals and other family (Part 4)

  1. tomeemayeepa says:

    Very moving. The strength of the bond between you gives the lie to the popular misconception that cats relate to humans only as food-providers. I’m not sure why the grief at the death of an animal should be so profound- is it a sense of guilt or at least responsibility? Most human are missed by at least several people when they die but a grieving pet owner often has to shoulder the whole weight of grief on his/her own. (Coincidentally I had just started to write a piece on our cat who died).

  2. SilverTiger says:

    I would like to think that just as bonds of affection and understanding between human beings can transcend barriers of race and culture, so bonds of affection and understanding can transcend the species boundary. I think we can respond to what is common in both of us.

    Perhaps because Artemis was so young when she came to us, she accepted me as a parent and I in return accepted her as my child. I don’t know, but the pain of the bond being broken in death defines its reality for me.

  3. mindedit says:

    Just wanted to say that, that was a moving piece of writing. Obviously heartfelt and well I guess ‘profound’ is a word that springs to mind.

    I suppose the grief felt for a pet can be as strong as that which you might feel for any member of your household.

    You have done Artemis an honour here.

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