Seven years ago in December, the day after my wife and I flew back from my grandmother’s funeral, our cat Templeton unexpectedly had to be euthanized. A couple of weeks later when we had some time off for Christmas, we decided to adopt another cat or two from the Oregon Humane Society to keep our cat Scout company. I made a list of all the cats that they thought might do well in a multi-cat home and off we went.
I wanted a black cat as I think they’re beautiful and had never had one (my wife had one before we met), and they had several adorable black kittens, so we requested to see one. But earlier my wife had seen a little orange kitten, a bit older than the others, who wasn’t in the playroom with the younger kittens but in a cage by himself. She decided she wanted to see him first, so we canceled the request for the black kitten and had them bring the orange one instead. He purred even as they brought him into the meeting room and snuggled all over us, and we knew we had found the first cat to adopt.
I was amused by the way a young black cat was sleeping in one of the rooms, and since she was on the list and we had already settled on one young kitten, asked to see her instead of one of the black kittens. She was shy when they brought her into the room, shy but sweet, and she was coming home with us.
The orange kitten we named Sam. The black cat we named Emma.
The Humane Society had some temporary cardboard cat carriers that had been festively decorated for the holidays and we soon discovered just how temporary her carrier would be. Once home we left her in it briefly while setting up her room and soon discovered Emma hanging halfway out of the side of the carrier, having chewed a hole in the side large enough to get halfway out but not quite large enough to make her escape.
We freed her once we her room was ready and so began our wonderful journey together.
I have many fond memories of Emma but one of the most treasured is from a couple of years ago when Scout died unexpectedly at just twelve years old. Scout and I had an unusually close bond, she usually was within arm’s reach when I was home, and her death was quite difficult for me. At the same time work was extremely hectic and left me frazzled each day for months on end. Sam had grown quite close to Scout and often snuggled on my lap so he could be close to both of us. Her death affected him deeply too and while he didn’t stop snuggling with me completely, he often went off on his own, leaving me at times alone in my office.
Emotionally it was a brutal winter and spring and it’s hard to look back on that time with any fondness but for this: Emma came to my rescue. While she had always hung out with me at times, now she was frequently snuggled up on my legs, either stretched out lengthwise or adorably snuggling with her arms wrapped around a leg. She would never curl up in my lap or on my chest, she seemed to always consider that the territory of Scout and Sam, but my legs became her home. Sometimes she’d snore when she fell asleep, quietly of course, because everything Emma did was quiet. What comfort she brought during a long and difficult period of my life.
She loved making biscuits on my stomach and during that time kicked into high gear, endlessly kneading my stomach as she closed her eyes and purred. She’d start standing up and would eventually rest on her haunches but she’d never lay down completely, even though it seemed like a part of her desperately wanted to. Sometimes she’d bend her front legs so close to my chest that I thought she’d lie down, but for whatever reason she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. I kept telling her the spot was hers if she wanted it, that she’d be so much happier if she’d just lie down, but she never would. But she’d keep on kneading, even drooling because it made her so happy, purring her beautiful purr.
I figured in a year or two she’d relent and lie down and turn into a full-fledged lap cat. Sadly she didn’t have that long. While there were times in the last few months when she finally did lie down in my lap or on my chest, she never relaxed and never stayed long, always moving a few feet down to my legs where she felt most comfortable, and there she’d purr and settle in.
In the last few weeks of her life after she stopped eating cat food my wife discovered she’d devour baby food. I was off work for several weeks at Christmas and Em and I developed a charming ritual where when she wanted to eat she’d silently walk into my office, I’d get up and follow her into the kitchen, and she’d eat a jar of baby food. If she came in so quietly that I didn’t hear her, she’d give a single quiet chirp to get my attention. I’d sit with her as she ate to make sure the other pets, all confused by how Em had cracked the magic code to get fed whenever she wanted, didn’t steal her food. This quiet dance would repeat every hour or two and she quickly began putting on weight.
But as heartwarming as this routine was when she was eating, it was equally heartbreaking when she wasn’t. As her disease progressed eventually she couldn’t eat much of even the baby food. She was clearly hungry and would come in to ask me to feed her, but when I did she’d eat only small amounts if any at all. She’d look at me as if to say she wanted to eat but couldn’t, and could I find something to get her to eat the way we had the other times? I had to look at her with tears in my eyes and tell her that after all of the medicines and baby food, we were out of options.
I knew then that we had little chance to save her, but Emma had one last gift to give me.
One night near the end, I wanted to stay up in case she was able to eat a bit more, as our only hope was to get her to eat every bit of food she could. Worn out physically and emotionally, I collapsed on the couch, mostly flat on my back but with my head angled up. Emma came into my office but instead of silently waiting for me to feed her, she climbed straight onto my chest and laid down without hesitation, finally claiming the spot as her own. With her face next to mine, she purred so happily as I stroked her back, over and over again, until at long last we both fell asleep.
She didn’t live much longer but I’ll treasure that moment for the rest of my life.
You were deeply loved, Em, and you’re deeply missed.