Animals have always been a big part of my life. My mother was definitely responsible for that. As a child there were always pets in our family. Dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish and even a chameleon were not uncommon sights in our home. My own collection of pets started when I was in college. My first cat, Ashley, was won as a prize at a fraternity/sorority event. Since then ten more would join the ranks. Four dogs have shared my home, too, and two rabbits. My husband clearly loves animals, but I am the designated caretaker. I’m not so sure he would have had such large numbers of furry friends without me, but he is responsible for at least two of the cats who joined us.
Loving animals comes with the inevitable day that requires saying goodbye. One such day happened yesterday. I was not prepared for it and although none of the previous eleven euthanasias were by any means easy, this one hit me particularly hard. My first cat Ashley suffered unnecessarily because I failed to act quickly when he started to fail. I was young and inexperienced. After that I vowed to never put my feelings above the welfare of my pets. And that of course creates the emotional turmoil each time I have to make the decision.
Berio, clearly my favorite cat, left this world yesterday. We had him for fourteen wonderful years. He was a feral cat who was fostered with his four other litter mates for the Tompkins County SPCA by my brother Ray and his partner, Pam. It took a long time, I think over six months, for them to become social enough for adoption. The first to be adopted was the only one who left the family. I adopted Berio, our daughter Michele welcomed Nell and Ray and Pam kept Picolit and Tocai. All but Picolit were/are shy, but lovable and sweet. Pico was and is the only one to enjoy the outdoors. She developed into a celebrated hunter and to this day remains a spirited member of Ray and Pam’s enclave of cats.
Berio came to us when we lived in NJ, via the 4 1/2 hour car trip from Ithaca. Ray realized early on Berio was not a traveler, and wisely covered his crate with a towel to calm him down. He arrived and adapted to our family and other pets, although remaining very shy and taken to hiding. He had a mothering nature, though, and each subsequent cat who joined our family ranks was shown the ropes by dear Berio. We began calling him Uncle Berio at some point.
Our move to Ithaca seemed to be welcomed by Berio. He liked the smaller house and became less introspective. Berio’s days were filled with anticipation (frequently verbal) of meals, looking out the windows at wildlife and taking long, long naps. He led a good life. In the past year he slept close to me, frequently by my head. His vision problems (expertly monitored by Cornell’s Companion Animal Hosptial Opthamology Department) made it necessary for him to reach out with his paws to confirm he was close enough to me. Within the last week he actually chose to sit on my lap. At this point I knew something was wrong.
Yesterday my friends at Briar Patch Veterinary Hospital discovered a mass in his stomach. I could have subjected Berio to more extensive (and expensive) tests at Cornell, but decided the outcome was probably not going to differ. I knew he was experiencing some pain already and couldn’t bear to see him suffer. A flood of tears came next as I held him close and he responded with his contented purring. Ron and I said our goodbyes and cuddled him throughout the procedure. His ashes will join the many others and his photo is now displayed on my crowded memorial shelf. A watercolor gouche, a scratchboard and a painted mobile element have been rehung in his honor.
I’m not sure when I will be able to recount memories with this animal without producing tears. I hope soon, since my sinuses are not familiar with this crying thing. I’m usually far less emotional. Thank you Berio for being the best cat ever. I will love you always.